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". Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, there was a woman in rural Turkey who was about to be married off against her will, and women’s rights organisations told her that new legislation in Turkey meant that she could go to court to have her marriage declared null and void. When she told her parents that she intended to do exactly that, they realised that there was no point whatsoever in marrying her off and so the wedding was cancelled. This is just one example of the way in which Turkey is in the process of improving the position of women. Turkey’s new legislation comes in for praise in the report on the role of women in political, economic and social life in Turkey by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. In the area of women’s rights, Turkey has made many improvements in relation to the new constitution, labour law and new criminal law. These things exist on paper, and they must now be put into practice. Although Turkey has made a start on this, it must persevere. Respect for women’s rights is an absolute condition for EU membership. The report urges the Commission to put women’s rights high on the agenda in discussions with Turkey. Yesterday, Commissioner Rehn explained to this House the shape that negotiations with Turkey will take. I am pleased that he added that women’s rights will be a key priority and that they will be a core issue in the annual progress report on Turkey. In addition, the Turkish Government has indicated that it is taking the report very seriously indeed. For example, in response to earlier discussions in Turkey about this report, it has already been decided to set up a women’s rights committee in the Turkish parliament, and the government has already committed to building more relief centres for female victims of violence. A large majority of Turkish women’s rights organisations support the findings in my report. In this House too, the report met with wide support during the vote in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. I am indebted to all those who have worked on this report. In particular, I would like to thank the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats for the excellent cooperation in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. Needless to say, wide support for the report does not mean that we see eye to eye on everything. I would like to single out a few aspects which could be significant for tomorrow’s vote. In Turkey, women participate in politics only to a very limited extent, and one possible solution that the report proposes to this is a system of quotas that can help involve more women in politics in the short term. The quotas are suggested as a possible solution to a problem but are not compulsory, since the European Union cannot, of course, demand of Turkey something that is not yet generally accepted in its own Member States. I join with the women’s organisations in Turkey in asking for your support in this area. The amendment on this subject tabled by the Liberals is one with which I can identify, provided that the Turkish Government is called to account in terms of its responsibility. I would ask you to support the oral amendment that I will be presenting in the plenary the day after tomorrow and with which the Liberals can apparently agree. Then there is the issue of the headscarf. In Turkey, the strict division between church and state means that the wearing of religious clothing at universities or in government offices is prohibited. If women refuse to remove their headscarves, they cannot attend university, nor can they work in the civil service. In my report, I have repeated the Eurlings report’s appeal to the Turkish Government that it be ensured that all girls and women, irrespective of their backgrounds, can enjoy their right to education. I endorse the amendment tabled by Mr Szymánski of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group, which makes an indirect appeal for the ban on wearing the headscarf to be lifted. I do so, not because I am unaware of the negative implications this ban may have, but because Europe itself has no agreed policy on wearing headscarves. We can hardly ask Turkey to do something which we have not figured out for ourselves. In addition, the European Court of Human Rights recently decided that Turkey, with this ban, is not flouting women’s rights; each country is entitled to adopt its own policy on religious symbols. Turkey should therefore find a sensible solution of its own to the issue surrounding the headscarf. I would gladly help find that solution, provided that, for example, the problem can first be discussed at great length in the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee. This topic must be debated both in Turkey and in Europe. It goes without saying that we as Parliament cannot solve this problem ourselves, but we can make a contribution to the discussion. Finally, I should like to urge everyone to vote for this report, understandably, because it is my own report, but I have made particular efforts to bring about good cooperation with other parties in respect of this report because it is important, I think, that Turkey sees that the appeal to work hard on women’s rights comes from the whole of the European Parliament. I would thank you in advance for your help and for your attention and look forward to your contributions during this debate."@en1

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