Turkish matchmaking service accused of discriminating against women | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 22.12.2017
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Turkish matchmaking service accused of discriminating against women

A Turkish matchmaking website that helped married people find a second partner has been shut down. Women's activists in the country say the service is discriminatory, but the internet has alternatives on offer.

As soon as Turkish matchmaking website evlilikci.com made headlines, it got banned. The platform was set up to help married men and women from Turkey find a second partner. In accordance with religious stipulations, that is.

The website, which was shut down last week, boasted of being the first of its kind in Turkey. And of being just one of three worldwide (with a similar platforms available in England and Indonesia). The service offered to help unhappily married men or women attain bliss with just minimal effort. Before being shut down, the website defined its clientele as:

-  Men, who for various reasons are not divorcing from their partners, although they no longer live in a relationship

-  Women, who for various reasons opt not to marry but simultaneously chose not to sin

-  Women, who seek a relationship with a married man

-  Women, who find themselves in a hopeless situation and are at risk of falling prey to prostitution

-  Men and women who want to satisfy their sexual desires without committing a sin

-  Those, who want to marry

Media reports about the platform sparked outrage. The Federation of Turkish Women's Associations (TKFD) immediately took legal action, calling on Ankara's state attorney to shut down the site. In its statement, the TKFD said: "The platform uses the female body and religious rituals to further gender discrimination."  

Religious questionnaire

It still remains unclear who ran the platform that now has been shut down at the behest of Turkey's Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK). The website's "About" section cited from Koran chapter 4, which sets out the relationship between men and women.

Yet similar websites can still be found online. "Second Wife" and "Syrian Women" are two such platforms. Signing up to "Second Wife" requires answering a range of personal questions. Potential members are asked about their marriage status, confession, how long they have adhered to the Muslim faith, and how often they pray. The website has members from all over the globe, including Turkey. 

Targeting Syrian refugee women?

The "Syrian Women" website has various sub-sections. One is titled "Syrian women looking to marry," another, "What Syrian women want." Browsing the website quickly reveals many sexist stereotypes about Syrian women who have fled to Turkey to escape from their war-torn home country. It reads:

"Syrian women are delicate beings like our women. The number of young Turkish men eager to marry a Syrian woman has increased, as has the number of married men seeking a Syrian partner. Syrian women do not insist on marrying. So they can live together with Turkish men without marrying."

Refugee camp in Turkey (picture alliance/abaca/Depo Photos)

Turkey's refugee camps are home to a number of Syrian women

'I want to marry a Syrian woman'

The platform says that "men are doing a good deed by using this website"  — possibly to nip in the bud any concerns that the service might be promoting the exploitation of female Syrian refugees. It further says that these women have been traumatized and that marriage "can help" them. And states that: "You can help these women feel better." The platform also presents statements from men. One of them reads: "I'm 30 years old. I want to marry a Syrian woman. It's alright if she's been married before." Another says: "I want to marry an unmarried, middle-aged Syrian woman." 

Marriage out of moral decency

Gulseren Kaplan works for the KAMER Foundation, a women's rights organization in Turkey. Kaplan says that polygamy is quite common especially in rural regions. But she also notes that the number of Turkish men who have married Syrian refugee women, making them their second wives, has risen markedly. "These women have fled war," Kaplan said. "Some of these men claim they are marrying them to protect them, out of a moral decency. Many of these men don't have children, or, especially, don't have any male offspring."

Getting a second wife from Syria

One activist, who is based in Turkey's southeastern Sanliurfa region and wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, has been told by several women that men threaten them when they're dissatisfied. Some men then threaten to "get a second wife from Syria." The activist also highlighted the financial side of marrying a second partner. "It used to be that wealthy men in particular married a second wife," the activist said. "This is something you needed to be able to afford. Now, it has become more affordable. These men don't even have to have money. Anyone can marry."

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