The role of women in the Turkish Empire

Term Paper, 2012

16 Pages, Grade: A


The Role of Women in the Turkish Empire


In most communities, women are viewed as the threads that knight the society together. They are the source of life and are treated with respect and highly valued. However, this was not the case in ancient empires. The rights for women have been a constant struggle that has come to be standardized in the twenty first century. Despite this, some societies especially in the less developed countries continue to deny women their basic human rights. To understand how women strive and contribute to the development of the society, this paper is dedicated to examining the role that women played in the ancient Turkish empire to date. It is worth noting the social, political, economic and religious inclination of a society to help in understanding the role that women play in such a community.

As of 1500 to 1800, the Turkish Empire was among the three major Islamic empires that dominated the southern Europe to the far north of India. It was known as the Ottoman Empire. It was made of the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa and part of Eastern Europe[1]. The ideas of the empire were closely tied with the Islamic culture and religious practices. As a result, there was a variety of challenges that women who lived in this empire experienced. At this point in time, there was a worldwide unrest as leaders tried to expand their empires. Issues of slavery were a common phenomenon as slaves were traded to enhance power of an empire and promoted development within the empire. To increase its power, the Ottoman Empire used Islamic laws to bring stability and contribute to the judicial system that governed the society and guaranteed stability. However, despite its efforts in achieving stability, this laws were biased and sidelined the needs of women and overlooked them as lesser beings. To curb the situation and ensure that they liberated themselves, women took different roles to spearhead a mutually fulfilling society that addressed their plight. On different occasions, the steppe culture that was dominant in this empire influenced the rule of the Muslim law bending some of the needs of the leaders to fit the needs of the states.

The strength of a state, nation or empire is dependent on the structure of the family. If the family structure within a region is cohesive, then the state will enjoy peace and harmony and this will eventually contribute to development of the region. During the ottoman period, the family was patriarchal. This means that the structure of the family was made up of the father, mother, children and some close relatives. It was the duty of the women to labor in the fields. This activity was mainly castigated in the rural areas. The supplies from the field were meant not just for feeding the family, but the excesses would be sent to support the empire and the bellies in the city. Based on the social status, the women in the rural areas preceded over a life that was entirely different from those in the urban centers. The later were confined in the house and tended to their husbands who were mainly empire officials or army leaders.

A sharp difference in the way of life led by these two individuals shows a lack of balance in the way that the society was founded. Despite this discrepancy, a further difference was realized between the women depending on their social status and economic wellbeing. The higher the economic ladder that the family was, the better the standards of living and the role of the woman[2]. For example, the wives of emperors were relinquished of all chores and they enjoyed the privilege of observing and supervising their servants. Majority of the servants who attended to their needs were women who were mainly slaves. This shows that the role of the woman in the empire was dictated by their social class and financial wellbeing as opposed to the benefit of struggle, brains and handwork. One would only rely on fate as it was the bottom line that dictated the future life of the individual. Women servants were known as cariyes. Other duties that accompanied a woman of class included fancy chores such as catering for their children, weaving, sewing, embroidery and praying or spending time rehearsing and playing music and dancing.

As opposed to modern life, the life of a woman revolved around the house. Their social life was limited to the number of friends that the family had a close relationship. However, it is worth noting that based on the Islamic laws that dominated this society, male chauvinism was also evident. For example, the man who was the head of the family was responsible for determining who the family should form close bond with and who to stay away from. However several occasions such as engagement parties and weddings were looked upon with anticipation. It was during such times that the women had a better chance of interacting with their friends and having a good time, some remarkable events such as the Kina Gecesi which was an occasion where the families of the two sides of a bride got to celebrate before the marriage took place[3]. This celebration was meant entirely for the women between the two families. It was during this celebration that plans for the marriage were outlaid and women got to share their chores that would be undertaken during the wedding ceremony. Each woman was mandated with a task that they were expected to accomplish on or before the wedding day to ensure that the ceremony was a success and that all the visitors, and especially from the brides side were entertained and well catered.

A woman was expected by the society to uphold the duty of ensuring that their family legacy in terms of feeding and welcoming guests was upheld on a high degree. Another event worth mentioning is paca gunu. This can be translated as a sheep feet soup day. This was an event that took place during the day of the wedding. The soup was a special meal that the bride and her gloom were expected to offer to their relatives. The meal was offered a day after the wedding and neighbors and close friends also took part in the meal. The newly wed was supposed to have the knowledge and background on how to prepare the soup. The only person that was allowed to chip in and help was her mother. The soup was prepared to indicate that the woman was capable not only for taking care of her husband but also the community as well.

A woman is the beauty of the society and the clown of his husband. This statement was truly symbolized in the TurkishEmpire as socialization during special occasions was considered a woman’s right. Occasions such as melvit, which was an occasion carried out to chant in the memory of the dead brought the society and women together. During such occasions, women were expected to dress in their best attires and outfits in an effort of showcasing the effort of their husbands in doing a great job of responsibility and provision. Other occasion that were frequent were visits to public baths and cemeteries. It was during such occasions that men would boast to their fellows on how capable they were in maintaining their women. Unmarried women were also available and showcased their talents in singing and mourning the dead. This was a perfect opportunity for the men to choose and evaluate the women based on their conduct, mode of dressing and talent and choose their preferred partners for first timers or men who searched for concubines and more wives.

According to the Islamic culture, polygamy is not an issue since it is acknowledged as a religious obligation. The Turkish tradition was therefore influenced by this culture and belief. The choice of who to marry was not dependent on the woman as they had no say in the matter. Young women were especially segregated as they had rare chances of interacting with one another other that the social events that the whole community participated. The prerogative of marriage lied solely on the shoulders of the father of the man. A man was responsible for ensuring that his son married from a reputable family background. He would approach the family of the girl after consulting with his son and if the family agreed, preparation of the wedding were summarized by the parents. For the marriage to be varied, the bride and the gloom were expected to express their consent to witnesses but in the absence of each other. This was a fascinating aspect that dominated this empire as it was uncertain what each of the participants had in mind. It raised a level of anxiety between the members of the witness committee. However, since the girl had no say in the matter, the level of consent was always expect to be high as opposed to that of the men.

Women were prohibited to interact with men especially during their daily chores. This was because they were expected to uphold a level of dignity and integrity that met the standards of the society and complied with the sharia law of the Islamic teachings. However, in the event where their activities did not collide with the duties of men, the women had a chance of earning a living. Depending on their skills and ability, women had different opening from which to conduct their duties. However, the type of job that one landed depended on the choice of working location. The predominant forms of employment that required women were embroidery and weaving. This jobs were available in the urban areas and rural area as well. A period known as the Selijuk period is a major citation worth reckoning in the history of the Turkish Empire. It was during this time that a semi-mystical brotherhood organization founded a branch of women members who were dedicated to weaving. This was a drastic move that change the mode of employment in the empire.


[1] Kinross, Patrick Balfour Baron, and John Patrick Douglas Balfour Kinross. 1977. 'The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise And Fall Of The Turkish Empire'. Morrow.

[2] Glubb, Sir John Bagot. 1967. 'The Lost Centuries: From The Muslim Empires To The Renaissance Of Europe, 1145-1453'. Hodder And Stoughton

[3],. 2014. 'Ottoman Women - All About Turkey'. Accessed May 7 2014.

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The role of women in the Turkish Empire
University of Cambridge
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turkish, empire
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Peterson Kelly (Author), 2012, The role of women in the Turkish Empire, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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