Hülya Gülbahar, 2023 Human Rights Tulip winner, paves the way for women's rights and equality


This year's recipient of the Human Rights Tulip is Hülya Gülbahar, a remarkable feminist lawyer who has been inspiring force for change in Türkiye for over three decades. What drives her passion for equality, and why is her work crucial? As she puts it: ‘We are defending our lives. We cannot stop everything, but we will put up a damn good fight.’

Enlarge image Hülya Gülbahar
Hülya Gülbahar is a feminist lawyer in Türkiye.

The nominees of the Human Rights Tulip follow a visitors program of 4 days in the Netherlands. In addition to recognition, the winner of the Human Rights Tulip receives a cash prize aimed at advancing and expanding the scope of their human rights efforts.

Hülya notes, ‘I have never received a joint funding of any kind before. This award has come at a very opportune time for me. I have two priorities already prepared: raising awareness to keep the legislation of the Istanbul Convention in place and further developing our research capabilities.’

Collective Approach

Hülya believes in the power of working together, saying, ‘I've always felt collective effort is very important.’  Early on, she realized that bringing people together is key to making positive changes, and she always aimed to include everyone.

With EŞİK, Hülya tackled important legal issues like opposing laws that could harm children and challenging Türkiye's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. She successfully raised awareness about the Istanbul Convention, preventing amnesty for child abusers, defending the existing law against violence towards women, and block planned adjustments to Turkish divorce proceedings,  that would be detrimental to women’s rights in Türkiye.

Although Türkiye officially withdrew from the Istanbul Convention in 2021, Hülya aims to keep its legal protections in place. Winning the Human Rights Tulip prize will help her do just that by raising more awareness and understanding among women and men in Türkiye. Hülya is committed to making a difference, and she believes that success comes from working together for a common goal.

Feminist Movement in Türkiye

Reflecting on the evolution of the women's movement in Türkiye, Hülya notes, ‘There was always a women's movement in Türkiye. But it was only after 1982 that the word feminist started to be used, and there was public awareness as to what this word meant.’ During this period, the movement made significant impact by challenging patriarchal leadership within families, aiming for equality in society and marriage through legal and constitutional means.

However, the progress faced a setback around 2016 when the government introduced a roadmap for the women's movement. Hülya explains, ‘Since then, what we have found ourselves having to do is trying to protect what we have so far managed to attain in terms of rights.’ The focus shifted from advancing to safeguarding existing rights.

Despite the challenges, Hülya emphasizes the importance of the ongoing fight, stating, ‘We are defending our lives. The patriarchal socialistic mindset is very much emboldened, and therefore, we cannot stop everything, but we will put up a damn good fight.’

Enlarge image Minister Bruins Slot en Hülya Gülbahar
Hülya Gülbahar was awarded the Human Rights Tulip 2023 by Minister Bruins Slot of Foreign Affairs.

Early Gender Struggles

Thinking back to her childhood, boys and girls had separate classes with different subjects. Hülya wondered, ‘why can't we learn what the other gender is learning? It just seemed silly to me.' She also used to play football with boys until a certain age, but societal norms stopped her later on.

Dealing with societal expectations, Hülya felt pressured to look good and prepare a wedding dowry. It seemed like her education was just getting her ready for marriage, which she found limiting. She says, 'I would always be critical and question why it had to be this way.'

Research and Data

‘In my estimation, at least three women per day are killed in Türkiye,’ reveals Hülya as she challenges the official statistics that typically report only one murder daily. ‘The official numbers do not include foreign women subjected to violence in Turkish territory, such as the millions of Syrians living in Türkiye.’

With the Human Rights Tulip prize, Hülya plans to improve research abilities of the women’s movement. She knows it's important to make their information and research more professional. Her aim is to create important, high-quality data that shows how widespread gender-based violence is. This highlights the need for correct information to tackle this serious problem.

Impact on Social Media

By sharing EŞİTİZ Conversation on YouTube, Hülya gained a lot of success. In previous attempts, Hulya founded the Women’s Platform Against Amnesty for Child Sexual Abusers, the group successfully stopped a law that would've given amnesty to child sexual abusers in 2020.

Hülya points out that mainstream media and opposition parties don't talk enough about women's rights. She says, ‘They cheer for us on March 8th and November 25th. But the rest of the year, they forget about women's issues. That's why we use social media a lot: we need to keep our voices heard.’