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European Court rules in favour of woman's right to retain her own surname after marriage  

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled once again in favour of a woman fighting to retain her birth surname following marriage. The ruling is an important recognition of women’s rights in Turkey.

Turkey

4 July 2017

Damla Yazgan, 45, brought the case against the Turkish government after her surname was automatically changed following marriage in 2005. In Turkey, men are allowed to keep their own surnames after marriage, but women are forced under law to bear the surname of their husbands. 
 
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Damla and held that there had been a violation of her Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) rights. 
 
The first judgment of this kind underlining the need to amend the Turkish Civil Code to ensure gender equality was delivered in 2004 in Tekeli v. Turkey.
 
Damla was born in Turkey and married her husband, an Italian national, in Istanbul in 2005.
 
Before her wedding, Damla had written to the Turkish authorities to request that she be allowed to keep her birth surname following marriage. This was refused and she was told that her only alternative option was to have her surname ‘Yazgan’ added to her husband’s ‘Occhetta’. As a result, her official documentation and identity papers were automatically changed by the Turkish authorities to bear the surname ‘Yazgan-Occhetta’.
 
Damla filed various legal applications and appeals in Turkey, in an attempt to change her name back, but all were unsuccessful. Her application to the European Court of Human Rights was filed in 2011.
 
Damla argued the automatic change of her name imposed a change on her identity that was both humiliating and discriminatory against women. 
 
In 2013, the Turkish Constitutional Court, too, recognised that women have a right to choose their names. Women, however, still have to litigate to keep their birth names in Turkey.
 
Following the European Court judgement Damla said:
 
“This judgement is very important for me, as well as all married women in Turkey who feel that their identity is stolen by the state of Turkey, because they decided to get married.
 
‘I have always believed that all people should be free in selecting their identity, whether given during birth or not. I personally have always identified myself with my name given to me at birth, and I am confident there are lots of women who feel like me. 
 
“I hope Turkey will proceed as soon as possible with the necessary changes in law so that married women can finally get recognised with their own last names.”
 
Rosa Curling, solicitor in law firm Leigh Day’s human rights team, said:
 
“I am delighted with the outcome of the case, both for my client and others who have been impacted by this Turkish law.
 
“It is shameful that in 2017 some women are left with no option but to bring legal proceedings in order to retain their own surnames after marriage.
 
“Damla’s success represents an important recognition of women’s rights in Turkey.”
 
Alongside Leigh Day Solicitors, Professor Basak Cali, Professor Christine Chinkin and Deirdre Fottrell QC of 1 Garden Court Chambers represented Damla Yazgan at the European Court.

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