Tips for Women Travelers in Turkey

Everything you need to know about healthromancewomen’s rights and safety in Turkey.

All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Add your voice!

  

Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Angela says: You can find pads anywhere. You can buy tampons, but it’s harder to find them. They are sometimes available at the pharmacy (eczane), and you can find them at international cosmetic and health product stores like Gratis. Sometimes they are available at local grocery stores in expat areas. You probably will not find tampons with applicators; most of the tampons sold in Turkey are of the O.B. variety.

Haley says: All major brands of pads, tampons, cleaning wipes, and feminine hygienic products are available in most convenient stores. The far eastern cities closer to Iran will be a little more difficult for finding such a wide variety, but the cities that most people go to have anything you can find in European cities and/or the USA.

Birth Control

Angela: Unlike other countries where I have lived and traveled, you do not need a prescription for birth control. You can simply walk into a pharmacy and tell them what you want. You will find the usual brands that you can find at home.

I use Nuvaring, which is a bit less common. Not every pharmacy has it, but some do, and I usually call ahead and have them order in six months at a time so I don’t have to make frequent trips. It is also cheap. In the US one month (one ring) can run up to $80. Here, they cost 24 TL (about $12). Actually, if you are a tourist in Turkey you might consider stocking up on birth control while you’re here! I am not sure about the availability of things like IUDs.

I find it a bit strange but also convenient that one does not need a prescription for birth control. This goes for other medications that you would normally need a prescription for in other countries like antibiotics or antidepressants. I know there are some medications which do require a prescription, but I haven’t needed to get one yet.

Haley says: Birth control is widely available and mostly inexpensive. The major brand is Yaz, but they also have other Turkish brands. A prescription is not necessary nor required. Pharmacies are called Eczane and they are marked by a large E in red. By law, at least one pharmacy in the area has to be open at all times- so birth control as well as medicine is easy to get at all hours of the day.

Recommended Gynecologists and Doctors

Angela says: I saw a gynecologist at one of the Acibadem centers. Acibadem Healthcare Group has many locations in Istanbul and a good reputation. The gynecologist I saw speaks English and is quite good. A big difference between gynecologist visits in the US and abroad is the use of ultrasound for routine health checks. In general, the care I have received abroad is superior to the care I received in the US in terms of cost and comprehensive, preventative care.

The bedside manner of the gynecologist may be a bit different than what you’re used to, but I have had positive experiences.

Haley says: Gynecologists are easily accessible in all hospitals, and appointments and walk-ins are all accepted. The only difficulty is that if you are not living in Istanbul, the doctors are not obligated to know English fluently and getting an appointment will take a bit of pointing at a phrase-book unless you have made a Turkish friend to accompany you. 

The visits are also a lot more relaxed. You will most likely have a male doctor and female nurse. In my experience I went in for a minor infection, and I was told to undress in front of the nurse and quickly add a robe on before the doctor walked in. But it was a quick inspection and then I was out of the office with prescription in hand in under 10 minutes. The doctors and nurses are highly trained and know exactly what they are doing.

Breastfeeding

Haley says: This is not accepted in public, you won’t see it. Women dress more modestly than in other European countries and anything to do with the female body is usually done behind closed doors.

 

Romance

Dating Locals

Angela says: If you are looking for a fling, you will have no troubles. You will find many attractive young men who are happy to fawn over you and confess their undying love for you. You will have a good time if that is what you are looking for.

If you are looking for something more serious, use caution. Turkish men usually come with complications. Jealousy and possessiveness can be issues for both Turkish men and Turkish women in relationships. There is a definite perception of foreign women as “open” or “easy” – not everyone believes this of course, but stereotypes are very strong in Turkey. Sometimes men behave and speak accordingly. Be aware of this and keep it in mind.

Haley says: Turkish men love foreign women. They can be extremely romantic, but they will also take even the smallest glance as an invitation for a first date or drink. Sarcasm is perceived as pure flirting. Dating a Turkish man you have to be careful of a few social norms. Eastern culture calls for jealousy by both men and women. If you are in a relationship, they expect you to pretend that other men don’t exist, even as friends. 

If you are not looking for romance, unfortunately, they do not believe in men and women being just friends. People in Turkey love to gossip. If you are seen out with a man, which you will be, there will be a rumor about you being romantically involved going around very shortly.

Types of Men

Angela says: I don’t know if I really believe in “typical types” of men, but generally speaking, there are three.

1. Turkey is slowly becoming more open, but it is a predominantly Muslim country and quite conservative in many ways. There are many men who are hungry to express themselves sexually. They are young, enthusiastic, and a bit like dogs in heat. Be very clear and firm when you say “no” to any unwanted attention.

2. There are the married men who are looking for some fun with a foreign girl (or any girl). It seems to me that affairs are quite common here.

3. There are plenty of nice but quite inexperienced young men. They have probably grown up in a fairly conservative home, and you may find it difficult to relate to them on certain levels. Your ideas about relationships may differ from theirs, and you might have trouble communicating.

Haley says: Most Turkish men are very persistent in seeing if you are interested, so be prepared to say ‘no’ more than once. Most of the men that I have met are very kind-hearted and hopeless romantics. They are very genuine and gentlemanly. A few men will not be afraid to call, text, Facebook message you, or do anything else to get your attention or to make sure you know that they are, in fact, your soulmate.  These are two wide opposites, but both types of men are very common in all cities across Turkey.

LGBTQ Friendly

Angela says: Turkey is becoming more LGBTQ friendly, but it is still a quite conservative country. Istanbul is a different world than the more rural areas of Turkey. In Istanbul you can find social groups for LGBTQ people and you will feel much more at home. There are social media venues for meeting other LGBTQ people, and there are some clubs and hammams as well.

Haley says: While the younger generations across Turkey are more accepting of LGBTQ folks, only in Istanbul and Eskisehir are LGBTQ people more socially accepted in the elder generations. There are no laws permitting LGBTQ marriage in Turkey.

 

Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Angela says: There is definitely a marked difference here between the roles of men and women. One difference that I noticed immediately is that there are few male teachers for young children. Turkish society seems to still be more comfortable with women in the role of caregiver for children. Turkish fathers have less of a role in child rearing and household duties.

Many women in Turkey wear a headscarf. I find that this custom is often associated with the belief that men are “just sexual and can’t help themselves” – that women need to conceal themselves to avoid tempting men.

Turkey in fact ranks very low in terms of gender equality compared to other countries. I was reading an article in a Turkish newspaper online that says Turkey ranked 123rd out of 130 countries in a study on gender equality conducted in 2008.

Haley says: Legally women and men are equal. More women are going to University for engineering and science fields than ever before, which is widening the available jobs open for women. While this is true in University and jobs, inside the home, things have not changed much. Women are still expected to do more “feminine” jobs while men are not to fuss over them. For example: if a friend of yours is moving in, and they have bought furniture from IKEA that must be assembled, if you, a woman, jump in to help, there will be many confused people as to why a woman is working on furniture and not making tea and/or coffee for everyone.

Turkey is on its way to becoming more equal with men and women, but unfortunately is not there yet. Every once in a while, government officials will make remarks about how women should act and dress, but mostly this is ignored by the public.

Local Women

Angela says: One big difference between young Turks and young Americans is that many Turkish people, with the exception maybe of time at university, will live with their parents until they marry. Again, it isn’t true for all young people, but it is much more prevalent than in the US. I find the idea of living with my parents at 25-30 a bit odd but here it is seen as normal if you are unmarried.

There are two types of women in Turkey – the more conservative, religious women, and the more liberal, secular women. Women can also be distinguished by “covered” and “uncovered” – whether or not they wear a headscarf. There are quite obvious differences between conservative, religious Muslim women and myself. The differences between liberal, secular Turkish women and myself are much less obvious and are usually limited to subtle cultural and social differences. There are also many young women in Turkey who speak English and have studied and lived outside Turkey.

Haley says: Being perceived as feminine is a huge deal to local women, especially in the younger generations. Make-up, fashion styles, and different perfumes are incredibly important. Women here want to look perfect. Close-friendships are like having more sisters, and are tighter bonds then their real sisters. Turkish women love to gossip more than I’ve ever seen, but they are also some of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. I’ve been in Turkey a little under a year, and the women, while they will probably tell all of your hardships to their best friends afterwards, will go to the moon and back to help you with what you need.

Women-Specific Environments

Angela says: Definitely in the mosques and hammams there are separate areas for men and women. There are lots of tea shops where you will see only men drinking tea and playing backgammon or other games – it’s not that women aren’t allowed here, but you probably wouldn’t want to hang out at those places.

Haley says: There are some places, such as cafes, where you will see only men inside. These are age-old cafes where elderly men come to talk about politics, play “okey” and drink lots of tea and/or coffee. Women are allowed in, but it isn’t highly encouraged. Bars and night clubs are welcoming to women and men alike, but if you are a woman, it would be safest to not go alone. On the whole women are allowed anywhere men are, but sometimes it may be more comfortable for the men because of tradition.

Perception of Foreign Women

Angela says: As a tall blonde woman I get lots of stares. Be prepared, even if you speak Turkish fairly well, to be responded to in English, even if their English is far worse than your Turkish.

There is a definite feeling among some men that foreign women are “open” and “free” as I mentioned earlier. I have had men ask me ludicrous questions about sex, leaving me to wonder where exactly they get these ideas from.

There are definitely certain perceptions about people from the United States as well – for some people they are negative perceptions, but in general people are friendly and want to talk to you. They are curious about why you are living or traveling in Turkey and are eager to practice their English.

Haley says: I have had a few cold remarks condemning things such as capitalism or foreign policies of my home country that I had no control over. But all the people that have actually talked to me, and the ones that have become friends are extremely thrilled to know foreigners.
On a whole, local men/women will approach you out of curiosity, and will be excited to show you their culture or traditions. They become even more excited if you learn a few phrases or words in Turkish. They will tell you sound Turkish and encourage you to learn more.

 

Safety

Transportation

Angela says: In general public transportation is safe. I have heard stories about women being molested by taxi drivers, especially if they are alone and intoxicated at night.

Haley says: Long-distance buses, city buses, mini buses, and taxis are available in all cities. All are completely safe for women.

Shady Areas for Women

Angela says: I am not aware of any areas that are specifically dangerous for women, but Istanbul definitely has neighborhoods to avoid. The usual advice holds true: try not to travel alone at night, avoid dark deserted alleys, etc. I have been followed by a man on one occasion and heard tell of this happening to others as well. Be cautious, be firm.

Haley says: As a whole Turkey is a safe country. However, as a woman it isn’t a good idea to be out late at night alone or go to dance clubs and bars alone. 

Clothing

Angela says: You can really wear anything in most places, although you will want to be more conservative in some neighborhoods. Very short skirts and revealing clothing will probably attract unwanted attention. To enter mosques you must cover your hair, shoulders, and everything else too.

Haley says: Outside of the major tourist towns, Turkey is a little more conservative than most places. On Fridays and religious holidays women are expected to not wear short skirts or low cut shirts. Usually when women wear dresses and skirts, they wear stockings, tights or leggings underneath, out of consideration for elder generations. 

As a country, Turkey is secular, but over 95% of people are Muslim. A headscarf is only required when inside a Mosque, not outside in everyday life. Other than that, everyday clothing is casual and usually fashionable. If you plan to live in Turkey, shoes that are compatible with walking a lot are highly encouraged. However, many women love wearing extremely high pumps, instead.

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