The fact that most Turkish women—four out of five—were illiterate meant that it was particularly difficult for them to adapt to their new environment. Moreover, their social situation made integration into German society all the more challenging: they remained at home in their apartments, devoted themselves to raising their children, and had little contact with Germans and German society.

The Plight of Turkish Women in a Foreign Land (May 1, 1980)

  • Rose-Marie Christ


They Live and Languish in a Foreign Land
Turkish Women Feel Outcast

About 300,000 Turkish women live in the Federal Republic. They feel like outsiders in our country. The reasons for this are explained in a study commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

It requires a lot of imagination to think of Mevlüde Baklan as a Turkish woman. She doesn’t wear colorful harem pants underneath her dresses, nor does she hide her short haircut under the ubiquitous headscarf that most of her fellow countrywomen wear.

The thirty-three-year-old Turkish woman has lived in the Federal Republic for seven years. Her apparent adaptation to Western conditions without any great difficulty is attributable to the favorable personal circumstances she enjoyed right from the start. Mevlüde Baklan was already a teacher in her home country.

Most Turkish women (80 percent) are illiterate. They haven’t mastered their own native language, much less German. As long as these women and girls were living in Turkey, that wasn’t a problem.

According to a study by the Federal Ministry for Research, Turkish women in the Federal Republic feel like outsiders. Contact with people around them is nipped in the bud. They are either completely bound to their households, where they live in total isolation and in unconditional dependence on their husbands, or they work in factories.

Above all, they feel decidedly rejected by the German population because of their different style of clothing, their reserved nature, and their language problems.

Most of all, however, these women suffer from alienation from their own children and husbands. This bundle of problems is causing a growing number of Turkish women to suffer from psychosomatic ailments.

Mevlüde Baklan knows how much most of her fellow countrywomen suffer from being strangers in a foreign country. That’s why she devotes all of her energy to helping them. As a social worker at the Workers’ Welfare Association (AWO) in Duisburg, she organized literacy courses so that these women can at least learn to read and write.

In the process, it became clear that these women are very eager to learn. “Most of them have a burning desire to change their situation. They want to learn, and they especially want to be respected,” said the social worker. Their husbands, on the other hand, turned out to be a major obstacle.

Continuing education is the only way to help these women.

Source: Rose-Marie Christ, “Sie leben und leiden in einem fremden Land,” Welt der Arbeit, May 1, 1980.

Translation: Allison Brown