From Advocacy to Success: Sexist and Derogatory Meanings Targeting Women in the Turkish Dictionary Have Been Removed

From Advocacy to Success: Sexist and Derogatory Meanings Targeting Women in the Turkish Dictionary Have Been Removed
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Bilge Ece Zeyrek

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

The Turkish Language Institution (“the TDK”) has made a pivotal decision to remove from its Turkish dictionary sexist and derogatory meanings targeting women. The following expressions, which are included in the listed meanings of four words, are no longer in the dictionary: [1]

Müsait” (Available): Ready to flirt, easy to flirt (female)

Kirli” (Dirty): Menstruating (female)

Serbest” (Free): not dignified, floozy (female)

Esnaf” (Trader/shopkeeper): The woman who has gone astray

The TDK serves as the governing body for the Turkish language, established in 1932. It is responsible for linguistic research on Turkish and other Turkic languages, as well as the publication of the official dictionary called Güncel Türkçe Sözlük (“Contemporary Turkish Dictionary”). [2]

The move comes as a result of years of advocacy and campaigns by determined activists, signaling progress towards a more inclusive society. A total of 115,279 individuals supported Gökçe Karaoğlu's campaign advocating for the removal of the word “available” from the dictionary. [3] 63,547 people backed Doğa Dilvin Şahin's campaign to eliminate the word “dirty”. [4] Additionally, 10,711 people endorsed Ceren Başok's campaign, seeking changes to all words with sexist meanings. [5] Gökçe Karaoğlu's campaign argued that these expressions perpetuate the patriarchal system, which is the underlying cause of discrimination and violence against women, whereas Doğa Dilvin Şahin's goal was to challenge the portrayal of women in the 21st century. [6]

The importance of language cannot be overstated as it plays a crucial role in shaping societal attitudes and perceptions. Language reflects and reinforces societal norms, making the removal of sexist definitions a critical move in dismantling gender biases. By changing the language we use, we can break free from the constraints of outdated beliefs and pave the way for a more progressive and tolerant society. This linguistic shift represents a commitment to treating women with the respect and dignity they deserve, fostering a culture where gender equality is upheld as a fundamental value.

Moreover, this transformation in language opens up possibilities for constructive dialogue, encouraging people to question ingrained biases and promoting a greater understanding of the need for gender equality. It empowers women by recognizing their rightful place in society, free from harmful labels that have limited their potential for far too long. 

This success was made possible by the unwavering dedication and perseverance of women’s rights activists in Türkiye. This achievement serves as a powerful inspiration for countless individuals fighting for rights and equality around the world. It also reminds us of the positive impact that collective action can have in creating a more just and inclusive society.

Sources and further reading

[1] Bianet, ‘TDK 4 kelimenin cinsiyetçi anlamını kaldırdı’ (22 July 2023) <> accessed 26 July 2023.

[2] Türk Tarih Kurumu, ‘Tarihçe’ (n.d.) <> accessed 26 July 2023.

[3] Gökçe Karaoğlu, ‘Güncel Türkçe Sözlük'teki cinsiyetçi ifadenin kaldırılmasını istiyoruz’ (, 10 Mart 2015) <> accessed 26 July 2023.

[4] Doğa Dilvin Şahin, ‘TDK’da "Kirli" kelimesinin anlamları arasındaki "Regl olan kadın" ifadesi kaldırılsın!’ (, 28 September 2021) <> accessed 26 July 2023.

[5] Ceren Başok, ‘TDK'nın Cinsiyetçi Yaklaşımına Son!’ (, 5 August 2022) <> accessed 26 July 2023.

[6] Bianet (n 1).