Rising cases of gender violence in Turkey


By Adeze Ojukwu

Millions of women across the world are virtually caged and gagged, due to socio-economic norms, prevalent in most cultures.

Society permits it. Religion promotes it. Men uphold it. Most governments condone it.

The 2011 Istanbul Convention was established to reverse these obnoxious practices, but it has not made a significant impact.

Many traditions tend to shackle females, with behemothic laws and restrictions, that generally, strip them of their alienable rights to life and survival.

Till date, girls and ladies, live in dread and trepidation in many communities, particularly, where patriarchy reigns, such as Nigeria, India, the Middle East and draconian jurisdictions.

Gender-Based Violence(GBV) is currently perceived, as a global pandemic, because it ‘still affects one in three females.’ Sadly, the ugly trend has assumed horrific and complex dimensions in g26 FEATURES Turkey.

For most Turkish women, life is a ‘recurrent nightmare, that refuses to end. Femicide, battery and murder are regular occurrences, as captured by both national and international media.’

The atrocities are often depicted, with screaming headlines about the heinous gender-related violations and perils in the land.

The gory details were captured in a recent publication entitled: ‘Turkey Slams Women: A Basic Violation of Human Rights.’ It was authored by two international women rights activists, Emediong Akpabio and Yasmina Benslimena.

Benslimena is a Moroccan activist and founder of a feminist youth-led movement, Politic Her. Akpabio is a gender activist and member of the African Union(AU) and UNICEF Youth Reference Group on Child marriage.

The duo are also working on another report on gender abuses in Nigeria and other African nations.

According to the writers, in 2019 alone, more than 400 women were killed, as a result of domestic violence. The following year, no fewer than 200 women lost their lives.

They attributed such crimes to ‘domestic violence and honor killings.’ Despite the recalcitrant clamour for gender equality, majority of womenfolk remain vulnerable to violations, in private and public settings.

These abuses are quite predominant in Africa, Asia, and South America, due to a myriad of factors, ranging from patriarchal systems, culture, religion to poverty. The situation in Turkey is frightening Turkey, with the escalation of abuses and threats against females, across the country.

Human rights advocates believe these brutalities, may have been heightened by the exit of the country from the Istanbul convention.

The need to end this carnage, is imperative and urgent too, in Turkey, Nigeria, India, and all other parts of the world, where women are treated as the scum of the earth. These were the authors’ submissions, in their profound and incisive report.

‘The tradition-modernity duality is one of the most complex issues in Turkish society. If the common global historical discourse is one that acknowledges women’s absence from decision-making processes, it is, even more, veracity in Turkey, as the fight for equal rights was ignored, until the 20th century.’

‘For example, initial equality legislation didn’t occur until 1923. Also, the Islamist movement has been increasingly present in the intellectual debate, strongly influencing the social and political environment since the 1980s.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped women from bringing positive social changes.’ Recall that ‘in 1985, Turkey ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), leading the path for women to accessing basic protection and rights.’ Generally ‘women are often considered as the cornerstone of Turkey’s evolution, however and until today, women still don’t have full access to their rights as their safety is often at risk.’

The 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, by the World Economic Forum(WEF), revealed that Turkey ranks 133rd among 156 countries in gender equality, 101st in educational attainment for women, 114th in their political empowerment, 140th in economic participation and opportunity, and 105th in health and survival.’

‘As a matter of fact, domestic violence and femicide remain serious issues in Turkey. Cases have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2021, a man was arrested in the north of the country after a video was posted on social media, in which he is seen hitting his ex-wife in the street.’ Sadly, since 2002, 6,732 women have been murdered in Turkey by their husband, fiancé, boyfriend, ex-partner. It is more than once per day.

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This macabre count was made by opposition MP and former human rights lawyer Sezgin Tanrikulu, author of a parliamentary report.’ ‘Evidentially, violence against women is global, but in Turkey, femicide and murders dominate public and media discourses.’

‘In 2019, more than 400 women were killed as a result of domestic violence and in 2020 more than 200 women were killed. This rise in femicide rates is attributable to both domestic violence and honor killings.’ Cases have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2021, a man was arrested in the north of the country after a video was posted on social media, in which he is seen hitting his ex-wife in the street.’

The country’s recent Volte-face is shocking, because, ‘the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence,’ is widely known, as the Istanbul Convention, is essentially ‘a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe against violence against women and domestic violence.’

‘The accord was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on April 7, 2011, and was opened for signature on May 11, 2011, at the 121st Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul.

‘The convention aims at prevention of violence, victim protection and to end the impunity of perpetrators.

As of March 2019, it has been signed by 45 countries and the European Union(EU).

It is noteworthy that Turkey became the first country to ratify the convention on March 12, 2012.’ ‘Surprisingly, on March 20, 2021, Turkey announced that it was withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention.’

Historically, this code is ‘the first supranational treaty to offer a binding legal framework on gender-based violence.

Previously, no general text regulated this issue at the European level.’ ‘Principally, the pact requires governments, to put in place legislations condemning violence against women and all kinds of offenses, such as marital rape, female genital mutilation, and forced sterilization.’

‘Additionally, the charter provides support and advice to national governments.’

‘This was a welcome development at a time where a strong legislative framework for the protection of women from structural violence and rightly so, the Istanbul Convention was established on four main pillars on prevention of violence, protection of victims, prosecution of offenders, and policy coordination.’

It is a fundamental instrument in Europe, where there is more than 3,000 femicide per year.’ ‘By March 2019, about 45 countries and the European Union (EU) had been signed the document, a move largely applauded across multicultural backgrounds and state actors.’

‘Undoubtedly, the Istanbul Convention was expected to complement global efforts towards narrowing gender inequalities and breaking stereotypes by eliminating all forms of violence against women.

Despite the positive prospect of this treaty and its adoption by 45 countries and the EU, the Istanbul Convention is still a topical issue among member states.

As of 2020, only 21 member states had successfully ratified the treaty and six others had signed.

One member state announced its withdrawal from the instrument according to the European Union(EU).

Advocates had expected a unanimous adoption and ratification of this treaty at the level of the EU, but it was virtually greeted with biased interpretations.

It now begs the question. Why is the Istanbul Convention a problem for some countries? The treaty has been in force for 10 years now, and a debate on its content has been fueled by strong tensions in certain European countries.

While these challenges remain a major concern within countries like Hungary and Poland that have contemplated their withdrawal, the sponsor of the treaty made a staggering announcement that slams women and puts their rights at risk globally.

‘President Tayip Erdogan of Turkey, on the 20th of March 2021 officially announced his country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul convention without any parliamentary voting.’

According to the Turkish government, seemingly, driven by conservative religious movements, the agreement would undermine family unity, promote divorce, and even encourage homosexuality.

‘This excuse quickly sparked a lot of reactions from civil rights movement, women groups, and world leaders,’ and has continued to attract global criticisms.

‘Women were particularly angered by the turnout of the once-promising move by President Erdogan.

They are now pressing for a retraction and urging the government and to rejoin the convention.’ ‘Clearly, this is about females and this radical stance could be viewed, as a war against women by government.’

‘Erdogan faces allegations, including being accused of dancing to the Islamist tune to gain political favor ahead of the next elections and even compounded by his public speeches against gender equality.’

In trying to justify this damaging development, the presidency said that the convention threatens the traditional Turkish practice and family values.’ Rather than tackling violence against women, family values seem more important to the Turkish leader.

‘This irrational decision is a serious imminent on the demand for gender equality and representation in formal political processes in the country.’

‘Currently, about 85 percent of the total parliamentary seat is predominantly occupied by men, while almost half of Turkey’s cities have no female representation.’

This is unfortunate, considering that the country witnessed a sharp increase in, unjustifiable killings of women, during the COVID-19 pandemic.’

This is tragic because, reports show that violence also extends to workplaces and widens the pay gap across the nation.

Without a mechanism to curb further escalation and monitoring behavioral patterns towards women, they risk economic losses and staying out of jobs.

The staggering effect of state-allowed criminalities against girls and ladies, are humongous particularly on children. Incidents of child marriage, child soldiers, child labour and even mental issues associated with minors are often linked to violations of rights of women.

Although the real effectiveness of the treaty can sometimes be questioned, its symbol alone is enough to offer protection for many women.

Indisputably ‘the Istanbul Convention cannot be swept aside, as domestic violence and femicides are on the rise in Europe.’

‘More than ever, it must be acknowledged that this convention saves lives.

The call to action is a necessity both for Turkey and all other countries affected by this menace.’ ‘A collective response is needed by global women to amplify the need for Turkey government to rejoin the Istanbul Convention.

The treaty should be subjected to the legislative procedure in Turkey, in order determine the choice of people.’

Surely, the return of Turkey to the agreement, would be a great boost to the fight against GBV universally.

Akpabio, an aspiring diplomat and frontline activist was the president of YALI RLC West Africa – Nigeria Alumni(2020). He advocates for gender justice, child protection, and human rights, as a way of solving complex, social, cultural, and economic problems in Nigeria and Africa. Benslimane is a young human rights activist with a multicultural background.

Her professional experience involves national human rights institutions, NGOs, and UN agencies.

#Ojukwu is a Fellow of Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship journalist and advocates for improved socio-economic services for all citizens, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).

She reviewed this report as part of her commitment to the campaign for social justice, gender rights, and women empowerment. Please kindly send feedback to adeze.ojukwu@gmail.com.

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