Gender Based Violence: A Present to Women of Turkey

Hindered by AKP’s lack of determination, violence against women in Turkey takes a turn for the worse.

According to the data released by the Women’s Rights Center of Istanbul Bar Association, 85% of approximately 2000 annually registered divorce applications are based on violence, and approximately 300 women has applied to the Association for protection in 2011.

Thus, a UN report titled “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice” shockingly reports that justice for women in Turkey and around the world is still out of reach.

On the other hand, on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2012, Turkish Parliament has passed a new law intended to address the issue of violence against women. Translated as “Law for Protection of Woman and Family Members” the law promoted the fact that women would be prevented against violance. Although the Prime Minister stated that “the new law was a present to all the women of our country”, the law, prepared by the efforts of women’s rights organizations, has its certain weaknesses.

Government ‘s Way To Prevent Gender Based Violence

Violence against women refers to the methods used by men as a means to express their superior power to the opposite sex. Therefore this description involves all physical, sexual, economic, psychological and verbal violence methods.

To begin with, there has been speculations about the name of the law. The name of the law which previously was “Law for the Protection of Woman and Family Members” was changed by the governing party AKP to “Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence against Woman”. Thus the “name” clearly points out that the violence could be “ignored” if there is a separation within the family; the law highlights the protection of the family, rather than the woman who is physically abused.  As it is clearly impossible to protect the “woman” and the “family of the woman” at the same time, the law should not have been narrowed down to the protection of the family. Thus, similar laws around the world clearly underline the importance of “woman”.

Beyond the name of the law, Justice and Development Party (AKP) has dropped the word “woman” from the “Ministry for Women” and changed the title to the “Ministry of Family and Social Policies” following the June 2011 elections. The new title of the ministry points out that the purpose is to protect the family rather than the woman. Therefore the woman will never have a chance to isolate herself from the concept of “family”; in other words the “conservatism” within the government locks women within the family boundaries.

We could list the reasons of increase in violence against women as follows:

1. Government’s lack of serious political determination and willpower to end the violence

What is clearly seen is that, the government shows no sign of determination to end the violence against women. The first step in preventing the violence should be a strong belief in gender equality. The concept also includes the prevention of discrimination over the concept of “virginity”.

The Prime Minister, on the other hand, declared that he himself does not believe in gender equality on various platforms. In one of the protests against the government, a female protestor was insulted by the Prime Minister by asking whether she was a “virgin” or not.

To mention a few among many, gender equality could be accessible only by increasing the integration of women into the workforce, improving gender equality laws accordingly, and preventing personal armament.


2. Fear of female sexuality

Almost all monotheistic religions have the tendency to limit female sexuality. As the female body has a tendency to be regarded as an object, these religions tend to give the ownership of this “object” to the family. The ownership passes on to the society if a husband is out of the equation. The hotly debated issue of “integrity” in Turkey stems from this religious heritage.

The integrity issue has cost the lives of many women in Turkey. According to a report by the UN Women released in early July, Turkey surpasses Europe and the US in the number of incidences of violence against women, mainly “honor killings”.

The reports demonstrate that on such cases, offenders have received inadequate sentences for their crimes due to “provocation”.

It is also worth noting that in 1985, Turkey has accepted the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, but the word “elimination” has been translated into Turkish as “prevention” in its legal form.

Therefore Turkish courts violate the contract of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, by considering “provocation” as an extenuating factor for decreased sentencing of honor killings.


3. Child Marriages

Early marriages are one of the most important factors in understanding the violence against women.

The rate of child marriages in Turkey is 14 percent, according to a study by the International Strategic Research Agency (USAK).

According to the Turkish Civil Code  the age of marriage  was set at 17 for both a girls and boys, from 17 for boys and 15 for girls previously, while  extraordinary circumstances require the approval of judge.

Although the causes and characteristics of child  marriages vary from area to area, it is often described as  traditional. In chil marriage cases, the  parents force their daughters to leave school by 15 at the latest, and look for an “appropriate husband” which refers to male guardianship. In such cases, the marriage, from girls perspective are regarded as “protecting them from danger” as well as a way to liberate their family members from poverty. Protecting from danger, could also be regarded as protecting their family “honor”; thus by marrying at an early age, the girl is believed to be protected from sexual assault.

To name the few, by  2008, the Social Democracy Foundation (SODEV) started a campaign to raise awareness of child marriages and educate community leaders in some provinces.  In May 2009, Parliamentary Committee on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men set up a sub-committee to conduct research on child marriages. Last, but not the least, Turkey’s International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) has called for a national “gender equality” action plan to prevent violence against women . The action plan was prepared as a report that was released on March,2012.

According to a report by UN Women, 39% of women in Turkey have suffered from some sort of physical violence, a ratio surpassed only by counties of the Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

Turkish Government has made some, but not significant strides in addressing violence against women, mainly through modernization of its laws. The government has been inadequate in developing a legal framework to prevent domestic violence, sexual assaults, and honor killings. Although the constitutional amendments and updated legal codes have paved some way, there is still much further to go. To state a few:

– Government should have an immediate response to women who seek protection by forming the necessary budget for shelters and women who apply for protection should be accommodated in shelters along with their children;

– Municipalities should immediately increase both the quality and the number of women’s shelters throughout the country. It is important to remember that shelters are not prisons but places where women find a chance to start a new life. Persons who experience violence should receive the required medical care in these shelters if necessary;

– Violated women should receive financial aid if necessary;

– Children of both sexes should be properly educated in gender equality at an early age. Teachers of primary and secondary schools must be well equipped for this purpose. Children should internalize this equality;

– Government should support women in the workplace, and encourage them to make use of their rights;

– Government should immediately obey the international contracts signed for the protection of women against violence and Turkish courts should immediately eliminate the practice of reduced sentences for crimes of violence against women;

– For violence cases, courts should accept women’s organizations as a third party;

– The addresses of residents of the women’s shelters must be concealed even from government offices and there should be necessary arrangements to conceal the addresses of children of mothers who are victims of violence.

About Canan Arın

Lawyer, Founder of Mor Çatı (Purple Roof) Women's Shelter