Turkey has been backsliding on democracy and basic freedoms lately. Much of the blame rests with the government but the public’s tolerance for mismanagement and corruption also plays a part.
In our preoccupation with the day to day politics, we often overlook other equally worrying trends in society. It is not just the institutions that are deteriorating in Turkey. The social fabric, too, is fraying.
For me, one clear indication of this is the worsening status of many women.
In recent years, violence against women in Turkey has reached alarming levels.
According to report by Damla Yur in daily Milliyet, during the first 100 days of this year, 61 women were murdered by their husbands, boyfriends or male members of their families. Several more were injured seriously, receiving treatment in intensive care units of hospitals. It is widely believed that the domestic abuse cases are underreported in Turkey.
The Milliyet report quotes the Women’s Right Centre coordinator of the Istanbul Bar, Aydeniz Alisbah Tuskan as saying that the Bar had dealt with more than two thousand of cases of domestic abuse and they had protection orders issued.. However, due to lack of implementation of the existing laws and non-responsive attitudes among the police, eighty percent of these women have continued to suffer violence.
There is no doubt that violence against women has been increasing in recent years. Independent Communications Network Bianet reported earlier that cases of physical abuse and fatal attacks increased in 2013 compared to the previous year. According to Bianet’s annual report, 214 women were murdered, 167 were raped and 161 were sexually abused by men in 2013. In 2012, 165 women were murdered compared to 214 in 2013.
Since 2001, successive Turkish governments have been revising the Civil and Penal Codes to bring it up to the Council of Europe and the European Union standards.
In 2001, the Civil Code was updated to give women equal rights to property acquired during marriage.
In 2004, the new Penal Code placed the responsibility for establishing gender equality on the State.
June 2009 was an important milestone when the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Opuz v Turkey case. The Court found Turkey in violation of obligations to protect women from domestic violence. It was the first time the European Court of Human Rights explicitly stated that domestic violence was not a private matter but an issue that required state intervention. The Court ruled that the failure to adequately respond to gender-based violence was a violation of Article 14 of the Convention, the non-discrimination clause.
Turkey adopted a new domestic violence law in 2012 in order to protect women, children and family members. The new legislation called for establishment of shelters for the victims of domestic violence as well as financial aid and legal guidance.
So, Turkey has the laws on paper to criminalize domestic violence but in practice, their implementation is patchy. The police and prosecutors do not respond adequately to complaints by women; they do not take sufficient preventative measures. The courts do not always hand out sufficiently stringent penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence. Campaigners complain that the men responsible often get out of jail before the injured women come out of hospital.
The government is not doing enough to protect the women. More importantly, the society in general, does not see mistreatment of women as a fundamental problem. With increasing conservatism and religiosity, the gender gap is widening.
Stopping the erosion of women’s rights in Turkey should be a campaign issue that merits priority over everything else.
This post is also available in: Turkish