Combating Violence against Women in Turkey: Where are We on the Road?

“Violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women’s full advancement”

The Beijing Platform for Action (1995),

The world, as it is, is a place where every day thousands of women are killed, raped and assaulted by men. Turkey, as a patriarchal society with unequal gender relations supported by both deeply-rooted social and cultural norms as well as economic problems is no exception to this rule.

In 2011 alone, men killed 259 women and raped 118 women in Turkey.[1] According to a study conducted for the Turkish Institution of Statistics three years ago, the percentage of women who were the victims of physical violence by their husbands or partners in their lifetime is 39.3 per cent. While in low-wealth group this percentage rises to 47 per cent, it is still no less than 25 per cent among women in high-wealth group.[2] This means at least one in every four women has been subjected to and suffered from their partners’ violence at some point in their lives.

Table 1: Domestic Violence against women[3]

Life time

Last 12 months

Wealth

Low

47

13.7

Medium

38.9

8.9

High

26.7

5.5

Region

West

33

6.8

South

41.7

11.9

Interior

44.7

10.9

North

38.9

7.3

East

48.5

17.7

Work

None

38.7

10.3

Working

40.7

8.9

TURKEY

39.3

9.9

In the last few years, Turkish cabinet, which is mostly composed of men,[4] undertook important steps to reduce violence against women in Turkey. In 2004, the traditional provision that rape can go unpunished if the perpetrator marries the victim was abolished.[5] Recently, in line with the conventions of the Council of Europe, the government established a National Action Plan for combating violence against women. Accordingly, National Institution of Statistics started to compile regional statistics for cases of violence against women. There is also a serious project supported by the Council of Europe to increase the number of shelters and improve their quality. In the meantime, however, the name of the Ministry of Women, Family and Social Services was converted into the Ministry of Family and Social Policy. The Ministry, in spite of all the pressures from women’s associations, continued to truncate the reform proposals in line with the conservative stance of the Justice and Development Party in government. The legislative changes consistently fell short of addressing the deep-rooted causes of male violence against women and accordingly failed and continue to fail bringing about a real change in the implementation of law.

A recent decision by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals to lower the sentences imposed on a group of men found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl because she was deemed to have “consented” to the acts is the most obvious evidence for the problems in the legal process. The rapists, which included local administrators and a gendarmerie captain, were given between one to slightly more than four years in jail due to good behavior in the courtroom and the judges’ finding that she willingly consented to the abuse. The law also failed to protect women before they are subject to violence. As in the case of Müzeyyen Yanık, who applied to the court several times for protection against her husband, restraining orders for perpetrators of violence are usually issued only after a violent act occurs. Yanık was assigned protection three months after she was killed.[6]

Recently, a draft was prepared by 230 women organizations and submitted to the Ministery, in order to address the problems in the “family protection law” (4320 sayılı ailenin korunması hakkında kanun). The modifications made by the Ministry on the draft proposal point to the limits of the political and bureaucratic willingness to combat with violence against women.[7] Various important articles in the draft proposal were removed by the Ministry before it was submitted to the Prime Minister. While in the draft, an article emphasized that the protective services should be provided for everybody, regardless of their ethnicity, age, social and economic status; in the final version this article was removed. Another article erased from the draft was about the introduction of appropriate training programs for the officials such as the judges and the prosecutors in the family courts, the police force, and social workers. Training for social workers is quite widespread in the European Council member countries; only Azerbaijan, Ireland, Monaco and Turkey are reported not to offer such training, either in initial education or in further training.[8] Furthermore, there are no services with specifically trained staff for women who are victims of sexual assault.[9] Existence of such services accessible to all women in sufficiently wide geographical distribution and free of charge is one of the priorities of the European Council. On the grounds of lack of sufficient funds the article that requires making necessary changes to enable monitoring of the implementation process, which would allow civil society groups to inspect social services provided for the victims, was also removed from the draft.

In addition to all these serious shortcomings in the legislative sphere, the attitudes of the government officials and bureaucrats reflect an equally important obstacle in the development of women’s rights in Turkey. The government and bureaucratic cadres seem to support and reproduce a patriarchal discourse in which value of women is primarily defined within family, emphasizing their role primarily as wives and mothers, instead of their rights as individuals. In line with the attempts of the government to preserve and promote conservatism in the society, AKP government has continued to support the idea that women and men are not equal by creation, and women are therefore responsible for housework and motherhood.[10] One of the first acts of the minister was to sign a protocol with the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) in order to  develop education, counseling, and social services models to address problems in the family. This act reflects government’s general attitude towards social conflict: The problems of power should be reconciled through religious culture in which sacredness of family has been placed above women’s rights to life and dignity. At the same time, social, economic, and cultural underpinnings of gender inequality have been ignored.

The government does not acknowledge women’s and men’s unequal access to economic resources as an important source of unequal power relations between men and women. According to a study by Economic Forum in 2006, Turkey ranks 105 in 115 countries according to a gender equality index.[11] According to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s data, 80 per cent of women, twice as much as the percentage of men, do not possess any real estate or vehicle. Women’s participation in the labor force is less than 25 per cent.[12] As long as women do not have sufficient income to support themselves and their children, access to social services, and access to psychological support, they will not able to leave and defend themselves against their abusers. Not only these problems of gender inequality are not effectively addressed, but also the realm of reproduction and marital preferences are considered issues of national power and political design. The Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan easily makes statements about how many children families should have and how one shall not choose to remain single. The Minister of Family and Social Services, furthermore, supports explicitly the prime minister’s call for couples to have at least three children against an aging population. She maintains that the Ministry will “implement measures to reduce the workload on women, and at the same time… to increase both our young population and its quality.”[13] One wonders how women’s participation in the labor force will be supported with such diverse priorities.

The decisions of the National Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) is another proof that the high bureaucrats and politicians are far from able and willing to understand broader cultural and social context in which violence against women are justified. Broadcasting of an add prepared by the famous women’s organization against violence (Mor Çatı) for the television was prevented by RTÜK on the grounds that the add was against “social gender equality” and represented a “generalization.” The board regarded a statement about how many women were killed by men a “generalization,” indicating that men in power are not able or willing to understand the nature of male violence against women: “Gender-based violence against women is violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.”[14] A recent event further demonstrated inability of the government to acknowledge the importance of cultural discourse in reproducing violence against women. The director of the national institution of television and radio (TRT), İbrahim Şahin, called a women singer of Kurdish origin, Rojin, a lascivious woman (aşüfte) in a press meeting and was still able to preserve his office.

Although the picture is gloomy, there are more than 70 women’s groups working actively in order to influence the reform process. The ministry and women’s groups will have a new meeting on January 12 . It is our hope that the Ministry will be more willing to address cultural and economic factors which support patriarchal values legitimizing violence against women and take necessary steps to initiate much needed legal reforms.

Seven Ağır

Please cite this article as follows:

Ağır, Seven (March, 2012), “Combating Violence against Women in Turkey: Where are We on the Road?”, Vol. I, Issue 1,  pp.15-20,  Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London: ResearchTurkey (http://researchturkey.org/p=198)


[2] İstatistiklerle Kadın, Women in Statistics 2010, TÜİK Yayınları, 2010.

[3] For more detailed information on statistical categories presented in the above table, please see http://www.tuik.gov.tr/kad%C4%B1nasiddetdagitim/aciklama.zul.

[4] There is only one women minister in Turkey’s cabinet, Fatma Şahin, who is heading the Ministery of Family and Social Services.

[5] CDEG (2010) Protecting women against violence Analytical study of the results of the third round of monitoring the implementation of Recommendation Rec (2002)5 on the protection of women against violence in Council of Europe member state:

http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/equality/03themes/violence-against-women/cdeg_2010_12en.pdf

[6] “Koruma İsteyen Kadına Öldükten Sonra Koruma”, http://www.parantezgazetesi.com/haber_detay.asp?haber=8547.

[7] This account is based on a report by Çiğdem Hacısoftaoğlu (Mor Çatı Women Sığınma Foundation) on the changes in the legal draft from September 11 until December 31, 2011.

[10] Sibel Özbudun, November 5, 2011.

[11] Şahin Alpay, “AKP Kadın Haklarını Tehdit Ediyormuş”, June 19, 2007.

[13] “Government determined to protect women from domestic violence”, 8/12/2012 http://www.todayszaman.com/news-268003-.html

[14] “European Women’s Lobby Position Paper Towards a Europe Free from All Forms of Male Violence against Women,” December 2010, http://www.malostratos.org/images/pdf/011/011%20position%20paper.pdf refers to  The General Recommendation No. 19 of the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

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