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Domestic violence has been an ongoing issue in Turkey. Turkey, a democratic nation by name, claims adherence to equality and to the rule of law. However, Turkey’s social, economic and political culture remains devastatingly masculine. Despite its claims to being a progressive nation, Turkey is a male-led country which directly and indirectly classifies women as second-class citizens.
As the world becomes more connected, one would assume that hope, progression and change will be influential across borders. However, this is a nation that enforces a visible division between femininity and masculinity, encourages inequality and validates discrimination against women. Women are confined to play certain roles in society and stepping outside of those roles leads to discrimination and violence.
For Turkey to overcome the gender issue and put a stop to domestic violence, cultural, political and mental mindsets must change first of all, and secondly effective and efficient implementation of the laws must be observed.
Since 2002, the Justice and Development Party (A.K.P.) has ruled Turkey. It is fair to say that few would agree that there has been successful progress in addressing gender inequality or strict and effective implementation of laws to cease domestic violence. In non-democratic governments, ruled by violence and visible human rights violations, women are among the first to be target as they are classified as weak. Turkey’s authoritarian government has openly validated and accepted violence against women.
It was in 2014 that Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, has blatantly stated “women are not equal to men,” according to The Guardian. In Hürriyet newspaper 2016, he declared that the role of women is to bear children and those who cannot or chose not to are deficient. President Erdogan further stated that women do not belong in the workforce, and his party will limit abortion rights, the morning-after pill and caesarean sections. Erdogan’s administration continues to control women’s bodies, public presence and their social, political and intellectual activities and has made attempts to do so further.
Since the beginning of A.K.P’s rule, the political group has falsely promised a “new Turkey.” In sum, A.K.P. has monopolized Turkish politics by reiterating its discourse on equality, regardless of gender, religion and ethnicity. However, a synopsis of the last 15 years shows that women’s rights have been reduced, and there have been significant efforts made to protect the “nuclear family” structure, with the male being the all-powerful head of the household.
Violence against women in Turkey, often involving husbands killing their wives, has drastically increased in recent years. According to collected data by a feminist group called “We will Stop Femicide Platform,” 237 women were victims in 2013, 294 in 2014, 303 in 2015, 328 in 2016, 409 in 2017 and 440 in 2018. In January 2019, 43 women were victims of domestic violence and in April 2019, 36 women were murdered. Aside from the outrageous number of women being killed each year, the number of sexual assaults is no less disturbing. According to Sabah, in 2017, 332 cases of sexual assault have been reported.
It is important to note that the aforementioned statistics are only the number of crimes and sexual assault cases that have been reported. Due to Turkish social and political culture, it is imperative to keep in mind that a significant number of violent acts against women, especially sexual assault cases, are under-reported. Due to Turkey’s male-dominant culture, societal pressure to keep families together, and lack of legal protection for female victims, many women are scared to come forward. In cases where they have come forward, unfortunately, they are blamed, shamed and murdered.
Despite great efforts and public campaigns, violence against women continues to be a problem. In 2011, Turkish legislation adopted Law 6284 Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women. However, the law is not enacted adequately. Punishment, as for the victims’ family’s justice, is not enacted fairly, effectively and efficiently. The weak laws, lack of implementation of laws and lack of political support across the leading parties are amongst the main factors that contribute to the ongoing violence women encounter.
As reported by the Middle East Eye in 2019, Turkey is one of the first countries that signed the Istanbul Convention 2011, with the purpose of taking preventative measures to cease violence against women across Europe. Ironically, the poor enforcement of the laws and the ongoing evident and hidden discourse of the state leader contradicts the goal of the 2011 convention.
Recently, a popular Turkish popstar, Sila Gencoglu, filed abuse charges against her then actor boyfriend Ahmet Kural. Gencoglu’s efforts to exercise her legal rights caused societal earthquake in Turkey with very mixed reactions. Gencoglu’s victimization was denied by many in society- especially dominant news outlets. Gencouglu’s story, just like many other victims of domestic violence or violence in general, was satirized.
However, one positive outcome was that Gencoglu’s case has brought significant attention to domestic violence. Gencoglu’s case has challenged the judiciary system and its implementation of Law 6284, due to it being a high profile public incident, and it restored trust and confidence in women to seek legal help. Although it will be a slow and painful change, Gencoglu’s victimization could be a positive factor in bringing change to Turkish laws, taking serious approach to violence against women and most importantly, encouraging international legal regulators to intervene when gender discrimination is at play.