Global Human Rights Defence

Dark age of women’s rights in Turkey: From revolutions to oppressions

Dark age of women's rights in Turkey: From revolutions to oppressions
‘Men and women should always be equal’.Source: Sözcü, 2021.

Author: Idil Igdir

Department: Women’s Rights Team

 Introduction

Turkey has not always had such dark times, especially when it comes to women’s rights. The great leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey and the founder of the Turkish Republic, started to grant political and social rights to Turkish women since the 1920s, making revolutions ahead of his time (Çünkü baska sen yok, N.D). Turkish women, for instance, obtained the rights to divorce, custody, and inheritance with the new Civil Code in 1926, which was based on the Swiss Civil Code, thus acquiring equal status with men in the family and society (Zambrana, 2021). Previously, Turkish men could have four wives at the same time and divorce them whenever they wanted without any legal action. This humiliating situation was abolished in 1926 with the prohibition of polygamy in the Civil Code (Birbiri, 2006). Concerning education, with Tevhid-i Tedrisat Kanunu, the law of “Unification of Education”, dated March 3, 1924, girls and boys began to receive education in an equal framework (Çünkü baska sen yok, N.D). This series of substantial adjustments can therefore be interpreted as an indication of the importance Atatürk placed on gender equality and how much he prioritised it with the establishment of the Republic in 1923. The following words of his were enough to comprehend his stance on this issue: “If our nation now needs sciences and knowledge, men and women must share them equally” (Birbiri, 2006).

 

Women’s right to vote and to be elected’. Source: Karar/December 5, 1934.

 

Furthermore, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk knew from the very beginning that one of the most important steps for the secularisation of Turkey was to include women in political life. So, by freeing women from the pressure of the old conservative laws and customs, he paved the way for Turkish women to be given the right to vote and be elected on December 5, 1934. (Engin, 2021). However, what needs to be stressed here is that although Atatürk played an influential role in the emergence of this outcome, the real victory belonged to the women who had fought relentlessly since the Ottoman period. The pioneer of the recognition of women’s political rights after the declaration of the republican regime was Nezihe Muhiddin, who completed the formation of the Women’s People’s Party in 1923 and went down in history as the founder of the first political party in Turkey (Karakuş, 2021).

Exactly one year before this landmark decision, Atatürk said the following, which is the clearest and shortest summary of his approach to women’s rights: “A republican regime means a democratic system and a form of the state. The Republic must meet all the necessities of democracy. The recognition of women’s rights is one of these democratic necessities” (Engin, 2021). Thus, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, Atatürk did not give up striving for women’s rights. In other words, the foundations of the Republic of Turkey were shaped around the emphasis on equality as a reflection of his will of democracy which he wanted to pass on to future generations.

 

Quote Atatürk’. Source: doetankpeer, Lisa Bell/ Quotes Gram.

 

Until recently, Turkey continued to be one of the first on the world stage in the field of women’s rights to advance the democratic order laid by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Sabiha Gökçen, Atatürk’s adopted daughter for instance, became the world’s first female fighter pilot in 1937 (Zambrana, 2021). With Melahat Ruacan in 1945, Turkey also holds the position of being the first country in the world to have a female supreme court judge (Birbiri, 2006). Furthermore, to combat and prevent violence against women and domestic violence, Turkey was the first country to sign the Istanbul Convention out of 45, mainly European, countries in 2011 (Zambrana, 2021). Regarding a controversial subject such as the right to abortion, while not first, Turkey legalised abortion in 1983, before many Western countries such as Belgium, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland (Zambrana, 2021).

Yet, with the economic and political shifts in Turkey in recent years, the concept of “being the first” has changed and lost its meaning. It led to Turkey being the first country to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention in 2021 (ICJ, 2021). This abrupt news came as a blow to Turkey’s women’s rights. What was once known as a progressive country, has since turned into a land of endless women’s graveyards and systematic attacks on women’s rights. In May 2022 alone, 35 femicides and 16 suspicious deaths of women were recorded in Turkey (Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu, 2022).  In the same month: Turkish actress Melis Sezen’s dress became the target of political Islamists and her dress seen as a “crime”[1], artist Melek Mosso’s concert was canceled due to her political stance[2], and, actress Ezgi Mola was fined because of her tweets about the rapist and murderer Musa Orhan[3].

In the face of increasing violence and threats over the years, women in Turkey started to gather and establish associations to stand out against the system that did not protect them even when their lives were at stake. Kadin Cinayetleri Durduracagiz Platformu, We Will Stop Femicide Platform, was thereupon founded in 2010 after the brutal murder of Munevver Karabulut (Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu, N.D). The platform is now one of Turkey’s leading feminist organisations that regularly publishes monthly and annual reports on femicides. Since the scandalous decision in 2021, they have also been working on the re-implementation of the Istanbul Convention, thus Article 6284 in the country. Nevertheless, despite the legal and moral support provided by the platform, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a closure case in April 2022, upon the request of the Associations Desk and the Governor of Istanbul (Bianet, 2022). The reason for this unacceptable attack appeared on the grounds of manifesting activities contrary to law and morals.

 

Closure case against one of Turkey’s leading feminist organisations by the Prosecutor on the grounds of ‘immorality’

The closure case opened by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office in April 2022 was brought before the judge for the first time on June 1, 2022, at the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court of First Instance (Sözcü, 2022). Before the trial started, many feminist associations did not hesitate to make statements in front of the courthouse to show their solidarity and support in the face of the baseless accusations attributed to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. Among them, the general representative of the platform, Gülsüm Kav, said (Sözcü, 2022) :

We see the lawsuit brought against our association as a continuation of the unlawfulness of withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention. It was also one of the harbingers of the interventions and new oppressions on our freedoms and rights that we experience every day. That’s why this trial is the cause of all women, the whole society“.

Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu Dernegi Hukuksuz Davalarla Kapatilamaz’. Source:BirGün,2022.

 

Furthermore, as news of the closing case spread across the country, families of victims supported by the platform expressed their utmost concern and anger on the day of the trial. The mother of Ayşe Tuba Arslan, one of the murdered women, made a speech and said: No one protected my daughter. She died 44 days later. Her killers are still out there. This platform has always supported us (Sözcü, 2022). Ismail Çet, father of Şule Çet, who was murdered after she was raped in Ankara in 2018, also supported the trial of the We Will Stop Femicide platform which was held in Çağlayan courthouse in Istanbul (Hacaloglu, 2022).

While some seek this anti-femicide organisation to be shut down, lawyers continue to point out that they believe this case is a political issue, not a legal one. Esin Yesilirmak and Ipek Bozkurt, lawyers of the platform, made it clear that they view the closure case as a political matter (Staff Writer, 2022). Regarding the case, Esin Yesilirmak later added, “first, there was too much procedural flaw in the case. In other words, no investigation was conducted according to law” (Hacaloglu & Çolak, 2022). Subsequently, almost 300 lawyers from across Turkey expressed an interest in defending the group (Staff Writer, 2022).

So, on what grounds do they accuse an association dedicated to preventing femicide and protecting women with immorality? Claims such as “ignoring the concept of family, trying to break up the family structure, carrying out immoral activities under the guise of defending women’s rights” were included in the petitions that led to the lawsuit (Sözcü, 2022). Thereafter, the hearing adjourned on Wednesday, June 1, and will resume on October 5, 2022 (Staff Writer, 2022).

In addition, Nursen Inal, group representative of the platform, said we are under pressure from the government because we publicise, name by name, each and every woman’s murder” (Staff Writer, 2022). Thus it creates a contradiction with the government statistics they use to justify saying “femicide is on the decline” in Turkey. Contrary to the data announced by the government, the platform collects cases that were covered up as suicides and evaluates them under the name of suspicious death. For instance, in the annual report prepared by the platform, it was revealed that there were a total of 280 femicides and 217 suspicious deaths in 2021 alone (Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu, 2022). However, for the same year, the Ministry of Interior announced that there were 251 femicides in the country (Sirin, 2022).

 

Conclusion

From innovation to retrogression, we witness the clocks being turned back for Turkish women as the world moves forward in the modern age. Trying to explain the oppression of women in Turkey by hiding behind cultural and religious excuses creates an environment that only belittles the situations that women are exposed to. On the contrary, women, organisations and associations are constantly working to prevent the normalisation of a non-existent culture. Therefore, the closure case filed against the platform reflects another concrete example of silencing voices that try to protect women.

“Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women”

– Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

 

References:

AFP. (2022, June 2). Protests in Turkey against an attempt to close an anti-femicide group. Dawn.  Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1692698/protests-in-turkey-against-attempt-to-close-anti-femicide-group

Bianet. (2022, April 13). Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu’na kapatma davası. Retrieved 6 June 2022, from https://bianet.org/bianet/toplumsal-cinsiyet/260406-kadin-cinayetlerini-durduracagiz-platformu-na-kapatma-davasi

Birbiri M. (2006, November 30). Ataturk launched reforms giving Turkish women equal rights. Incirlik Air Base. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://www.incirlik.af.mil/News/Commentaries/Display/Article/303370/ataturk-launched-reforms-giving-turkish-women-equal-rights/

BirGün. (2022, May 26). Gericilerin hedef gösterdiği Melek Mosso konseri iptal edildi. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://www.birgun.net/haber/gericilerin-hedef-gosterdigi-melek-mosso-konseri-iptal-edildi-389339

Çünkü baska sen yok. (N.D). Atatürk ve Kadın Hakları. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://cunkubaskasenyok.com/onemse/ataturk-ve-kadin-haklari/

Duvar. (2022, April 13). Lawsuit filed against leading feminist organization, seeking its closure. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.duvarenglish.com/lawsuit-filed-against-leading-feminist-organization-seeking-its-closure-news-60801

Dokuz8Haber. (2022, June 1). Bir kapatma davası daha: Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu bugün hakim karşısında. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://www.dokuz8haber.net/bir-kapatma-davasi-daha-kadin-cinayetlerini-durduracagiz-platformu-bugun-hakim-karsisinda

Engin. (2021, December 10). Les droits de la femme turque: Du Néant au triomphe!. Turquie News. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.turquie-news.com/les-droits-de-la-femme-turque-du-neant-au

Hacaloglu H., Çolak U. (2022, June 2). Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu Kapanacak Mı?. VOA. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://www.amerikaninsesi.com/a/kadin-cinayetlerini-durduracagiz-platformu-kapatilacak-mi/6599386.html

ICJ. (2021, July 1). Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention a setback for women and girls’ human rights. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.icj.org/turkeys-withdrawal-from-istanbul-convention-a-setback-for-women-and-girls-human-rights/

Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu. (2022, January 4). Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu 2021 Yıllık Veri Raporu. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/veriler/3003/kadin-cinayetlerini-durduracagiz-platformu-2021-yillik-veri-raporu

Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu. (2022, June 6). We Will Stop Femicides Platform May 2022 Report. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/veriler/3023/we-will-stop-femicides-platform-may-2022-report

Karakuş F. (2021, December 5). 5 Aralık 1934: Türkiye’de kadınların seçme ve seçilme hakları. Çatlakzemin. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://catlakzemin.com/5-aralik-1934-turkiyede-kadinlarin-secme-secilme-haklari-tanindi/

NTV. (2022, May 14). Ezgi Mola’nın Musa Orhan davasında karar. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://www.ntv.com.tr/n-life/magazin/ezgi-molanin-musa-orhan-davasinda-karar,8dY-TwggsUiw4QYx2wNhxg

Staff Writer. (2022, June 1). Anti-Femicide group goes on trial in Turkey, faces risk of closure. The Globe Post. Retrieved 6 June 2022, from https://theglobepost.com/2022/06/01/turkey-femicide/

Sirin I. (2022, February 21). TÜRKİYE’DE SON 10 YILLIK SÜREDE İŞLENEN KADIN CİNAYETLERİNİN İSTATİSTİKSEL ANALİZİ. TAkademik Paradigma. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.akademikparadigma.com/turkiyede-son-10-yillik-surede-islenen-kadin-cinayetlerinin-istatistiksel-analizi-cicege-uzanan-kirli-eller/

SonDakika.com. (2022, May 13). Dekolte kıyafetiyle Ahmet Çakar tarafından eleştirilen Melis Sezen ilk kez konuştu: Ruhumuz nasıl isterse öyle. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.sondakika.com/magazin/haber-dekolteli-kiyafetiyle-ahmet-cakar-tarafindan-14940096/

Sözcü. (2022, June 1). Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu’a açılan kapatma davası başladı. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.sozcu.com.tr/2022/gundem/kadin-cinayetlerini-durduracagiz-platformu-hakkinda-acilan-kapatma-davasi-basladi-7168675/

Zambrana M. (2021, September 1). Turkey takes a step backwards on violence against women. Equal Times. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.equaltimes.org/turkey-takes-a-step-backwards-on#.YqtfOC0RqqB

[1]SonDakika.com. Dekolte kıyafetiyle Ahmet Çakar tarafından eleştirilen Melis Sezen ilk kez konuştu: Ruhumuz nasıl isterse öyle.

[2]Birgün, Gericilerin hedef gösterdiği Melek Mosso konseri iptal edildi.

[3]NTV. Ezgi Mola’nın Musa Orhan davasında karar.

POPULAR POSTS

FOLLOW US

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Mandakini

Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.