Turkey Fails to Prevent and Protect Women From Widespread Violence
Author: Laura Libertini
Department: Europe Team
Feminicide, violence against women and misogyny represents a brutal reality in Turkey, where killings, rapes and aggressions are reported every day. In May 2022, 32 women were subject to femicide in Turkey, while the amount of victims of femicide has doubled since May 2021 (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022a). Most of the femicides were committed by an ex-partner, while 12 were due to women wishing to separate. According to several reports, at least four women pressed rape charges, while 11 lodged a complaint of sexual harassment. In addition, 65 women — including minors — were forced into sex work (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022a).
It is widely believed that the main reason behind these acts of violence is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s policies of protecting aggressive and abusive men by granting impunity. Moreover, the decision of March 2021 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to withdraw Turkey from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) triggered national and international indignity. The 2011 Istanbul Convention is an international treaty intended to protect women’s rights and hamper domestic violence. The accord requires national governments to adopt regulations prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence and similar mistreatment, as well as conjugal rape and female genital mutilation (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022a). On November 9th 2021, a man wielding a samurai sword walked up behind Basak Cengiz while she was walking down a street in Istanbul. Without breathing a word, he began to stab her over and over, continuing after she fell to the pavement and died. The 28-year-old woman had recently become engaged and had just moved from Ankara to Istanbul to pursue her career as an architect ((Farooq, 2021). When the suspected murderer was questioned about the killing of the young woman, the response was, “I went out and picked a woman because I thought it would be easier” referring to the idea of being out to simply kill someone (Farooq, 2021). In the days after the murder, a succession of political leaders, including Turkey’s President, paid visits to the victim’s family to offer their condolences, promising justice. The truth, for Erdogan’s critics, is that the government is partially to blame for such ruthless acts of violence. Gulsum Kav, a co-founder of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, told Al Jazeera that “Cengiz was killed because regulations protecting women are not implemented adequately in Turkey, because killing women is easy in Turkey,” and that “the primary reason is that women are not adequately protected, and also I believe the withdrawal from the protective (Istanbul) convention” (Farooq, 2021).
The withdrawal of Turkey from the Convention has also affected women’s rights organisations, which have been pressured by national authorities for their activist efforts. In April 2022, Turkish authorities launched legal proceedings to shut down the We Will Stop Femicide Platform for “illegal and immoral activities” and “damaging the Turkish family structure.” (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022a).
We Will Stop Femicide
The We Will Stop Femicide Platform was established 12 years ago after 17-year-old Munevver Karabulut was brutally murdered and cut to pieces by her partner. The website of the platform contains an online tally, updated every day to count the women victim of domestic violence and suspicious deaths, telling a very different story from what national governmental agencies share. It reports 159 femicides so far in 2022, while last year, it recorded 280 femicides and 217 suspicious deaths (Ertan, 2022). After the decision to start a legal process against the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, the organisation declared that they see this lawsuit “as an attack only on our own struggle. We know that this attack is an attack on all democratic public opinion.” (We Will Stop Femicides Platform, 2022). The platform also stated that they had constantly been working to ensure that femicide, misogyny and gender-based violence were tanked seriously and in time. They had assisted in court hearings and advocated for women’s rights on social networks. The main task of this process is to shut down the platform in order to silence the voices of those activists working to spread awareness of femicide and gender-based acts of violence and protect victims.
On June 1st 2022, Turkey’s opposition political leaders, bar associations and human rights advocacy groups made a joint display of force in front of Istanbul’s main Court of Law to protest against the lawsuit against We Will Stop Femicide, Turkey’s most long-running and louder anti-femicide organisation. More than 200 groups, including bars, universities and women’s organisations, signed a petition in support of the platform.(https://twitter.com/Canan_Kaftanci/status/1531896699706302464?s=20&t=mvEkZJugAvQYrqHRZB0_TA). While members of Turkey’s left-wing parties were present in the courtroom, the centre-right party DEVA showed up for support. DEVA chair and a former Minister of the AKP Ali Babacan denounced the accusations as “legally baseless.” (Ertan, 2022)
The We Will Stop Femicide is not the only platform targeted by Turkish authorities (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022b). In the last few months, women’s rights associations have been exposed to raids and investigations (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022b). 12 Women’s rights defenders from the Diyarbakır-based Rosa Women’s Association were arrested in March. While official sources have not revealed the explanation behind the detentions, the Bianet news website assumed that the reason is to be related to their participation in the International Women’s Day demonstrations since this year’s Women’s Day events took place amidst severe restrictions and harsh police intervention in both İstanbul and Ankara (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022c). Additionally, a Turkish court has sentenced Journalist Nurcan Yalçın to three years, seven months and 22 days of prison due to her membership in the women’s association Rosa (Stockholm Center for Freedom, 2022a).
Domestic violence in Turkey
The lawsuit against the We Will Stop Femicide platform came soon after the withdrawal of Turkey from the Istanbul Convention when President Erdogan declared that Turkey’s legislation was enough to protect women from mistreatments and violence (Ertan, 2022). However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) affirms otherwise. After a series of interviews with Turkish victims of domestic violence, their lawyers and police officers reported that the central authorities failed to enforce Turkish Court’s restraining orders to prevent ill-treatment from spreading (Ertan, 2022). In this context, the HRW’s report “Combatting Domestic Violence in Turkey: The Deadly Impact of Failure to Protect” comes 11 years after the 2011’s report that provided a far-reaching outlook on the problem of family violence in Turkey. The latest report addresses the use of preventive and protective cautionary orders issued by tribunals and law enforcement bureaucracy under Turkey’s 2012 Law to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence against Women (Law No. 6284). This rule integrated several aspects of the Istanbul Convention into the country’s domestic law and remained in force despite Turkey’s withdrawal from the Convention in 2021.
The 2022 Human Rights Watch’s report analysed 18 cases of domestic violence between 2019 and 2022, with one case from 2017. In June 2021, in the central Anatolian municipality of Aksaray, Yemen Akoda was shot dead by her husband Eşref Akoda, outside her house. Before the lethal assault, national courts had, on four different instances, issued preventive orders intended to keep Eşref away from Yemen after his harassment when she asked for a divorce. A lawyer of the family said that Eşref Akoda had approached and threatened his wife more than once, breaking his third and fourth preventive orders. However, on those occasions, the court had not enforced any of the available disciplinary action on him because of “lack of evidence”. Additionally, the prosecutor also refused to bring criminal actions against him, even though countless complaints were filed by Yemen’s lawyer (Human Rights Watch, 2022).
The case of Yemen Akoda represents only one of the thousand women subject to violent acts and ill-treatments. According to governmental studies from 2008 to 2014, approximately four out of ten women in Turkey declare they have been exposed to physical and/or sexual violence by partners at some point during their lives, while women’s rights organisations and independent media record hundreds of femicides in Turkey on a regular basis. The report demonstrates that preventive and far too protective cautionary orders issued by police forces and courts fail to be observed, leaving treacherous protection gaps for women, sometimes rendering them worthless. Cautionary orders are issued for way too short periods while the competent authorities fail to carry out efficient risk assessments or monitor the efficiency of the orders, leaving victims of domestic violence at risk of constant – and too often deadly – abuse (Human Rights Watch, 2022).
It is true that in Turkey, punishments for men who murder women have increased over the years. Yet, it is imperative to shed light on the failure and shortcomings of the relevant authorities to prevent these acts of violence. There should be transparent processes for investigating and holding accountable public authorities, whereas “they have not exercised due diligence in preventing and protecting victims of domestic violence” (Human Rights Watch, 2022). It is clear that the withdrawal of Turkey from the Istanbul Convention resulted in widespread and ruthless violence against women. The situation could worsen even more if the current lawsuit against the We Will Stop Femicide Platform results in the closure of the organisation, which has been standing against femicide for 12 years, supporting women and victims of violence in this fight.
Ertan, N. (2022, May 31). Turkish women’s groups rally behind anti-femicide platform. Al-Monitor. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/05/turkish-womens-groups-rally-behind-anti-femicide-platform
Farooq, U. (2021, November 18). Murder prompts calls for Turkey to rejoin Istanbul Convention. Al-Jazeera. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/18/turkey-femicide-istanbul-convention-womens-rights
Human Rights Watch. (May 2022). Combatting domestic violence in Turkey: The deadly impact of failure to protect. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2022/05/turkey0522_web.pdf
Stockholm Center for Freedom. (2022a, June 3). 32 femicide cases recorded in Turkey in May. Stockholm Center for Freedom. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://stockholmcf.org/32-femicide-cases-recorded-in-turkey-in-may/
Stockholm Center for Freedom. (2022b, April 13). Turkish authorities start legal process to close down the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. Stockholm Center for Freedom. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://stockholmcf.org/turkish-authorities-start-legal-process-to-close-down-the-we-will-stop-femicide-platform/
Stockholm Center for Freedom. (2022c, March 16). Police detain 12 women’s rights activists in southeastern Diyarbakır province. Stockholm Center for Freedom. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://stockholmcf.org/police-detain-12-womens-rights-activists-in-southeastern-diyarbakir-province/
We Will Stop Femicides Platform. (2022, April 13). We Will Stop Femicides Platform Association cannot be closed with unlawful cases. We Will Stop Femicides Platform. Retrieved on 7 June 2022 from https://kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/gorseller/3016/kadin-cinayetlerini-durduracagiz-platformu-dernegi-hukuksuz-davalarla-kapatilamaz