Turkish civil society pushing for gender equality

Turkish civil society pushing for gender equality

Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ on March 5 said that a draft will be submitted to parliament to bring heavier punishment for perpetrators of sexual assault against children and women, ranging from chemical castration to heavier prison sentences with no remission option. Bozdağ also said there would be additional measures taken to prevent the crime from taking place, for which not only government agencies but the civil society too should work on. 

Opposition parties are pledging support to implement stricter measures to prevent sexual crimes and for more deterrent punishment.

It is the persistent outcry of the civil society and partly the media which have been trying to draw the attention of the public and politicians for many years, especially the last two decades. But it has started bearing fruits only in the last few years.

As lawmakers and the government have started to respond to the demands of the society, the debate started delving much deeper in a healthy way. When asked about reduced sentences for those who commit crimes against victims between the ages of 12 and 18, Bozdağ said the case was not the government’s choice, but according to the escalated punishment ruling of the Constitutional Court in 2016, the debate might end up as not lesser punishment for abusers of victims aged 12 and above but heavier for 12 and younger.

Sexual violence against women is a serious social problem in Turkey. Only in February, 47 women were killed by their husbands, ex-husbands, fathers, brothers, or men close to them. In 2017, the total number of women killed was 409, alongside 387 cases of child molestation.

Sexual violence is perceived as part of gender inequality in Turkey. So efforts to deter sexual violence go hand in hand with efforts to increase gender equality.

On March 5, daily Hürriyet lead a conference entitled “Power of Women,” where the analyses of the current situation in Turkey were shared and success cases were discussed in order to promote role models especially for young women. Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, a board member of the Hürriyet group, said in her opening speech that providing equality in opportunity is one of the most important aspects of increasing gender equality. That is important because only 27 percent of the workforce in Turkey is made up of women, and only 11 percent of senior positions in the government is filled by women, and together with the private sector, it’s as low as 13 percent. Hürriyet has played a leading role in a campaign that led the government to launch an emergency call line (183) to report on abuses against women, children and the disabled.

On the same day, Turkey’s top business club, the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), initiated a project aiming to encourage shareholders to promote gender equality in TV series amid a research that found that most TV shows reinforce gender stereotypes. Oya Ünlü Kızıl, the head of the Gender Equality Working Group of TÜSİAD, said social prejudices were bigger obstacles against gender equality than the education system.

Raising awareness and drawing the attention of politicians and private sector decision makers have been picking up steam by the civil society. Figures like Canan Güllü, of Turkey’s Women Associations Federation (TKDF), or Canan Arın, of Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation (Mor Çatı), have started becoming reference figures also in political debates on the issue.

United Nations Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Alia El-Yassir told Hürriyet Daily News’ Barçın Yinanç on March 5 that Turkey was number one in 2017 in the number of companies signing up to the U.N.’s Women Empowerment Principles. She said the problem in Turkey had more to with the implementation of legislation.

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