Turkey should stick to Istanbul Convention on violence against women
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The Turkish government lacks the political will to implement the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, even though Turkey was its first signatory state, according to a representative of a women’s rights NGO. “We observe a tendency to backtrack from the Convention,” Gülsüm Kav from the “We Will Stop Femicide Platform” has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Three years ago today, on Aug. 1, 2014, the Istanbul Convention entered into force in Turkey. Tell us about the current situation in terms of implementing the convention?
The independent expert body responsible for monitoring the Convention’s implementation has asked for a report from us. You are supposed to report positive steps as well as negative ones, but we could not find anything positive to report.
There are four essential categories in the Convention: Prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies. The first is about equality policies and here we see a backward trend in Turkey. Turkey ranked 125th out of 142 countries in the OECD’s Global Gender Gap Report. This result is not a coincidence, considering that the officials who should be taking the measures for gender equality use a rhetoric that shows they do not believe in equality.
On the second category, the Convention says that all women should be protected if they ask for protection from violence. In our country, that would mean the effective implementation of Law No. 6284, but there are many loopholes in the implementation of this law. Even women under protection continue to be murdered. Last year, five women under protection were killed, while the previous year more than 10 women under protection were killed.
Women start facing difficulty from the moment they apply to the relevant centers, and usually there are efforts to send them back home. There are a number of different measures that can be taken: The standard one is a call for protection by dialing 155. But again the implementation is problematic and women keep being harmed until the police arrive. Sometimes even when the police come they don’t interfere.
In short, many women cannot benefit from the public resources that they pay for with their taxes even when they apply to avoid getting killed. When the law entered into force public officials received some training, but ever since then there has not been much positive to report as the government wants to step back from some of the gains made. For instance, the government is uneasy about judicial rulings to keep husbands away, saying this negatively affects men.
Is the problem in the efficient implementation solely limited to lack of political will? Perhaps the government also lacks the means and financial resources to properly answer the demands for protection.
Of course, there are other problems as well. For instance, Law No. 6284 is a fairly recent law. Some public officials may still not be informed about it. Some still ask for a document of marriage, but the law was renewed and being married is no longer a requirement to ask for protection.
Still the most crucial problem is the fact that the government has no political will for effective implementation. On the contrary, we feel a tendency to backtrack and uneasiness about the Istanbul Convention from the government.
Let me explain the mentality. Divorce is usually the main reason behind murders of women. When a woman asks for a divorce it could end in her death. In order to find a solution to this, the government is looking for ways to prevent divorces. The parliamentary commission formed last year on divorce demonstrates such an effort. We know that there were negative comments about the protection law during talks at the commission.
Let’s talk about the third category.
If the state fails in protecting women - and this is the case in our country, where a decision to keep away the husband has been found in the handbag of a murdered women - then the state has to say “I failed to protect you” and take measures accordingly, especially deterrence measures. There should not be impunity and deterrent punishments should be applied. There should be zero tolerance to violence against women. But we still see reductions of sentences in such cases due to so-called “good behavior in court.” This year we have monitored 108 court cases in the first three months, half of which ended with reduced sentences due to “good behavior.”
Recently we also see long trial periods. Any late arrival of justice is itself a form of injustice. What’s more, we have also started seeing more postponements of sentences, especially in cases of sexual violence.
The government’s effort last year to open the door to the release from prison of rapists who married their victim demonstrates this mentality. Fortunately we were able to block that draft in parliament.
But currently the most acute problem is the reduced sentences applied to the perpetrators. At the same time, such reduced sentences are not applied to women. When faced with violence, women sometimes resort to violence in order to stay alive. But while this should be treated as self-defense they are often tried for life sentences.
Let’s talk about the fourth category.
The convention says “empower women to prevent violence.” This is about positive discrimination, whether it be in education, politics, or work life. We don’t see much here either. We could talk for hours about it, starting from the changes in the education system that are distancing it from science. There are also changes introduced to work life, such as flexible hours working. Providing long maternity leave and flexible working hours heralds a very dangerous path for women. The more flexible their working hours, the more their burden will increase at home.
So in short Turkey has a negative track record on implementing the Convention.
Turkey was the first country to sign it in 2011. That was the best year as we had the lowest rate of murders of women. This shows that if you have the political will you can create an impact in society. But ever since 2011 we have seen a rise in murders of women. In 2016 we registered 137 women murders in the first five months of the year, while in the first five months of this year the number is already 173. In the past, at least we used to see some official statements about the problem, but currently there are none.
We should also note that we are seeing a new trend in the violence, which is becoming more barbaric. There are increasing cases of mutilations of bodies, for example. The deep silence of officials in the face of all this is striking.
What do you think about the controversial recent draft law on civil registration services, proposing to allow “muftis,” religious civil servants within the body of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), to register marriages?
The draft law also contains many other articles that will negatively affect women. We live in a country where cases of sexual abuse, forced child marriages, and early motherhood are frequent. The draft law carries the risk of exacerbating these problems. As a doctor, I find the fact that the birth of children at home will be considered just fine morally unacceptable. It amounts to the abolition of a legal framework in the health system, eliminating the monitoring of the pregnancy and of the newborn baby. In a way it creates a “free zone” that opens the door to many negative effects on the health of both mother and child.
The law is effectively an effort to reintroduce and repackage the changes we were able to block last year, when they brought forward the bill to release rapists who married their victim. We will of course fight against it once again.
Who is Gülsüm Kav?
Gülsüm Kav is a founding member and the general representative of the We Will Stop Women’s Murders Platform.
Born in 1971, she graduated in medicine in 1996. In 2002, she started working as a specialist in medical ethics. Between 2003 and 2012, she worked as the coordinator for patients’ rights at the Istanbul Health Directorate. Since 2012, she has been working on the ethics board of Istanbul’s Şişli Etfal Hospital.
She has also worked with the human rights commissions of the Ankara and Istanbul medical chambers as well as the Istanbul Medical Chamber’s publication called “Doctor’s Forum.” She also worked as the Istanbul representative of the Turkish Medical Association’s (TTB) female physicians’ branch.
Kav is also a member of the Bioethical Association of Turkey and the Association of Medical Law and Ethics.