MPs should not obstruct fight on violence against women

MPs should not obstruct fight on violence against women

The Istanbul Convention, a landmark agreement to combat violence against women, is under the target of conservatives in Turkey as well as in some parts of Europe.

In both Turkey and some European countries, conservatives claim the convention harms the structure and the unity of the family. In Europe, the criticism is rather based on the fear that the convention opens doors to same-sex marriages, whereas in Turkey, the fear is based on its potential consequences for women’s empowerment.

As we mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25, we must give credit to all of those who have worked fiercely in this endeavor.

First, let me recall one more time that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and the representatives of the civil society have played a critical role in the preparation and entry into force of the convention, signed in Istanbul in 2011.

This active involvement has helped enact Law 6284, which set the necessary legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women.

For decades, Turkish culture considered domestic violence a private matter, and the judiciary has been very forgiving of violent husbands/partners. The Law for the Protection of the Family, enacted in 1998, provided important measures for the protection of women and children against domestic violence.

But one of its important deficiencies was that it only provided protection to those who were officially married.

The law enacted in 2012 provided protection for all women independent of their marital status.

The media coverage of femicides starting from mid-2000s on the other hand has been incremental in building public pressure on lawmakers, while it has also helped raise awareness among women who not only stopped remaining silent when subjected to violence but used their rights to protect themselves.
The entry into force of the law was followed by swift implementation as Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers were opened and public officials, including law enforcement officers as well as the judiciary, received in service trainings.

The other side of the coin

Despite these gains, not a day goes by without a news story about violence against women; with alarming death tolls.

In the newspapers that were published yesterday on Nov. 25, there were contradictory figures in terms of femicides. That’s because the government refrains from sharing data with the public, and this is indicative of a changing stance of the government that is not conducive in continuing the success that has been registered so far to fight violence against women.

The government is, unfortunately, under the pressure of a small minority with a strong impact disproportionate of its representative power. This group is now fiercely targeting the Istanbul Convention with the aim of rolling back the gains of the women’s movement in Turkey.

Unfortunately, they have strong collaborators in the parliament where a group of lawmakers are actively working on their behalf.

The name of the parliamentary commission set up in 2016 – “Parliamentary Inquiry Commission to Research the Negative Factors that Affect Family Unity and Divorce Cases and Determine the Measures to Strengthen the Family Institution,” speaks for itself.

The draft report of the commission dubbed as “divorce commission,” in the public, is defined by women’s organizations as a roadmap to roll back the gains.
One of the recommendations, for instance, is to close to the public all court hearings about family law. Yet it has been public outcry that has helped justice to be served in cases where the judges had the tendency to apply reductions to the sentences on perpetrators of violence.

Another recommendation brings time limitations to alimony. These are all to discourage women from seeking a divorce.

Currently, women can have a six-month restraining order; yet the draft of the commission recommends the requirement of an “evidence/document”
for such decisions and wants the period of restriction to be reduced to 15 days.

“Ever since this draft was made public, it has been difficult to get a restraining order longer than 15 days,” a lawyer familiar with this issue told me.

The mentality behind the anti-Istanbul convention coalition is the perception of refusing to see woman as an individual but as an essential tenet of the family.
But there is also an ideological side to it. Advocacy of women’s rights is seen as the cause upheld by the secular opposition. Any backpedaling on women’s rights is seen as a gain against the opposition.

In that sense, it will be highly interesting to watch how the female supporters of the government, mainly pious/conservative yet urban women, will react to efforts that will led to the erosion of their rights.