Today, as on every November 25, Turkish women took to the streets to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Holding rallies across Turkish cities, women held up photos of victims of femicide and chanted, “We will no longer be silent.”
Turkey has an appalling rate of violence against women. At least 40 percent of Turkish women experience violence throughout their lives. In 2019, more than 440 women were murdered as a result of domestic violence—the highest number in a decade. Nearly 400 have been killed this year. Ninety percent of femicides recorded between 2008 and 2017 were committed by the victims’ husbands, former husbands, boyfriends, or relatives. Perpetrators cite jealousy, rejection, or requests for divorce to justify their violence. Just this Monday, a man in Nevşehir reportedly placed a bomb in his girlfriend’s home after she tried to break up with him.
Lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic have made women even more vulnerable to domestic violence, trapping victims at home with their abusers. Turkish rights groups have warned of a surge in violence against women since lockdowns began in late March and have scolded the government for failing to devise contingency plans for victims.
Indeed, the government’s lackluster response to domestic violence is a key part of the problem. Most women in Turkey do not trust the justice system. Only 7 percent of women who face violence report it to the police, data show. Of those who do file complaints, only 4 percent find a prosecutor interested in pursuing their case. Of the prosecuted cases, just 21 percent result in convictions. Courts often issue shockingly lenient penalties: a man who attempts to murder his wife could face as little as a small fine or a few months in jail. To the outrage of millions of women, judges frequently hand down reduced sentences, citing perpetrators’ “good behavior” in court. And law enforcement itself has a violence problem: this year at least 75 women have reported sexual violence or harrassment while in police custody.
Adding insult to injury, Turkey’s repressive government frequently uses violence against women who dare to demonstrate against domestic violence. After yet another horrific case of femicide in July, for instance, thousands of women once again took to the streets in protest—only to be beaten and detained by the police.
Ankara is unlikely to take the issue seriously anytime soon. This summer, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly contemplated withdrawing Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty designed to combat violence against women, arguing that it threatens Turkey’s “traditional family model.” The suggestion alone shows how much Turkey has regressed in the last decade. Nine years ago, outrage against femicides prompted Turkey to inaugurate the convention—the first legally binding international effort to combat gender-based violence in Europe—with a ceremony in Istanbul, with Turkey as the first signatory. Today, while Turkey has one of the highest rates of femicides in Europe and ranks among the worst globally in gender inequality, Erdoğan wants to abandon the Convention. He would be better advised to properly implement the treaty—restraining patriarchy and ending impunity for violence against women.
Photo Credit: Mor Çatı Kadın Sığınağı Vakfı