Turkey: Violence Against Women Rockets to Top of the Agenda

Author: Tayfun Hatipoglu

The gruesome sexual assault and murder of Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old female psychology student has sparked off a nationwide protest movement against the violent treatment of women in Turkey.

Ozgecan was travelling on a public minibus in the south central city of Mersin two weeks ago, when according to confessions by two of the suspects involved, she was targeted by the driver as the last passenger left on board. The driver then left the normal route despite Ozgecan?s protests and drove to a remote place. When he tried to rape her she bravely fought back scratching his face and using a pepper spray on him. In response the driver stabbed the girl several times and finally finished her off with an iron pipe. Then apparently the driver cut off the student?s fingers fearing that the police might find his DNA under her nails.

As if this wasn?t bad enough we are informed that the killer drove the vehicle back home where he persuaded his father and a friend to help him dispose of the body which they did by burning and burying it. Fortunately, the military police who had been alerted to the girl?s disappearance stopped the minibus when it was returning and discovered some of the student?s blood and clothing inside.

This case has many parallels with the rape and murder of a young woman just over two years ago on a public bus in Delhi which sparked off mass protests all over India. And in this case too the Mersin murder has ignited demonstrations and anger throughout Turkey.

Explosion of Protest
As the grisly details of the murder emerged angry groups of women vented their fury at this and other examples of the increasing violence being experienced by women in Turkey. The dead student?s funeral in Tarsus was attended by 5000 women who ignored the instructions of the Imam and carried the coffin themselves. Large spontaneous demonstrations of women took place in many cities across the country. Such was the public outcry, among both men and women, all the top political leaders of the country had to individually contact the student?s family and to promise to address the causes that lie behind the incident.

The extreme level of outrage at the murder was because it was not an isolated case but part of an endemic problem in the country. As Yasemin Yücel, from the local Education trade union explained: ?Five women are killed daily in Turkey?. She accused the government of encouraging the murder of women by promoting a male-dominant rhetoric.

Sezgin Tanr?kulu, one of the leaders of the main opposition party, pointed out in parliament that since the governing AK Party had been elected in 2002 there had been a 400 percent increase in the incidences of sexual assault and rape of women, and a 1,400 percent increase in the number of women killed.

As if to confirm the widespread extent of the problem, just days after the Mersin murder a 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her husband in the South East, while a woman in the north of Turkey was attacked after walking home from her work shirt. Fortunately, with all the publicity about the murder in Mersin she was carrying a knife which she used to fight off her attacker. He was subsequently captured when he presented himself to a local hospital for the knife wounds. Then in the Southern city of Antalya a young woman fought off an attack by a stranger while his friend looked on and laughed and mocked him for being unable to subdue such a lightweight girl.

A Culture That Encourages Violence Against Women
Assaults on women have long been an ingrained problem in Turkey, ranging from domestic violence at one end of the spectrum to rape and murder at the other. In the case of the infamous honour killings where women are killed for daring to choose partners against the wishes of their family, some progress has been made. But too often other cases of violence against women in Turkey have not been pursued properly by the police and / or the perpetrators have been given light sentences by the judiciary.

Moreover, the propaganda and mentality of the current pro-islamic government is making things worse, not better. For example, last November President Erdo?an who totally dominates the government publicly declared that women were not equal to men and has urged a range of retrogressive measures including supporting further restrictions on abortion and urging women to have at least three children.

The problem is not just restricted to government leaders. Their supporters in the media and cultural fields echo the same reactionary prejudices. One prominent columnist from a pro-government newspaper responded to the Mersin killing by writing: ?If you, day and night, scream for sexual freedom, individualism, careerism and egoism, this is the end result.?

Meanwhile, the pop singer Nihat Do?an tweeted that ?women wearing miniskirts and getting naked don’t have the right to make a fuss when they’re harassed by perverts deprived of morals due to the secular system.?

Such peverse reactions have only fuelled the anger of Turkish women further with an avalanche of social media messages coming from women telling of their own experiences of assault and rape. Traditionally, in Turkey women tended to keep quiet about such experiences so this a major development.

Turkey Not Alone
However, it would be a major mistake to pose this as mainly a problem for ?backward? or ?islamic? countries like Turkey. As major studies have shown this is a world-wide issue equally affecting the richer and supposedly more ?enlightened? countries of North America and Europe. For example, the statistics of sexual assault in America with estimates of a rape every two minutes, have been been added to by recent revelations of the scale of the problem at US universities where one might think more ?educated? attitudes would prevail.

In Europe, last year?s survey by the EU of 42,000 women and their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence revealed shocking statistics on the widespread nature of the problem with one in three women reporting some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15. As the report demonstrated there ?is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women?s lives but is systematically underreported to the authorities.? http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2014/violence-against-women-eu-wide-survey-main-results-report

Istanbul Convention collageFighting Back
This is not a situation that is inevitable. It can and must be combated. Towards this end, and as a result of determined efforts by feminists who have long sought to end the silence on this problem and to tackle it head on, at the end of last year we saw the ratification by enough European countries of the new Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This Convention is a very radical and progressive charter to fight violence against women (see below) which offers women and all who support their interests the chance to demand major changes in the laws of each European country which are now legally obligated to introduce the measures of the Convention. Just as important we can now demand changes to the procedures and daily practice of all social institutions in order to regularly monitor the problem, effectively combat and punish abuse, and take serious measures to prevent it.

Legal Changes Not Enough
The adoption by nearly 40 countries of such an advanced Convention can only be the beginning. The fact that it was adopted in Istanbul and that the Turkish government was the first to formally adopt it contrasts spectacularly with the violence against women going on in Turkey today and the backward reaction of the same government towards women. As Ms Elda Moreno, the Council of Europe?s former Head of Gender Equality and Human Dignity, acknowledged, the ability of the Istanbul Convention to stop impunity depends greatly ?on how governments, parliaments, experts and civil society are going to use it.?

In addition to stiffening laws against violence on women, we need to start to change male behaviour at all levels of society starting with the way that boys and young men are encouraged from an early age to exploit girls and women without regard to their feelings or needs. The barrier here is that we don?t democratically control the schools, services, workplaces or media which constantly reinforce reactionary attitudes and behaviour towards women. Without such control we can only go so far in tackling the issues involved. As with so many other problems under capitalism we desperately need to replace this system which is based on capitalist exploitation and division with a democratic socialist society in which women and men can consciously work to overcome these problems and move forward together in solidarity and respect.

System Change Not an Excuse for Inaction
On the other hand, there has been a tendency in the past for some socialists to view attempts to change things within capitalism as reformist, or na?ve and pointless. Rather they believe that to overcome sexism all we need to do is overthrow the current system and all problems will be solved in the promised land. In practice, such attitudes becomes a silent excuse for doing nothing on this issue.

Indeed, such a passive view would be tantamount to arguing that we cannot achieve any victories now, that all individual struggles are a waste of time, and that all our energies must be solely devoted towards the revolution and nothing else.

In contrast, we need to fight now to combat violence against women at the same time as striving to replace the capitalist system that in practice encourages it.



Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention agreed 11/5/2011 and upon sufficient ratification came into force August 2014)

Online source: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/convention-violence/brief_en.asp

About the Istanbul Convention
Violence against women, in all its manifestations, and domestic violence, is a deeply traumatising act of violence. Violence that is employed to exercise dominance and control.

The overwhelming majority of victims of stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape, forced marriage, physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of intimate partners and forced sterilisation are women. Adding female genital mutilation and forced abortion as forms of violence that only women can be subjected to shows the shocking level of diversity in cruel and degrading behaviour that women experience. If we consider the fact that most violence is carried out by men, it is just a small step to understanding  that violence against women is structural violence ? violence that is used to sustain male power and control. This is even more obvious if we look at the patchy attempts of the police, courts and social services to help women victims which is seen in many countries across the world.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is based on the understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence that is committed against women because they are women. It is the obligation of the state to fully address it in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Failure to do so would make it the responsibility of the state. The convention leaves no doubt: there can be no real equality between women and men if women experience gender-based violence on a large-scale and state agencies and institutions turn a blind eye.

Because it is not only women who suffer domestic violence, parties to the convention are encouraged to apply the protective framework it creates to men, children and the elderly who are exposed to violence within the family or domestic unit. Still, it should not be overlooked that the majority of victims of domestic violence are women and that domestic violence against them is part of a wider pattern of discrimination and inequality.


The Convention in brief

Prevention – Protection – Prosecution – Monitoring


The Convention has a strong focus on prevention. What does this mean for state parties?

In simple terms, preventing violence against women and domestic violence can save lives and reduce human suffering. Governments that agree to be bound by the Convention will have to do the following:

  1. train professionals in close contact with victims;
  2. regularly run awareness-raising campaigns;
  3. take steps to include issues such as gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships in teaching material;
  4. set up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders;
  5. work closely with NGOs;
  6. involve the media and the private sector in eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect.

Preventing violence against women and domestic violence should not be left to the state alone. In fact, the Convention calls on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to help reach its goal of creating a Europe free from all forms of violence against women and domestic violence. Violence against women is pervasive because misogynistic attitudes towards women persist. Each and every one of us can help challenge gender stereotypes, harmful traditional practices and discrimination against women. It is only by achieving real gender equality that violence against women can be prevented.


How does the Convention improve the protection of victims?

When preventive measures have failed and violence incidents have happened, it is important to provide victims and witnesses with protection and support. This means police intervention and protection as well as specialised support services such as shelters, telephone hotlines etc. It also means making sure that general social services understand the realities and concerns of victims of domestic violence and violence against women and support them accordingly in their quest to rebuild/resume their lives.

Some examples of measures set forth in the Convention include:

Granting the police the power to remove a perpetrator of domestic violence from his or her home: In situations of immediate danger, the police need to be able to guarantee the safety of the victim. In many instances this may mean ordering the perpetrator for a specified period of time to leave the family home and to stay away from the victim.

Ensuring access to adequate information: After experiencing violence, victims are usually traumatised and need easy access to clear and concise information on available services, in a language they understand.

Setting up easily accessible shelters in sufficient numbers and in an adequate geographical distribution: Victims come from a wide range of social realities. For instance, women from rural areas or disabled women need to have access to shelters as much as women from big cities.

Making available state-wide 24/7 telephone helplines free of charge: Specialised helplines for victims of violence against women and domestic violence can direct the victims to the services they need. They are essential in offering immediate expert advice and pointing victims towards safety.

Setting-up easily accessible rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres: These centres provide immediate medical counseling, trauma care and forensic services and are extremely rare across Europe. It is important to make these services more widely available.

It should be borne in mind that it is not enough to set up protection structures and support services for victims. It is equally important to make sure victims are informed of their rights and know where and how to get help.


How does the Convention ensure the prosecution of perpetrators?

The convention defines and criminalises the various forms of violence against women as well as domestic violence. This is one of the many achievements of the convention. To give effect to the convention, state parties will have to introduce a number of new offenses where they do not exist. These may include: psychological and physical violence, sexual violence and rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. In addition, state parties will need to ensure that culture, tradition or so-called ?honour? are not regarded as a justification for any of the above-listed courses of conduct.

Once these new offenses have found their way into the national legal systems, there is no reason not to prosecute offenders. On the contrary, state parties will have to take a range of measures to ensure the effective investigation of any allegation of violence against women and domestic violence. This means that the law enforcement agencies will have to respond to calls for help, collect evidence and assess the risk of further violence to adequately protect the victim.

Furthermore, state parties will have to carry out judicial proceedings in a manner that respects the rights of victims at all stages of the proceedings and that avoid secondary victimisation.

Integrated policies

What are integrated policies?

The convention is based on the premise that no single agency or institution can deal with violence against women and domestic violence alone. An effective response to such violence requires concerted action by many different actors. The convention therefore asks state parties to implement comprehensive and co-ordinated policies involving government agencies, NGOs as well as national, regional and local parliaments and authorities. The aim is that policies to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence are carried out at all levels of government and by all relevant agencies and institutions. This can, for example, be done by drawing up a national plan of action that assigns each agency a particular role to take on or task to fulfil.

The experience from countries where this is already being done shows that results are improved when law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, NGOs, child protection agencies and other relevant partners join forces on a particular case.

In addition to addressing governments and non-governmental organisations, national parliaments and local authorities, the convention sends a clear message to society as a whole. Every man, every woman, every boy and girl, every parent, every boy/girl-friend must learn that violence – any kind of violence – is not the right way to solve difficulties and live a peaceful life. Everybody must understand that now and in the future violence against women and domestic is no longer tolerated.


Who will make sure that state parties are living up to their obligations?

Once the convention enters into force, a group of independent experts called the GREVIO will measure the extent to which state parties have implemented the Convention.

Using a report-based procedure, the GREVIO will assess the different measures a state party has taken to give meaning to the convention. In addition to reports received from the state party under scrutiny, it may draw on information from NGOs. National parliaments are also invited to participate in the monitoring. Should the information received be insufficient or should a particular issue require immediate attention, the GREVIO may travel to the country in question for an inquiry.

On the basis of the information at its disposal, the GREVIO may adopt reports and conclusions aimed at helping the state party to better implement the convention. It may also adopt general recommendations addressed to all state parties.

In addition to the GREVIO, a second entity composed of the representatives of the parties to the convention will be set up: the Committee of the Parties. Its tasks will include, among others, electing the members of the GREVIO and issuing recommendations to state parties concerning the measures to be taken in order to implement the conclusions of the GREVIO.


Historical background

As Europe?s leading human rights organisation, the Council of Europe has undertaken a series of initiatives to promote the protection of women against violence since the 1990s. In particular, these initiatives have resulted in the adoption, in 2002, of the Council of Europe Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence, and the running of a Europe-wide campaign, from 2006-2008, to combat violence against women, including domestic violence. The Parliamentary Assembly has also taken a firm political stance against all forms of violence against women. It has adopted a number of resolutions and recommendations calling for legally-binding standards on preventing, protecting against and prosecuting the most severe and widespread forms of gender-based violence.

National reports, studies and surveys revealed the magnitude of the problem in Europe. The campaign in particular showed just how much national responses to violence against women and domestic violence varied across Europe. The need for harmonised legal standards to ensure that victims benefit from the same level of protection everywhere in Europe was becoming apparent. Political will to act increased: the Ministers of Justice of Council of Europe member states began discussing the need to step up protection from domestic violence, in particular intimate partner violence.

Assuming its leading role in human rights protection, the Council of Europe decided it was necessary to set comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. In December 2008, the Committee of Ministers set up an expert group mandated to prepare a draft convention in this field. Over the course of just over two years, this group, called the CAHVIO (Ad Hoc Committee for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence), worked out a draft text. It finalised the draft of the Convention in December 2010.

The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 7 April 2011. It opened for signature on 11 May 2011 on the occasion of the 121st Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul. It will enter into force following 10 ratifications.



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