Could the İstanbul Convention provide a safe haven for women in Turkey?

Violence against women occurs in, and affects a large spectrum of, countries and cultures all over the world, but in recent years it has been taking place with alarming frequency in Turkey and this trend is leading to a discrepancy within society.

Mutlu Kaya, the 19-year-old competitor shot in the head due to her participation in the popular TV show Sesi Çok Güzel (Her Voice is so Beautiful), is one the latest victims of the vehement culture of gender-based violence in Turkey. After a medically induced coma, Kaya is now in stable condition, although she is still in intensive care.
Early this year, Özgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old university student, was killed after a man attempted to rape her. After the slaying, her body was found by police on a riverbed bearing evidence of her fierce battle against the attempted violence and the lucid brutality with which the perpetrator tried to make it unidentifiable.
Kaya and Aslan’s cases have shaken Turkey and underlined, once more, the unsafe conditions for women in this country. Data on gender-based violence indicates that it is increasing on a daily basis — from suffering basic discrimination to being victims of sexual harassments and rape to honor killings. This is the scenario faced everyday by Turkish women as they try to affirm themselves as human beings, individuals and active members of the society in which they live.
A state party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) — despite having been the first country to sign and ratify the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the legally-binding İstanbul Convention (March 2012) — Turkey ranked 125th out of 142 countries in the latest Global Gender Gap Report issued by the World Economic Forum. Over the past decade, crimes against women have soared, resulting in a dramatic peak in the number of murders based on gender. Thanks to an amendment of Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution in 2004, CEDAW and the İstanbul Convention, in all circumstances concerning primary rights and fundamental freedoms domestic laws and their application must be in line with the gender perspective laid out in the relevant international treaties to which Turkey is a signatory. Furthermore, in 2004 men and women were granted equal status before the law with the amendment of Article 10. Lastly, the Law on the Protection of the Family (Law No. 4230) contains concrete measures on the protection of women’s rights and effective remedies in case of their violation.



Although legally bound — both at the national and international level — to a strong gender equality and protection policy, Turkey is still confronting primitive crimes, showing the long path that must be undertaken to ensure a safe environment for all of its female citizens. In order to accomplish this goal, Turkish society must start to confront the culture of patriarchy and the concepts of masculinity and honor to which this violence is related. A concrete analysis of the reasons why these crimes are still occurring and a change in all gender-related affairs must begin and the provisions contained in the İstanbul Convention must be enacted.
The convention’s preamble acknowledges that the nature of violence against women is a form of gender-based violence, stressing the need to invest in greater equality among the sexes to eradicate the subordinate position into which women are forced by society. Moreover, Article 3(a) defines violence against women as a human rights violation, an act that can result in physical, sexual, psychological and economic harm. Article 5 of the CoE’s convention establishes the due diligence principle, which determines that the state is directly responsible for violence against women perpetrated both by public and private actors.
The implementation of legal measures must simultaneously focus on the amelioration of gender-based violence while addressing gender-related topics. It is particularly important that political actors, who perform a role of public relevance, be aware of the importance of their words; a failure to accomplish the duties required of their role would influence relationships among men and women. In the worst case scenario, harsh rhetoric would create the perception that women are second-rate human beings, subject to men’s orders and will. The key act the state is expected to adopt for the complete removal of the gender-gap is explained clearly in the wording of Article 12(1), which calls for the promotion of social change so as to eradicate all practices, including traditional ones, that are based on the idea of women’s inferiority.


Roberto Frifrini

Source: Today’s Zaman