Femicide in Turkey on the rise amid debate over law protecting women

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As Turkey’s government debates withdrawing from an agreement meant to protect women from gender-based violence, femicide continues to rise, and protests have cropped up against a possible withdrawal from the agreement, known as the Istanbul Convention.

Over the last decade, violence against women has risen in Turkey, and 474 women were killed in 2019 alone.

However, the government has yet to announce whether they will pull out of the Istanbul Convention, which is designed to protect women, and the decision has been postponed multiple times. A decision was pushed back once again on August 18.

Following the announcement of the government’s possible withdrawal, protests have sprung up in defense of the agreement, with advocates calling for the convention to be fully implemented, rather than torn up. Some argue that a withdrawal would signal Ankara’s complicity in violence against women.

One of the loudest advocates for the agreement has been the We Will Stop Femicide Platform (KCDP) that monitors gender-based violence as well as the number of women killed under suspicious circumstances.

A demonstrator wearing a protective face masks with a sign reading: No to violence against women, takes part in a protest against femicide and domestic violence, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Istanbul, Turkey August 5, 2020. (Reuters)

According to KCDP data, only one year in the last decade has seen a decrease in femicides in Turkey – when the Istanbul Convention was signed in 2011. Since then, the number of deaths has steadily increased.

In 2011, as part of an effort to prevent and combat violence against women, Turkey entered into the Istanbul Convention along with 45 other countries, including the European Union.

New Turkish legislation, law number 6284, designed to protect families and prevent violence against women was also passed after Ankara joined the convention.

Talks of pulling out

Now, nine years later, the Turkish government has floated the idea of pulling out of the agreement after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chair Numan Kurtulmush said that the signing of the convention was “wrong.”

“I am saying as a person,” he said during a televised interview, “who has read the Istanbul Convention repeatedly, has also read this in English and worked on it. The signing of the Istanbul Convention was really wrong.”

Supporters of the agreement say that the convention is currently Turkey’s best tool for combating gender-based violence and that it is important for it to remain in place.

“The Istanbul Convention cannot be canceled,” Melike Hanim, a spokesperson for the KCDP, told Al Arabiya English. “We won’t give up on the Istanbul Convention. We are struggling for the effective implementation of these achievements, the Istanbul Convention. When the Istanbul Convention is implemented, it prevents violence and keeps women alive.”

Hanim argued that because of the talk about withdrawing from the agreement, it has caused a spike in killings, citing her organization’s data as well as the deaths of Pinar Gultekin in July 2020 and Emine Bulut in August 2019 as proof.

Bulut was stabbed in front of her daughter by her ex-husband on August 18, 2019 and was taken to a hospital following the attack where she subsequently died from her injuries. Her ex-husband was sentenced to life in prison following his arrest and, during the trial, said that he stabbed her because she had insulted him when she was talking about custody of their child.

Gultekin was a university student who disappeared on July 16, 2020 after leaving her house. Her body was found several days later. The man alleged to have killed her claims that he did it “in a moment of anger” after she rejected his advances for a relationship.

“It is not a coincidence that the number of femicides are increasing and the brutal killing of Pinar [Gultekin] [happened] while discussing the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention,” she stated. “Last year there was a discussion about the convention and the law numbered 6284. Immediately after that we lost Emine Bulut.”

While politicians have posted condolence messages on social media following the death of Pinar Gultekin, these messages are “not enough” for many.

For those who support the agreement, they are concerned about the message that a government withdrawal might have for Turkish society. Activists believe that a withdrawal would signal that the government condones violence against women.

“It is clear that a withdrawal will weaken women’s position within society and give power to the patriarchy,” Hanim argued. “By withdrawing from a convention that aims to protect women’s lives, men who use violence against women will think that the government stands behind them. In other words, the patriarchy is being endorsed.”

Femicide rising

In July alone, 36 women were killed, and another 11 deaths being deemed suspicious. In June, there were 27 deaths and another 23 suspicious deaths. In May, 21 women were killed, and there were 18 suspicious deaths.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in the increase in gender-based violence in Turkey. With women being forced to stay indoors for long periods of time, Hanim said that there has been an increase in women reaching out for help.

“We were in a state of emergency as a whole world and country due to the recent coronavirus pandemic,” she explained. “Along with practices such as quarantine, isolation and working from home, women particularly faced more threats of domestic violence.”

The recent spike in deaths has been a major driving factor in women protesting.

One of those calling for Turkey to remain a part of the Istanbul Convention is activist Zeynep Duygu Agbayir who expressed concern because “domestic violence and inequality are on the rise.”

“The Istanbul Convention cannot leave,” Agbayir stressed to Al-Arabiya English. “We will not allow it. Women are organized everywhere. Everything will be worse if they withdraw from the convention.”

She added that she wants to see “the state to enforce laws” in order to better protect women.

Hanim agreed with this sentiment, saying that “right now, our fight is what is forcing the government to implement the Istanbul Convention.”

Criticism of the convention

The convention is criticized as some say it is contrary to Turkish values and traditions. However, Hanim argues that this rings false and that it serves to empower women.

“The convention does not disrupt the social structure as it is said,” Hanim argued. “It strengthens women and protects women’s rights and [it is] based on gender equality. It exists to protect the victim of violence and to purify the woman from violence.”

According to the AKP’s Kurtulmush, two of the biggest problems that opponents of the convention have are how it addresses gender as well as sexual orientation. He argues that the LGBT community and other “marginal elements” have used the convention for their own benefits.

Despite this argument, proponents of the convention say that this is actually one of its strengths and that it is just conservative arms of Turkish society who believe this.

“The convention reminds [us] that discrimination cannot be made on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, language, political view, marital status, immigrant, refugee or any identity characteristics,” Hanim said.

Needed solutions

To best protect women, Hanim says that not only does Turkey need to remain a part of the Istanbul Convention, but it and Law 6284 need to be fully implemented by the government. In addition to that, there needs to be widespread condemnation of violence against women by Turkish politicians.

“The main solution is to achieve gender equality and the political will is necessary for achieving the gender equality,” she stated, “The President, and the leaders of all political parties should condemn violence against women. The Istanbul Convention and the protection Law 6284 should be efficiently implemented.”

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