“How did 2022 Start for Women in Turkey?” by Sabah Mine Cangil*

Today, violence against women is considered as one of the crucial social issues in the world. Although gender equality issues are more discussed than in previous times, women all around the world still experience various forms of violence and it is even worse for those living in socio-economically disadvantaged countries and regions. In this article, current news of violence against women in Turkey will be demonstrated by considering Turkey’s history of women’s rights.

The analysis can be started by showing the statistical data. Here is the representation of Turkey’s situation with statistics: According to the study made in 2016 and mentioned in the Global Database on Violence Against Women of UN Women, the proportion of ever-partnered women aged 15-59 years experiencing intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime is 38%. Turkey is the 69th country in terms of Gender Inequality Index Rank, a composite measure reflecting inequality between women and men in reproductive health, empowerment and labor market participation. Furthermore, Turkey is 130th country in Global Gender Gap Index Rank, which benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria.

Violations of women’s rights in Turkey continue after six years from the study mentioned above. Conditions created by the pandemic have led to a spike in domestic violence. In the study made by professors in Kırıkkale University in Turkey, “news items on violence against women in the online versions of three national newspapers with the highest circulation rates were examined retrospectively between 10.03.2019 and 10.03.2021. These newspapers were scanned using the keywords “violence against women”, “femicide”, “killed women”, “female victim”, “female abuse” and “battered woman”. Results of the study “determined that most of the women who became victims of violence were married, they were exposed to violence by their spouses and because of “jealousy” before the pandemic and during the pandemic period, women were exposed to more violence because they wanted to leave especially during the pandemic period, and there was an increase in the news about violence against women in the Aegean Region and the Black Sea Region. Especially before and after the pandemic, the type of violence applied to women as reflected in the news is physical violence. Also, it was found out that there was an increase in the rates of femicide due to violence against women as reflected in the news and the perpetrators of violence in detention.

In 2021, 280 femicides were committed in Turkey, and an additional 217 women’s deaths are suspected to be related to violence against women. In the same year, Turkey has announced withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. “It undermines women’s rights and sends the wrong signal to all women in Turkey and beyond” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović after the withdrawal of Turkey from the Convention and continued her words with “At a time when femicide and other forms of violence against women are on the rise in the country, Turkey should not step back and reduce its tools to fight against this scourge”.

Even before the first month of 2022 was completed, the news of femicide continued to come. On January 21, M.Y., who was reported to have just been released from prison, killed his wife A.Y. by shooting her in the head with a pistol in Ordu. On January 10, young lawyer D.Y. was shot and killed by O.D. in Istanbul. Also in January, nurse Ö.E., who was attacked by R.U., who has a previous criminal record for 20 crimes, died in the Family Health Center in Istanbul. Apart from this news learned from the press, there are many more cases. Almost every day, there is news of violence against a woman on social media. To answer the question in the title of the article “How did 2022 start for women in Turkey?”, it did not start well.

It should be underlined here, that there is the goal of equality between men and women in the founding philosophy of the Turkish Republic, and that very important steps were taken that were not seen in many other countries in the world at that time. “In the first years of Republic, with the adoption of the law on unification of education (Tevhid-I Tedrisat) and Civil Code, Turkish women gained the equal rights with men in education and social fields”. “Discussions about women’s gaining political rights had been brought to the parliament agenda and in 1930, women gained the right to attend in municipal elections, in 1933, the right to elect and be elected as mukhtar and finally in 1934, the right to elect and be elected as deputy”. In other words, since the foundation of the Republic in Turkey, 1923, the remarkable amount of important steps have been taken to strengthen the position of women in political and social life, and women in the country have been given the right to vote and be elected, before most of the Western countries. The result is that the view of women in Turkey as an individual has a long history. To talk about more recent history: The constitutional amendments adopted in the parliament in 2001 include provisions that strengthen the concept of equality between men and women in the family. The new Civil Code, which entered into force in 2002, strengthened the position of women both in the family and in social life with its complementary nature to the constitutional amendments. Within the framework of the constitutional amendments in 2004, with the amendment made in Article 10 of the Constitution on Equality before the Law, “Women and men have equal rights. The state is obliged to ensure that this equality is put into practice” and the equality of men and women has been strengthened and it has been decided to implement institutional arrangements in this direction.

Apart from legal regulations, women are also very important in social life. According to the statistics of the Council of Higher Education, the rate of female students increased from 42 percent in 2002 to 49 percent in 2021 as universities spread across the country. There are 10 thousand 11 female professors in Turkey. The proportion of the women in academy is 32.5 percent of the total professors. Statistics show that the proportion of female professors in Turkey exceeds the average of EU countries. Accordingly, the rate of female professors in Turkey, with a rate of 32.5 percent, surpassed the EU countries with an average of 20.8 percent and was equaled by the USA, which was 32.5 percent. With 45 percent of female faculty members, Turkey surpassed the EU average of 41.3 percent and the US average of 42.5 percent. The number of female research assistants in the field of law has exceeded the number of male research assistants. Activities are carried out to increase the number and visibility of senior female executives at the academy.

The Republic of Turkey, which has included pioneering practices in its history, should prevent violence against women in the most effective ways today but unfortunately, in the past years, there have been practices that have taken us back in terms of protecting human rights. Turkey has announced the withdrawal of signature from the Istanbul Convention. Furthermore, the implementation of “Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence Against Women” (Law No. 6284) is ineffective. While the general passivity of the judicial system in violence against women continues, despite the prevalence of violence against women, amnesty is applied. However, efforts should be made to achieve the goal of achieving gender equality and ways to prevent violence against women should be implemented effectively. The state should provide more effective protection and should fulfill its positive obligations.

Violence against women is a major public health problem and violation of women’s human rights is an issue that concerns not only Turkey but the whole world. “Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime”. The prevention of violence should be approached as a scientific interdisciplinary issue under the scope of fields such as law, economy, politics, education, statistics, sociology, psychology, religion, philosophy in all countries. All scientific disciplines should work collectively and work to minimize human rights violations. Even the slightest negligence or carelessness should not be allowed in the fight against violence against women. The targets envisaged in the Women’s Empowerment Strategy Document and Action Plan and the Fifth National Action Plan for Combating Violence Against Women of the General Directorate on the Status of Women under the Ministry of Family and Social Services should be implemented. Moreover, non-governmental organizations should also recognize women’s rights and advocate for gender equality. Once again, the most important things to say from a legal perspective are: The re-enactment of the Istanbul Convention is the first and main step to be taken. At the same time, the law numbered 6284 should be applied effectively. Women should not live in fear of being killed or subjected to violence, and the perpetrators should be punished. Protective mechanisms should also be increased for women who have been subjected to violence, for example, shelters should be more accessible. Psychological support should be given to both women and men. It should be noted that gender roles are not innate, they are learned later, so human rights education should be taught in schools and the approach to students should be based on gender equality. As a result, children will have an awareness of equality from a young age and will defend equality in the face of sharp gender roles that will come up as they get older.

The consequence is that all countries in the world shall take the necessary legislative or other social measures to protect all victims from any further acts of violence. This could be achieved by adopting the gender equality principles: supporting gender equality unconditionally in every platform and in daily life, striving for the creation of an environment free from sexual assault, supporting practices that create gender sensitivity and awareness, not being a part of any kind of violence, not remaining silent in the face of violence, not allowing discrimination and prejudice, creating a free and equal discussion environment within the framework of respect in social environments, protecting the minors, using language that promotes equality and nonviolence in communication and behavior. Building a society that respects people, animals, nature and the planet should be the primary goal.

* Sabah Mine Cangil is an LL.M. student at Istanbul University and Legal Intern at Istanbul Bar Association