“StayAtHome” vs. the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence in the Outbreak of COVID- 19

As is known to all, a new type of coronavirus (Covid- 19), which first appeared in China and then has continued spreading rapidly all over the world, causes many deaths and thus was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). A significant number of measures have been taken at the national and international level to struggle with this deadly virus, which is an incurable disease for now. It should be stated that for now the first and important measure is the social distancing. Therefore, many countries have had to declare a curfew in order to protect public health and even in countries that have not yet declared a curfew yet, a number of strong measures have been taken in an attempt to keep citizens healthy and stay people at home. In this context; kindergartens, schools, universities and workplaces have been all closed and children and parents have to be at home during these quarantine days. Even in many countries, judicial activities, inter alia, hearings were adjourned and deadlines for non-urgent procedural acts were stopped.

In this period, in which many families have to stay at home for not weeks, but lasting months, due to this coronavirus, the risk of domestic violence has increased enormously, in fact there have been many cases of domestic violence against women in many countries during these quarantines.

It is apparent that women who are exposed to violence need more protection during this period when domestic violence increases. The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe. This convention was signed by 45 states and European Union and came into force on 1 August 2014. In accordance with Article 5 (2) of Istanbul Convention; “Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and provide reparation for acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention that are perpetrated by non-State actors.” Within this framework, the regulations related to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence have been made by the State Parties to their domestic law. Currently, domestic violence cases are increasing from day to day, thereby women who are exposed to violence need more protection. As a natural consequence of these, governments should properly enforce the law in the matter of violence against women and domestic violence and extend their laws in compliance with the Istanbul Convention in support of women exposed to violence while staying at their home because of struggle with coronavirus.

Turkey is the first country to ratify the İstanbul Convention which aims to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence around the world. Accordingly, Turkey has adapted this convention to domestic law and Law No. 6284 on Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women entered into force on 8 March 2012. Several measures, in particular, by a judge order against stalking acts are covered. Seeing that judicial activities are almost slowed down, the concern for the protection of women against perpetrator arises. Indeed, it has been rendered that the measure decisions made under the Law No. 6284 should be evaluated in a way that does not threaten the health of the perpetrator taking account of the coronavirus by  no. 2020/51 decision of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors which stands as an upper court that conducts the personal affairs of judges and prosecutors and examines the objections related to them. And, the judicial authorities may assign a different meaning to this decision and it will be not surprising to observe the decision against women who are exposed to violence. For instance, there is an ambiguity about whether a Court will order the stalking protection to stop perpetrators contacting or approaching women or not. This decision of the he Council of Judges and Prosecutors may lead to increase violence against women in cases where it is avoided to make a decision of the stalking protection order taking into account the health of the perpetrator and the insufficient opportunities. There is no doubt that this decision will encourage the perpetrators to inflict violence more.

According to an NGO from Turkey, called ‘We Will Stop Femicide Platform’ (Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu), the amount of the women who resort to the its public’s helpline because of domestic violence has been on the rise and 21 women were killed between 11 March and 31 March that implies the time period beginning with the government’s initial calls on the country to stay at home in order to combat the Coronavirus. An urgent attention must be paid for that while the perpetrators who inflict violence against women are protected from the coronavirus, at the same time, the lives and limb of  the women who are exposed to violence are being endangered, thus, the measures taken against the Corona cause women to be exposed to more violence. It is not appropriate to bring ambiguities to the application of the existing measures, whereas there is an urgent need to add new measures to the existing ones.

In many countries including Turkey, there have been calls for legal or policy changes to reflect the increased risk to women in quarantine. This is already a measure that shall always be taken, and these measures need to be amplified in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, wherefore, unlike Turkey, France has taken essential new measures such as establishing many support centers due to increasing domestic violence within the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic period; Germany has ensured a lot of Women’s Shelter for women exposed to violence in the whole country. These measures should be taken into account by all countries struggling against the coronavirus. All countries need to consider protecting women exposed to violence due to their stay at home, as equivalent to fighting the virus, and should develop their exercises accordingly. The governments are to raise consciousness in the society. Within the scope of coronavirus measures, the laws concerning violence measures should be expanded in favor of women who are exposed to violence, women shelter, and emergency support services should be provided at once. Although these measures should be provided by the States, in this context, lawyers, i.e., Bar Associations, as a part of the judiciary to ensure justice in society, have significant duties as well. They can work in coordination with public institutions and non-governmental organizations providing all kinds of support and aid for women exposed to violence, and they should declare all legal rights to women exposed to violence by paying attention to every single sign of violence.

Merve ERBAŞ, Legal Intern at Istanbul Bar Association, Istanbul, Turkey