• unitwinidevaw2021

WHY FEMICIDES IN TURKEY ARE POLITICAL

TW: Murder, homophobia, sexual violence

By Özben Önal

Between 2008 and 2020, approximately 3485 murders of women have been reported. The number can not exactly be defined, because there has been a large number of unresolved suspicious deaths of women, according to the reports of the NGO „We Will Stop Femicides“. The number of unreported cases may be even higher. In some cases it was only public pressure that activated authorities and lead to thorough investigation. These „deaths under suspicious circumstances“ have been a major issue, of which some were later resolved due to the public pressure of civil society.

One of the most known cases is the murder of Sule Cet in May, 2018. She suspiciously fell out of a skyscraper window from the 20th floor in Ankara after having attended a job interview. The interviewer and another suspect were arrested, but both claimed there was no force involved in her death and that she committed suicide due to financial distress. Both men were set free. Due to campaigns, huge protests by numerous women’s rights activists and NGO’s, as well as the pressure of „We Will stop Femicides“, the authorities resumed investigation and uncovered that Sule Cet had been raped prior to her death and was pushed out the window. Unfortunately, this is by far not the only case in which a killing was covered as suicide and therefore was not counted as a femicide for the annual report.

In 2010, Esin Isiks body was found between the cliffs of Tillo in Adiyaman. Her husband, from whom she intended to be divorced, stated that they went there for a picnic and that he was shocked by her unforeseen and unexpected suicide. The case was closed but „We Will Stop Femicides“, with the help of lawyers, managed to investigate the case and prove that falling down the cliffs without external influence was highly improbable. After three years of investigation, Güven Günes was finally arrested and convicted for her murder.

On July 1, 2021, Turkey withdrew from the European Council Istanbul Convention, a landmark treaty on a European level with the purpose of providing a legal framework in order to protect women against all kinds of violence. Prevention of and protection from violence, punishment of violent crime and the creation of policies that strengthen the rights of women against violence are the key objectives of the convention. Most importantly, the convention establishes a monitoring mechanism which aims to ensure the effective implementation of its provisions by all parties who signed and ratified the treaty. The Turkish government justified the withdrawal by claiming that it would be a thread to traditional family and societal values and promote "immoral ways of living“ with reference to homosexuality. Furthermore, Turkey’s legislation would provide sufficient protection already. Turkey was one of the first nations to sign the treaty in 2011. It was implemented into national law in 2014, followed by the first decline in femicides. Since the following year, however, the number of atrocities has continued to rise. This demonstrates the necessity of strict state enforced legislation as a prerequisite for a shift in societal perception of and civil action against female oppression. The convention provides for preventing violent crime against women and creating a mindset - particularly among men - in which the appearance of violence is hindered and perceived as weak and is combatted with methods of violence prevention instead of relying on persecution only). In order to do so, gender equality in all sectors has been identified as a key element of a possible solution. The convention takes into account that the goal can not be reached in the short term. Nevertheless, During the process of achieving gender equality it already intends to ensure the protection against violent crime against women, children and the LGBTQIA+ community. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2020 by the World Economic Forum, an index designed to measure gender equality in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainments, political empowerment and health and survival, shows that Turkey was ranked at 130 out of 153 countries. In comparison to 2010, Turkey has regressed 10 places. Specifically the country’s poor score in female economic participation is highly critical, because economic independence is one of the most important key resources for women against domestic violence. In 2020, only 2% of electoral candidates were women, whereas the average global index is approximately 10 times higher. The lack of representation of women in Turkish politics is one of the main issues contributing to gender-based violence and patriarchal structures in which women are vilified, put into old and discriminatory gender roles and oppressed. In 2015, the former minister of health stated the following while in office: „The only career women need is the career as a mother“. Erhan Ekmekci, a member of the provincial assembly of the ruling party said: „Yes, girls go to universities but now our boys can’t find girls to marry“. Unfortunately, statements like these by members of the ruling party in Turkey are not rare and contribute to the persistence of a mindset in which violence against women can still thrive. A mindset in which women are only expected to become mothers and wives, in which women’s rights to make decisions on their own lives are attacked, starting with the right to work, standing on their own feet and gaining economic strength up to decisions on their own bodies like abortion or birth control methods. In this context, in times of a lack of active protection of women’s rights, it is no coincidence that violence increases. Therefore, a significant number of women were killed by their (ex-)husbands during or after the process of separation or divorce. In these situations in which women are especially vulnerable to violence, Turkey’s legal framework fails to protect them.

Ayse Pasali went through continuing acts of violence by her ex-husband before eventually being killed in 2010. Even though she had turned to authorities for help on the base of article 4320 (protection of women against domestic violence), she was rejected because it only applied to married women. A police search later revealed that the ex-husband had extensively researched remission requirements in similar cases. As a consequence, article 6284 (prevention and prosecution of psychological, economic and physical violence against women and children) was put into action on a national level. Nevertheless, this piece of legislation turned out to be unsuccessful in lowering the number of femicides. The main reason is that this article fails to close remission loopholes and thus hinders effective and deterring prosecution of perpetrators.

Emine Akgül was shot by her husband during the process of divorce in 2018. In trial he stated that he had heard a man’s voice from her apartment which induced him to try and confront her. He successfully defended himself with being overwhelmed and not himself when he pulled out his gun and fatally shot her for which he was granted remission. Similar cases of remissions in context of women killings appeared due to „overly passionate love“, high societal status, remission for „regret“ or "a moment of rage“. Provocation defense (haksiz tahrik) allows Turkish men to receive lenient sentences when they commit femicides, which means that a murder happens under circumstances in which the perpetrator was under influence of rage or pain. Law becomes complicit in femicide through provocation because pleading provocation is Turkish society's most deeply-rooted pretext for femicide. Pleading provocation does not deny the existence of the femicide, however, it is used as an argument to justify men’s actions. Justificitations including social norms, traditions and cultural mores are used to frame victims as responsible and as deserving their fate. Article 6284 foresees to protect endangered women, children and family members as well as victims of stalking from experiencing violence, but yet it fails to be enforced. Before Ayse Tuba Arslan was murdered by her husband, she went to the prosecution office 23 times to seek for help but she was sent home by the public prosecutor each time due to insufficient proof. Musa Orhan held Ipek Er in his apartment for 20 days raping her several times which resulted in her committing suicide. She left a letter in which she explained what he did to her. In text messages to his friend, he stated that nothing could happen to him anyways with which he was right. The court decided for a release.

Examples like these cases, the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and the failure of Turkey’s legal environment to protect women are fatal. Perpetrators are encouraged because they are not only indirectly supported by the law and government under patriarchal structures, but because they feel like the act of violence in all forms is justified because their (ex-)wife, daughter or partner were not showing „proper female behavior“. If the Istanbul Convention and article 6284 were enforced, a lot of women’s lives in Turkey could have been saved. This is why femicides in Turkey are a political issue and why women in Turkey are even more endangered through the withdrawal from the convention. It sends a global message, that Turkey’s legal framework does not need improvement or additional measures and that the rights and lives of women are protected enough already. As Gülsüm Kav, the founder of the NGO „We Will Stop Femicides“ said: „Yes, at one time deadly diseases were the reason for many deaths but as today we prevent and protect ourselves from them with vaccines, violence has a vaccine as well. The Istanbul Convention is the vaccine to violence and its main substance is gender equality“, meaning that prevention, protection and prosecution are an important step towards a society in which violence against women can not thrive anymore. Unfortunately, the government seems to be far away from providing this vaccine, which is why the women’s rights movement in Turkey needs even more international attention and support.

Sources:


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