The Istanbul Convention does not save lives in Turkey anymore

By Kardelen Besime Tepe

What are the first three words one could say about Turkey? The first three words that pop up in my mind are “home”, “disgrace”, and “death.” This is not a pessimistic perspective though, even if it seems so. Facing the facts is one of the most effective ways to deal with all the problematic social issues in Turkey, especially for women, so that we can be aware of the challenges and injustice to rise against them. 

How are women rights protected in Turkey?

The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Its unique historical background has caused complexities even after the series of adaptations, reforms and regulations that were adopted by the new Republican authorities, ranging from secularism to gender equality. 

Even though the success of these adaptations is still questioned, Turkey has been trying to improve its regional policy and to receive structural funds by embracing the influence of Europeanisation after the Helsinki Summit of 1999. These efforts are directed at achieving European Union (EU) standards and have challenged traditional Turkish governing institutions. Thus, the country’s gender equality policies after 2000 could be seen as motivated mostly by Turkey’s preparations for EU accession. 

The necessary legal mechanisms for the protection of women against violence already exist. In 2012, Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention

In the same year, the Turkish government also passed Law Number 6248 to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence Against Women and introduced gender equality policies. Still, violence against women can be observed in every aspect of Turkish society and, unfortunately, there are nearly no authentic actions taken by the government to truly protect women’s rights. 

The Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention

Even though the ratification of international treaties rests with the TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey), on March 20, 2021, just twelve days after the International Women’s Day, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention with an official presidential announcement. This withdrawal was spearheaded by conservative forces blaming the Convention for harming traditional values of family structure, advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and promoting homosexuality, given the pact’s non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s cabinet is trying to comfort people with an official declaration by the Foreign Ministry, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who declared that “[t]he elements of the convention and various practices created sensitivity in the public opinion and caused criticism…. Women’s rights in the national legislation of the Republic of Turkey is safeguarded by the most advanced forms.”

The latter also argued that the withdrawal from the Convention will not cause corruption on domestic regulations focusing on women’s rights and that Turkey did not need an international treaty to protect women’s rights. However, because of this withdrawal, women in Turkey are no longer under the protection of a Pan-European legal framework. 

Turkey’s decision regarding the Istanbul Convention faced brutal but reasonable international backlash. The High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borrell warned and urged the Turkish government to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the treaty by declaring: “This decision risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey. It also sends a dangerous message across the world. We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision. We hope that Turkey will soon join again the European Union in defending the rights of women and girls, a fundamental element of human rights, peace, security, and equality in the 21st century.

A unsurprising move

Turkey’s insistence on sticking to old-fashioned mindsets and understanding of gender roles, rather than implementing key changes, fuels toxic masculinity and nurtures violence against women. There is a shortage of reliable political and judicial administration to enforce for the protection of women, combined with systematic government propaganda that puts even more pressure on women in this patriarchal society.

Gender roles for women commonly include motherhood and faithfulness. As in other cultures, women are associated with motherhood characteristics. But Turkish culture requires them to devote themselves and fulfill their duties for their families and children, thus openly equating womanhood with motherhood.  

In 2014, Erdoğan also said in a speech that women and men could not be treated equally “because it goes against the laws of nature.” He simply disregarded and ignored women’s rights despite the legal tools that exist and of the laws that were passed by his own government. He and his cabinet members have increased their statements and imputations about women, ranging from abortion to having a career, over the years.

If a woman wants to work, according to Erdoğan, it means she is “a woman who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house” and however successful her working life is, it is “deficient and incomplete”. When women are married and use the birth control pill, they are committing “treason.”

The political shaming, oppression, and constant statements about women, unfortunately, take away the joy out of their lives and possibly encourages the idea that women are worthless compared to men no matter what they do. In this context, Turkish women endeavor for surviving in an environment shaped and ruled by politicians who prioritize males and their needs and where women are not seen as equal partners in life. 

Femicides in Turkey: an endless problem?

The construction of such a discriminatory discourse and the difficulties it creates for women, lead to the devaluation of women in Turkey in terms of defending and protecting their rights, especially within legal institutions. In Turkey, women have been killed inhumanly, most of the time after extended torture. 

Losing the precious legal tool that constitutes the Istanbul Convention will have critical repercussions on their lives. Even before and after the ratification of the Convention, barbarous femicides happened in Turkey. Domestic violence is a grave problem in Turkey with reports revealing that “90% of Turkish women [are] experiencing violence at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends.”

A monstrous example most common in the East of Turkey was the case of Güldünya Tören. She was raped by a relative and then got pregnant. Later, she was killed by a family decision, in 2004 because her pregnancy was compromising the family’s honor.

The killing of women and girls happens when a woman allegedly steps outside her socially designated role, particularly, but not only, with regard to her sexuality and to her interaction with men outside her family. The notion of “honor” forms part of a whole system based on a code of behavior imposed on women and girls. 

In this system, a man’s honor is perceived to be his status as a member of the community (şeref) or as defined by the chastity of his female family members (namus). A threat to the namus encourages the man to act in defense of their “honor.” When namus has been lost by unchaste conduct, it can only be restored by killing its offender.  

Because of this behavior code; getting a divorce – or even asking for ome – is another reason for femicide. As a Kurdish woman born and raised in Turkey, I have witnessed this violence myself, as Gamze Gezeroğlu, my own cousin, was stabbed 12 times and killed by her husband just because she wanted to get divorced, in 2011.

Even after divorce, women are under threat. This was the case of Emine Bulut, whose ex-husband killed her in front of her 10-year-old daughter at a cafe. A video posted on social media showed the mother screaming “I do not want to die” and holding her neck as her 10-year-old daughter begged her not to die.

Women think twice before starting a relationship, starting a job, or even going out because they witness inhumane murders by strangers, stalkers, bosses, and boyfriends. A murder by a stranger: Özgecan Aslan, who was beaten, stabbed, and burned to death by a bus driver just because she resisted rape, in 2015. Her death shocked the public and in a way proved that violence against women does not necessarily need a bond. Activists demanded the Turkish government to pass an “Özgecan Aslan law”, which would prohibit judges from reducing a man’s sentence for having been “provoked” into the murder of a woman.  Unfortunately, this request has not been approved yet. 

Turkey has been plagued by countless gruesome similar stories where women have been victims of men’s violence. From the murder of Pinar Gültekin, to that of Münevver Karabulut and Şule Çet, femicides have sparked protests initiated by organizations such as the We Will Stop Femicide platform and support on social media for the victims’ families, both in Turkey and internationally.

Since Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide and does not release any regular data about the murders of women, most statistics come from human rights NGOs that jointly try to collect data. According to Bianet’s data, from 2014 to 2020, at least 1.983 women were killed in Turkey.

Is Turkey giving up on women’s rights?

The İstanbul Convention was critically important because it requires the force of a nation to achieve real gender equality, and it sets the standards for the member countries. It aims for a zero-tolerance approach against violence against women and domestic violence. 

With this Treaty, the statement of the plaintiff is essential and, if there is a proven violence threat, authorities must ensure that violence will be prevented before it escalates. The prevention of violence against women has the strength to save lives and to improve the condition of life.

Finally, the Convention launched Grevio, an objective expert committee, whose sole mission is to monitor the legal necessities and adaptations of its governing members. The European Court of Human Rights, as the overarching legal guider, then supervises the implementation of the Convention in the member states.20 
Consequently, withdrawing from the Convention is like losing one of the few legal shields that protect women in Turkey. Still the decision confronts resistance from the public. Women gather for demonstrations to reverse this decision. They truly cannot stand losing one more of them. May they never walk alone.


Picture text translation: “We cannot stand losing one more of us”

Picture Credits: Melike Yavuz (@melikeyphotography) – 25/11/2020

Walking the blurred lines between the three Ns of extremism and a pandemic

By Fairuzah Atchulo Munaaya Mahama

On January 6th this year, the whole world got a front row seat to what happens when extremists are left unchecked and unfettered during a pandemic. Like watching a train crash, we watched riveted as a mob of angry white insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol, bringing the modern world’s oldest democracy to its knees. 

The events of January 6th did not stand in isolation, if the rumblings of another March 4th insurrection was to be believed. Extremism is not a new phenomenon in the United States, yet somehow in all of its machinations, extremists had never stormed the Capitol building until the pandemic. So, what conclusions can be drawn here? 

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The Goya Awards overshadowed by sexist comments

By Leyre Castro

Last Saturday, March 6th 2021 Spain’s annual film awards, Los Premios Goya (the Goya awards) were celebrated in Malaga. Since 1987, every year the Goya Awards are held to celebrate the quality of Spanish cinema. Big names such as Fernando Trueba, Pedro Almodóvar, Álex de la Iglesia, Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz or Paz Vega are already part of the history of these renowned awards.

This year, the nominees included  Salvador Calvo’s “Adú”, which was nominated in 13 different categories and won four of them, “Las niñas” by Pilar Palomero and “Akelarre” by Pablo Agüero, both of them nominated in 9 categories and winners of four and five awards respectively.

As it may be expected, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s Goya Awards were celebrated in a “hybrid way” and the nominees, who were connected through video chat, received their awards from their homes. However, this year’s awards have been marked by a rather unpleasant incident caught during the Facebook live transmission by the Spanish national broadcaster RTVE. 

Continue reading “The Goya Awards overshadowed by sexist comments”

COVID-19 crisis: an opportunity for the EU to expand its competences in public health?

By Paola Gosio

As stated by Helmut Schmidt “the European Union lives of crises”. [1] Since its inception, the EU has undergone a series of emergencies of diverse nature that challenged its governance and furthered the debate on intergovernmentalism versus supranationalism. The Coronavirus outbreak arose in this context, which seems to represent the latest crossroads in front of which it will be possible to assess whether the European Union will be able to expand its competences, specifically in the public health sector, to be able to manage future crisis situations in this area.

The coronavirus pandemic was indeed first and foremost a health crisis. However, due to the subsidiarity principle reigning in the EU, the European institutions could not intervene in the public health matters of every Member State. This, because public health measures are primarily a Member State competence, and therefore the Union can only be called upon to perform an additional and/or auxiliary action, but without replacing EU Governments.

Continue reading “COVID-19 crisis: an opportunity for the EU to expand its competences in public health?”

#StandWithBelarus: Looking back at six months of protests

By Leyre Castro and Hannah Bieber

This article is part of a project designed to raise awareness about what has been happening in Belarus since August 2020, at the occasion of the Day of Solidarity with Belarus launched by Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya. In order to understand the past and current events better, The Euroculturer Magazine will organize a live interview with a belarusian Euroculture alumni on 07/02/2021. Scroll down to the end of the article for more information!

The elections that sparked the rebellion

On August 9, 2020, Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as the last dictator of Europe and who has been ruling Belarus for 26 years, claimed he had  been re-elected with 80% of the votes after the presidential elections. His main challenger, Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, had allegedly collected only 10% of the votes, despite her strong popular support. This announcement sparked unprecedented protests right after polls had closed. 

Continue reading “#StandWithBelarus: Looking back at six months of protests”

When the EU sends mixed-signals: the example of plant-based food labelling

By Katarina Jarc

You don’t have to murder to call it a burger, but when it comes to dairy, the situation is hairy

A few years ago, I took up the challenge of substituting dairy products with plant-based alternatives. Even though cheese IS life, I have to say I still succeeded in eliminating that deliciousness from my life for slightly longer than one year. It was far from easy, honestly. But, as with every period of our lives, this one also brought new habits, and to this day I still continuously saunter over to the aisles offering plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products. Needless to say, finding the right substitute to the mouth-watering taste and texture of cheese is not an easy task, especially with a lack of descriptive nomination on product labelling.

Continue reading “When the EU sends mixed-signals: the example of plant-based food labelling”

The makings of a ‘Voldemort’: How J.K. Rowling lived long enough to become the Villain

By Fairuzah Atchulo Munaaya Mahama

A while ago, the hashtag #RIPJKRowling trended on Twitter. It was so enthralling that the social media had to clarify that the English author was indeed still alive and tweeting away. The hashtag was the Twitterverse’s response to Rowling’s new book: “Troubled blood”, published under her pseudonym Robert  Galbraith. The bone of contention was a serial killer character, who abducted and murdered women while adorned in female clothes, all to the scintillating tune of ‘never trust a man in a dress’. Like all things on the  internet, the hashtag drew both blood and hard lines among two camps, both vociferously defending their stance. 

Supporters of Rowling saw the hashtag as an attack on her freedom to speech and right to expression and opinion. After all, she was not the first author to pen a cross-dressing male serial killer. If so, we should also ‘cancel’ Psycho  and Silence of the Lamb! For them, the hashtag was simply another blowout from  ‘snowflakes’ yet again taking offence to their delicate sensibilities. 

Proponents of the hashtag, however, saw themselves as expressing their ire at a beloved author in what they considered the culmination of her transphobic views. To them, the hashtag symbolized the death of  Rowling’s reputation and  her place and adoration in their lives. The arguments of both parties prompt two critical questions relevant to today’s culture of ‘cancellation’ and political correctness: To tweet or not to tweet? Where does freedom of speech end and consequences begin? 

Continue reading “The makings of a ‘Voldemort’: How J.K. Rowling lived long enough to become the Villain”

No Sacrifice, No Victory: Building Chinese collective narratives

Whoever has won the US presidential elections, China is ready. The movie Sacrifice (金剛川 2020) tells us why.

by Wong Tsz (王子)

Background

The time was June 1953, the Korean War had been going on for three years, Chinese volunteers were still fighting tirelessly in a war they believed was necessary to defend their motherland. The mountains of Kumsong set the foreground of the last major battle of the war. In the valley of the mountains lies the Kumsong River (金剛川). Chinese engineers were ordered to build a bridge on the river to ensure the logistical support to the troops stationed in the mountain. The bridge was destroyed seven times by UN artillery and air raids and seven times it was rebuilt by brave Chinese volunteers. The movie Sacrifice – the original title of which is “Kumsong River” (金剛川) – narrates the perspectives of three soldiers at this scene.

The reasons behind China’s involvement in the Korean War were manifold: a communist alliance, the wider impact of Maoism, Chinese national security interests, economic incentives       from Soviet Russia to its eastern neighbors and the need to consolidate domestic political control in mainland China shortly after defeating the Nationalists. The official terminology in China for the Korean War is ‘抗美援朝’ – ’Resist US Aggression and Aid (North) Korea’-, a term that avoids explicitly mentioning of the term ‘war’: the Chinese were helping the Koreans while the Americans were the demon. This perspective would of course be interpreted very differently in South Korea and in the West. The Korean War was the first ‘hot’ war of the Cold War, and the distress of a communist expansion in East Asia was clear and imminent. For many years, this conflict  has been a very sensitive part of Chinese history – but things are changing.

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Is Instagram Making You Miserable? Mental health and the loneliness epidemic in a hyperconnected world

by Jedidja van Boven 

I recently logged out of (and blacklisted) Facebook and Instagram, and I can confidently say that I feel much better without the needless doomscrolling through an endless page of depressing news and vacation photos that I do not care about. But aside from avoiding painful confrontations with beautiful Instagram models and racist relatives on Facebook, are there other reasons why you might want to consider quitting social media?

A McKinsey report from June 2020 states that the well-being of European citizens fell to its lowest point since 1980 last April as accounts of depression and loneliness tripled compared to pre-COVID standards. However, loneliness problems are far from new and have many causes, such as the pervasiveness of social media. This is especially relevant for our ‘digitally native’ generation that has grown up with social media as a core part of our formative years. 

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Freedom of speech at all costs? How the French new security bill revealed the country’s contradictions

By Hannah Bieber

“I will always defend freedom of speech in my country” said French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview he gave to Aljazeera on October 31st, 2020. One month later, French citizens took up the streets in mass protest against the new security bill proposed by the government – and forced the latter to rewrite it. The cause of the unrest was Article 24, that banned sharing images of police officers if they aimed to harm them physically or psychologically, which was accused of threatening freedom of speech. But how did we get there?

Je suis Charlie: Freedom of speech, a core French value

On October 16th, 2020, French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded after showing his students caricatures of Mohammad from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Almost five years after the November 2015 Paris Attacks, this gruesome murder sparked peaceful demonstrations throughout the whole country. More than paying tribute to the teacher, people wanted to defend a core French value: freedom of speech. 

Continue reading “Freedom of speech at all costs? How the French new security bill revealed the country’s contradictions”