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

The true millennium bug

By Guilherme Becker

We were not expecting this. We were not prepared for this. The year was 1999 and the world was faced with one of its greatest expectations ever: the 2000s. The new millennium. A new era. A time forged from the previous decades, especially in the 1990s, but then also completely different. From the 2000’s on, kids would grow up connected to computers and electronic devices with limitless potential. There was the Internet, with a whole new way of communication. Worldwide. Connection. There were cableless tools. There were Nokia’s, Motorolas, Sony Ericsson’s, and then the IPhone, and Android. A beautiful picture.

Those were only some of the expectations of that time. And you could say that indeed we live in this world today. But back then, blocking the door to that new period, there was a possibly huge problem. A problem that could actually stop the development of this beautifully cybernetic world or maybe postpone it for a couple of years: the so-called millennium bug. Continue reading “The true millennium bug”

Pushing the limits of the European Union: What is the Hungarian government really aiming for?

By Dorottya Kósa

Over the past few days, my international friends have been bombarding me with questions concerning the new emergency law in my home country, Hungary. Receiving messages full of worries and having to pick up the phone to answer questions about the collapse of democracy in Hungary encouraged me to write this article. I hope to clarify certain things about the new legal realities and how it in fact did not change Hungary’s political powers.

Crash course on the legal framework of Hungary

Article No. 53 (State of Danger) of the Fundamental Law – the Constitution of Hungary – covers special legal orders for extreme circumstances such as a national crisis or a state of emergency. In a state of danger the government has the power to adopt means to suspend the application of certain acts, deviate from them, and take extraordinary measures. [1] As Article No. 53 declares, the means shall remain in force only for fifteen days, but the National Assembly can extend their power by voting every second week. The fourth paragraph pronounces that “upon the termination of the state in danger, such decrees of the Government shall cease to have effect.” Continue reading “Pushing the limits of the European Union: What is the Hungarian government really aiming for?”

Covid-19: how will Europe get back up?

By Hannah Bieber

Disclaimer: this article was written on March 18th, 2020. Due to the instability of the situation, some of the information it contains might be subject to changes.

A lot of people were expecting it, and it finally happened: the world we live in has been challenged. Not the way we imagined it, not in the circumstances we expected, but it did. Europe is now facing one of its major crises since the day the European Union was created. And all the flaws that we knew that existed blew up in our faces. The demography of an old continent getting older and older, the weariness of our welfare states system, the instability of our financial organizations, the limits of a space without borders and the emergence of nationalism have now all been crystalized by a microscopic organism.

The recent Covid-19 outbreak and confinement measures will give us plenty of time to reflect on the consequences it will have on our societies, especially in Europe. Indeed, this virus is almost harmless for the majority of the population, but can be very harmful for the elderly, for instance. In 2016, one EU citizen out of five was over the age of 65. This is why the virus poses Europe an immense challenge today. But what about tomorrow? What will be the consequences of this crisis for the EU?
Continue reading “Covid-19: how will Europe get back up?”

Is this really the end of the Erasmus Programme in the United Kingdom?

By Gianluca Michieletto

It has been almost five years since my first taste of Erasmus experience in Brighton, United Kingdom. It was a crisp mid-September morning when I flew from “my” Venice to London Gatwick with one of the many flights that connect the two European cities. I was very excited and scared at the same time, trying to imagine how my life would change from that point on. The year in Brighton did not represent my first study-abroad experience, since I had already enjoyed several short language courses in Northern Ireland and England. However, this represented the first long-term experience away from my family and my country, and, for an average Italian youngster, it is never easy to leave your “mamma” and move abroad (I am sure that my Italian fellow students would agree with me on this). Yet, I could have never imagined that Erasmus changed myself and my life so much in such a positive way.

Even though it was only five years ago (2015), things have drastically changed: I was a degreeless 18-year-old boy, my English and life skills were the opposite of flawless, and Brexit had not happened yet. 

On January 9th, 2020, British MPs voted against the possibility of the United Kingdom to continue benefiting a full membership of the Erasmus programme after Brexit (344 to 254 votes). Proposed by the opposition, the “New Clause 10” would have in fact assured the participation of the United Kingdom also for the cycle 2021-2027.

Even though the government has denied the possibility to fully abandon the programme, the decision represents a crystal-clear stance against the EU. As reported by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in fact, different conservative MPs have argued that the decision was taken in order “not to have their hands tied in the next negotiates with the EU”.[1] For the moment, the government and the European Union claimed that funds for the upcoming year are secured and will be honoured, as well as the two-year scholarships. After the transition period, however, it is still not clear what is going to happen.

Yet, the United Kingdom would not represent the first country outside the Union to benefit of the Erasmus programme, since countries like Norway, Turkey and Iceland are called “programme members”’ and fully participate in the programme.[2] It must be mentioned, however, that the new British government’s plan aims at cutting all the old relationships with the EU, trying to maintain only economic ties. This currently leaves the UK with only one option: leaving the Erasmus+ Programme. Moreover, as the BBC reported, even though the United Kingdom wanted to renegotiate the terms and re-enter the Erasmus programme, it would not happen until the beginning of the next cycle,[3] meaning 2027.

Thus, there is a not-so-remote possibility that British universities would not benefit from the programme for almost a decade, consequently denying several thousands of students the possibility to enjoy this huge opportunity. At the same time, also students from other EU member states would have more difficulties applying to British universities compared to their previous “colleagues”, since the Prime Minister Boris Johnson will probably not be soft on immigration policies. Moreover, in the case of a “no-deal”, British universities would lose their appeal in the European university market, since European students would be forced to pay higher tuition fees. Indeed, the current agreement between the EU and Westminster “safeguards” member states’ students with a privileged status, thus paying the same tuition fees as British citizens.

On this line, at the beginning of 2019, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) claimed that EU students have been extremely important in British universities, accounting 5% and 8% respectively at the undergraduate and postgraduate level in 2017.[4] In the same year, moreover, it must be argued that 16.561 UK students enjoyed their semester or year abroad through Erasmus funds, while 31.727 students from other European countries studied in British universities.[5] Since then, the number of incoming and outgoing students have continuously increased.

The decision of the United Kingdom of not renewing the Erasmus+ agreements would deprive students of the possibility to live in another country, to integrate in another culture, to learn a new language, as well as meeting new people and experiencing unforgettable adventures. As the majority of Erasmus students argue, in fact, the Erasmus year represents the best year of their lives and a non-renewal would symbolize only a theft to future generations. Once again, as it occurred in the Brexit election, it is older generations, who never experienced such an opportunity, to decide for our (I also include myself) future.[6]

As already mentioned in the introduction, I consider my Erasmus year in Brighton one of the most important experiences of my life, since it somehow matured me and shaped who I am today. Erasmus is in fact not only responsible for the development of peculiar abilities needed in the university and work environment, but it is essential in the growth of personal skills and values. Indeed, what I did not tell you in the beginning is that the Erasmus experience enlightened my path of life. Some people could argue that it represents a stupid and naive sentence to say, but I am who I am today thanks to Erasmus and all its related experiences.

After my year abroad, in fact, my unconditional support for the European Union, its values and its possibilities, made me understand what I wanted to do after finishing my bachelor’s degree. In 2018, I was lucky enough to enrol in the Euroculture Programme, an Erasmus Mundus Master which focuses on European politics, culture and history. For those who may not know, Erasmus Mundus Masters are EU funded programmes, which give students the possibility to earn a double degree by studying in different countries. As for myself, I studied in Göttingen (Germany), Bilbao (Spain) and Indianapolis (USA).

After explaining my story and my points of view, I feel in the position to state that a possible agreement of the UK to leave the Erasmus Programme could only be considered catastrophic. Catastrophic, not as much for the United Kingdom and the European Union as political entities, but to their future students, who could not benefit from similar opportunities. However, while member states’ future students would continue to benefit from the programme by choosing other university destinations, British students would have fewer opportunities to study abroad, thus being sealed inside their own bubble.

Picture: Dunk, Banksy does Brexit (detail), Flickr

Sources:

Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/520954/brexit-votes-by-age/

Bieber, Hannah. “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019. Available at: https://euroculturer.wordpress.com/2019/10/13/brexit-and-the-generation-that-was-robbed/

Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy. “Thanks to Erasmus programme, my small world grew big”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/09/erasmus-programme-year-studying-europe

Adams, Richard. “UK ‘committed’ to maintaining Erasmus+ exchange scheme”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jan/09/uk-committed-to-maintaining-erasmus-exchange-scheme

Tommasetta, Lara.”Brexit, il Regno Unito vota per abbandonare il programma Erasmus. Ma è davvero un addio?”, TPI News, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.tpi.it/esteri/brexit-regno-unito-addio-erasmus-20200109525875/

Guerrera, Antonello. “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2020/01/09/news/brexit_il_regno_unito_dice_addio_all_erasmus-245321403/

Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47293927

To have more information, look also at: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about/brexit_en

[1] Antonello Guerrera, “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, January 9,2020

[2] Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, January 9, 2020

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hannah Bieber, “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019

[5] Ibid.

[6] Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019

The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis

Arne van Lienden

“The democratic revolution has begun”, proclaimed politician Thierry Baudet after the April 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine met the minimum threshold of votes and showed a decisive ‘no’ to the agreement. But so far, the referendum has not set off a revolution. In fact, until now the Dutch government has constantly delayed or deferred from acting upon the outcome of the referendum. This reluctance to respect the referendum result has grave implications for the legitimacy of governance and will only spark a further rise of populism in the Dutch political arena. The government needs to act, or the parliamentary elections in 2017 could see a landslide win for populist parties.

The response of the Dutch government to the outcome of the referendum has been characterized by deferral and inaction. The referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine differs in one great aspect from the other referenda we have seen in Europe this year. Unlike the Brexit referendum in the UK and the refugee referendum in Hungary, the Dutch referendum was a bottom-up initiative and was neither initiated nor wanted by the Dutch government. The government never took the referendum seriously and was not willing or capable of effectively campaigning for a Yes vote for the Association Agreement. Hence, after the result was announced it took the government by surprise. This can be seen in the reluctance of the government to act upon the outcome. Continue reading “The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis”