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 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”

#PeruCountryOfRapists: Exposing a country’s rape culture

By Johanna Pieper

TW: This article deals with issues such as sexual assaults and gender-based violence.

Don’t walk alone at night; change sides of the street regularly so no one can follow you; don’t get distracted by looking at your phone; walk with a group of friends; don’t get alone into a taxi by yourself; open the windows as soon as you get into the taxi (you don’t want to get intoxicated, do you?); ALWAYS share your location. “Are you getting into the bus dressed like this?” This one was said to me the last time I was in Peru on vacation. It was summer and I was wearing a nice little white dress. But of course, what was I thinking going out like this in a country of rapists?

Continue reading “#PeruCountryOfRapists: Exposing a country’s rape culture”

Gender and danger: the ‘good girl persona’ in institutional fieldwork

By Ines Bolaños Somoano

I have spent hours formulating my questions, over and over again, so that they are precise but cannot be interpreted as provocative or too critical. Despite my intensive preparation, we reach a crucial point in the interview and I am nervous. I want to confront my interviewee, ask him why he says X thing happened, when official memos quite clearly state Y event was key instead. The look in his face tells me he doesn’t think I know about it, nor that I am likely to put him in a sore spot.

I ask him an easy question first, let him paint a pretty picture, before I move on to the meaty stuff. Then I aim my metaphorical weapon. I make sure my posture, face expression and voice all reflect an adequate sense of gratefulness and respect for his time and knowledge. My efforts are rewarded as I get a somewhat honest answer, if one that also vastly underestimates my knowledge in the subject.

When I exit the office, however, I do not feel exultant or accomplished; I am actually angry with myself and with my interviewee for the charade. For having had to feign ignorance and slow thinking in front of officials I have researched. I know, however, that others approaches (confident assertiveness or jovial camaraderie) would have not worked. As a female researcher, the ‘good girl persona’ is my only realistic approach to interviewing powerful institutional elites.

Continue reading “Gender and danger: the ‘good girl persona’ in institutional fieldwork”

The C-Word: Rethinking Feminism

By Maeva Chargros

“Should we sign a contract before each sexual intercourse, now?! This is insane!”

Yes, indeed. It is definitely insane to think that a law recently passed in Sweden, placing consent at the core of any rape or sexual assault accusation, automatically forces all parties involved in a sexual act to draft and sign a legally binding contract prior to any intercourse involving penetration. The problem is that our society is unable to grasp a concept that should be the main driving force in any human interaction – professional, personal, intimate, or public. Before our birth, our life is shaped on the basis of this concept’s fragile survival.

This notion is the infamous C-word, consent, and it is crucial not only in our sexual life, but in more or less every single aspect of our lives. It shows up when you switch on your phone, when you commute to work, when you need medical care, when you walk in a park etc. It shows up when you have tea with friends, when you listen to music, when you visit an exhibition, when you purchased the phone or computer you are using to read this article. This is a factual statement. Here comes the opinion-motivated one: this concept, omnipresent and yet, paradoxically almost absent from our lives, is highly feminist and has a significant feminine character. Yet, men benefit from its existence more than women – this, again, is a factual statement based on statistics readily available by anyone interested in the topic.

Before going any further, I need to add an essential sentence, unfortunately. I hope one day, the sooner the better, this sentence will become obsolete. Please take into account while reading it that this article may contain sensitive information that could act as triggers for victims and survivors of sexual assaults. Continue reading “The C-Word: Rethinking Feminism”

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion

By Agnese Olmati

Last January (2019) I had the opportunity to get in contact with the European Women’s Lobby in Brussels. There, I discussed the current situation of women’s right in the European Union, focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
The EWL, which is the biggest European network of women’s associations, aims at influencing the general public and the EU decision-makers in support of women’s human rights. It is continuously working to ensure every woman’s dignity and the respect of SRHR in the Union.
Here are some reflections following my contact with them.

Looking back at the events and debates that occurred across Europe in 2018, we are likely to notice that, on some issues, the European puzzle is rapidly falling apart. For several decades, the different puzzle pieces have been struggling to get closer through a long and demanding process of integration, but recently many of them have started to outdistance and even to crumble. Brexit was just the most evident expression of breach and disagreement, yet the EU appears quite fragmented also in other domains, including women’s rights – and especially SRHR.

Gender-based violence, surrogacy, pornography, abortion – the facets of SRHR are numerous and intricate and thus require a deep analysis. This article will concentrate on violence against women and right to abortion in Europe, as these topics have been in the limelight during the past year and have caused great disagreement among the member states, contributing to the breakdown of the puzzle.

First of all, it is important to recall the strong commitment of the EU to women’s rights. The Treaty on the European Union (TEU) upholds the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination (Article 2), whereas the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) confirms the political commitment of member states to fight against all forms of domestic violence (Declaration 19 on Article 8). The Charter of Fundamental Rights warrants people’s right to dignity (Title I) and equality (Title III) and includes specific provisions on people’s right to physical and mental integrity, outlawing any form of discrimination on the grounds of sex.
These (founding) documents present concepts and positions in a dreamlike manner – but do the reality of the EU and the actions of its decision-makers correspond to them? Continue reading “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion”

Hear Me Too

By Anonymous

I do not talk, but I heal.
I do not share, but I read.
I do not speak, but I hear.
I do not tell, but I fight.
I do not have a voice, but hope needs no sound.
Together, we rise.

Bulgaria: a woman was raped and murdered earlier this year. As soon as the international media heard that her job – she was a journalist – was probably not the reason why she was killed, her case ceased to appear in their headlines. A woman’s life is worth less than a journalist’s life. The fact that she was killed because she was a woman did not matter – it happens so often, after all.

Germany: every day, a man tries to kill his female partner.

Ireland: a 17 years old girl had to go through the humiliating experience of having her underwear exposed in front of the court during the trial of her rapist – who was then found not guilty for raping her. Apparently, wearing specific sorts of clothes is still considered as consent for rape in 2018 – not only by regular people, but also by judges.

France: 100% of women have experienced sexual harrassment in public spaces, including public transport.

European Union: “1 in 20 women have been raped before the age of 15. 1 in 4 persons believe that sexual intercourse without consent may be justified if for instance the victim is drunk, wearing revealing clothes, not saying “no” clearly or not fighting back.” (see Amnesty International link below for the source)

USA: a man accused of sexual assault refused to have a formal inquiry from the FBI to determine whether the allegations were true and refused to answer questions from Senators during an official hearing; he was confirmed as Judge of the Supreme Court.

Worldwide: 650 million girls are married within one year before the age of 18 – a large majority of them against their will.

Sexual violence is not happening only in remote areas far away from your comfortable home. Look around. Hear the survivors, believe the victims, and stand up against any form of violence against women and girls.

#BelieveSurvivors #WhyIDidntReport #BalanceTonPorc #EleNao #MeToo #HearMeToo #HeForShe #TimesUp #IWillGoOut #BringBackOurGirls #EndFGM #ThisIsNotConsent #NotConsent #DontTellMeHowToDress #YouAreNotAlone #NoMeansNo #MeTooIndia

UN Women – Facts Everyone Should Know (interactive infographics, available in English, Spanish and French)

UN Women – In Focus: Hear Me Too

UN Women – “My Story”

Amnesty International – “Sex without consent is rape

Bulgaria: #YouAreNotAlone campaign

WARNING!
For survivors and victims, some links and some of the hashtags include content that could be triggering. If you decide to still click on the links or check the hashtags, be aware that you can find support from many NGOs and structures in your country to help you go through potential consequences of such triggers.

Me Too: A Temporary Social Media Phenomenon?

By Maeva Chargros

It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” (Huffington Post)

Me Too. Two words that seemed brand new last year (in 2017), when Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and many other (social) media were submerged with the now famous and symbolic ‘hashtag’. The most disturbing part of this ‘movement’ (or ‘phenomenon’ as it is sometimes called) might be its lack of “newness”. Unfortunately, there was nothing unusual, nothing unfamiliar about it… except maybe its scope, and of course its prolonged effects. So, where did this Me Too movement really originate from? What can be said about it, one year later? But most importantly, how can we respond to this movement within the academic world? Though such questions would definitely deserve a couple of books each (at least!), I decided to try and gather some answers. Continue reading “Me Too: A Temporary Social Media Phenomenon?”

Summer Exists So You Can Read

By Maeva Chargros

Any decent human being knows this very basic fact: extreme temperatures exist so you can read without feeling too bad for not doing what you were supposed to do. In my case, I put the “extreme temperature” boundaries around +25°C and -25°C. When the weather gets warmer or colder than these, my brain automatically switches to the “non-stop reading” mode. Therefore, this summer’s heatwave gave me the very pleasant opportunity to drift away from Central European topics, back to my earlier shores for a few days. Let me introduce you to three amazing Nordic writers!

FINLAND & ESTONIA: Norma, Sofi Oksanen.

It is hard to be concise and objective when mentioning this writer whose novel Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish, Puhastus in Estonian) literally changed my life forever – and for the better. Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish-Estonian writer who likes to draw humanly touching portraits of women and their – usually complicated – past, present, and future endeavours. In Norma, we meet a young woman whose mother just killed herself without giving any warning sign of such psychological despair before this fateful morning. She struggles to understand what happened during the last few days of her mother’s life and starts realising the story behind this violent death dates back to decades, even centuries ago – and involves four different continents. Continue reading “Summer Exists So You Can Read”

In a Relationship with…Stefan Zweig

ATKA ATUN | atka_brozek@yahoo.com

In the old park, in ice and snow caught fast
Two spectres walk, still searching for the past.

Journey into the Past
is a book about love, anger and shame.

The protagonist, Ludwig, a twenty-three year old man from a poor background, becomes a Councillor’s private secretary, moves into his mansion and falls in love with his wife. One day, the Councillor asks him to leave and run his business in Mexico. At this time, the Great War of 1914-1918 breaks out and events force Ludwig to stay longer in exile. Nine years later, Ludwig comes back to find a Europe that is no longer his and to meet the woman from his past. Will it be possible to go back? Does time make any difference to people who loved each other so passionately? Is it possible to bring back the past?

Nevertheless, this novella is not only about love; it also shows how the events of the Great War broke into people’s lives and forced them to live in a Europe they never signed up for and no longer cared for. A cultural cosmopolitism so much present in the past seemed to have vanished after the Great War. The author, Stefan Zweig, was himself a pacifist and, therefore, we often find references to the atrocity of war in his novels. As with many other Jews, the Austrian had to emigrate to avoid possible death. The writer, so highly acclaimed during the 1920s and 30s, was now forever condemned to live outside Europe. The cultural cosmopolitism, the old and civilized world of pan-European culture he cherished so deeply, became the memory of the past along with the development of the Fascist regimes.

During the 1920s and 30s, Zweig’s fame spread around the world and he was classified as one of the greatest writers, next to Thomas Mann. With time his fame faded, although he was never forgotten in Austria and France. Nowadays, in France, we can buy everything from Zweig’s biography and biographies written by him of figures such as Marie Antoinette, Tolstoy, Casanova, Romain Rolland and Sigmund Freud (the last two were friends of his), to analyses of his novels and novellas.

Moreover, Zweig is also a highly acclaimed master in describing women’s psyche. This subtle language with which he moves from one emotion to another, along with short but indirect phrases, make his prose extremely distinguishable from others. Amongst the most famous and loved masterpieces of his that so accurately describe women, we can definitely distinguish: The Post Office Girl – a Cinderella-like story about a girl who, after seeing the glamorous and fascinating life of the rich, cannot come back to the reality of poverty, an administrative job and shame over her poor existence; and Letter from an Unknown Woman (later made into a movie by Max Ophüls) – a nostalgic novella about a woman writing a letter to a man to inform him that they have a son together and that she has had to resort to prostitution to pay for their son’s education. In this, Zweig does not moralize, and something that could have been only a sappy romance turns into an exquisite fin-de-siècle Vienna drama. A third to distinguish is Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman – a hypnotic madame-Bovary-like story.

I discovered Stefan Zweig in Paris, on a forgotten shelf in a second-hand shop, and it was bliss. It seems like the French never forgot that there is so much power in a simple prose always on the border between kitsch and a masterpiece.

Stefan Zweig took his own life in 1942, in exile in Brazil.

If you liked ATKA’s article, also read In a Relationship with…Patti Smith

ATKA ATUN, Literature Editor

Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow,
Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.