Women’s groups in Turkey urge mobilization on gender equality

Women’s organizations have called for gender equality education for all in society starting from the top levels, including the president and the prime minister, and down to the bottom, including private citizens, police officers, judges and prosecutors in the wake of a landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision that punished Turkey for failing to provide its citizens with better protection from domestic abuse.

Hülya Gülbahar, chairwoman of the Association for Educating and Supporting Women Candidates (KA-DER), said society needs to be educated on the issue of gender equality to overcome domestic violence.

“There must be gender equality education for the whole of society including the president and the prime minister,” she said speaking at a press conference yesterday organized by the TCK Woman Platform, which had successfully lobbied for changes in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) to protect women’s rights. Gülbahar added that all ministries should be mobilized to guarantee gender equality.

Pınar İlkkaracan from Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) has said there are several such measures that the state should take to increase the number of women’s shelters and to provide step-by-step guidelines for the police regarding how they should act when faced with a case of domestic violence.

“The ECtHR has found Turkey guilty because of its futileness and insensitivity in preventing gender discrimination against women,” she said referring to the case of Nahide Opuz, who applied to the European court in 2002 alleging that Turkish authorities had failed to protect the life of her mother, who was killed by Opuz’s husband, H.O. The court made a historic ruling on Tuesday fining Turkey 36,500 euros for failing to protect its citizens from domestic violence.

İlkkaracan said it is the state that is responsible for ensuring that gender equality is practiced in life and all citizens including civil society organizations, unions, professional organizations, political parties and press associations have duties in that regard.

“Now, the state should think about the measures that it should take,” she said, referring to the case in which Turkey was found guilty on a variety of grounds.

The ECtHR ruling pointed out — referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and ratified by Turkey on Jan. 19, 1986 — Opuz had applied to the court in the light of Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) and she further complained about the lack of protection for women from domestic violence under Turkish domestic law, in violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The Turkish government, meanwhile, contended that the applicant had failed to exhaust domestic remedies since she and her mother had withdrawn their complaints many times and had caused the termination of criminal proceedings against the applicant’s husband.

However, the court unanimously dismissed the Turkish government’s objections and held the applicant Opuz’s arguments to be true. It also ordered Turkey to pay the applicant 30,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 6,500 euros for costs and expenses.

Speaking at the press conference, lawyer Canan Arın from Mor Çatı (the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation) said there have been no governments which showed strong political will to prevent violence against women so far and everything done remained only on paper.

She also criticized the approach of the head of the parliamentary commission on gender equality, Güldal Akşit, who said that the ECtHR’s rule was not just toward Turkey because it was based on “one unfortunate case.”

Arın said one case is important when the issue is human life. “Women are citizens too. Their lives should be protected and there should be positive discrimination when it comes to providing jobs. The incident cannot be undermined by saying that it is just one case. On the contrary, the case shows that violence against women is systematic and not isolated,” she added.

Indeed, Opuz’s case was critical in showing that Opuz and her mother were repeatedly threatened and even beaten by H.O. and that such incidents were documented by the police and the courts. However, H.O. despite being found guilty of murder in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison was released from prison pending an appeal.

Referring to the Diyarbakır-based Women’s Consultation and Solidarity Center (KA-MER) on domestic violence issues in Turkey, the ECtHR stated, “According to this report, a culture of violence has developed in Turkey and violence is tolerated in many areas of life.”

As the women’s organizations held a press conference in İstanbul, yesterday’s newspapers were full of front page stories on how several women were subjected to fatal abuse. One woman was shot to death by her police officer husband who targeted her in front of a courthouse where they were getting a divorce in the province of İzmir.

In Ankara, a woman was suffocated by her companion, who was on leave from prison for a day, in front of their 3-year-old child following an argument.

Another incident was in Afyonkarahisar. Two brothers forced a woman — who one of the brothers wanted to marry — out of her house and after she objected to the marriage proposal was killed by the men.

Meanwhile, Opuz, 37 was called to a police station yesterday and given protection. Originally from Diyarbakır but now living in a city on the western part of Turkey because of being in fear of her life, Opuz prefers to remain silent and speaks through her lawyer Arzu Başer.

Başer said that her client is delighted at the decree. However, the result cannot make up for Opuz’s mother being killed or Opuz being exposed to countless acts of violence.

“Opuz is still threatened by her husband. Only in October of last year did she apply to the prosecution again, filing a complaint against her former husband for threatening her. Opuz has children, but out of fear that her former husband may harm them, they do not live with her. She was given police protection before, but only for one week. We want her to receive protection for as long as her husband threatens her.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice had an inspector to investigate the Opuz case regarding whether or not the previous court processes were just and sound.


Convention set to combat violence against women

A convention drafted by the Council of Europe aiming to fight violence against women will be completed and ready to be voted on in 2010. On April 6-8, the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO) was held in Strasbourg. The meeting was devoted to discussing the scope of the future convention to combat violence against women, which should be completed by 2010. According to a preliminary report, there are five main issues which will be dealt with. These are domestic violence suffered by women, forced marriages, female sexual mutilation, honor killings and sexual violence suffered in the public or private sphere.

According to the convention, these issues will constitute a crime and will be punishable by law in the member countries. The convention is also expected to include articles which will protect women before they are exposed to violence as well as after they are exposed to it. A monitoring committee will be established in the body of the Council of Europe to see whether the convention is being practiced by the Council of Europe members.

Sources from the Council of Europe said the convention will view domestic violence as a human rights issue, noting that the European Court of Human Rights ruling on Nahide Opuz will help to shape the preparation of the convention.

During the preparation of the draft, some European countries wanted to view the issue of violence against women from the perspective of human rights while others said that the issue should be handled in the frame of a convention about domestic violence.

Justice ministers from the member countries of the Council of Europe who will gather in Tromso, Norway, will also discuss the issue of violence against women. The ministers are expected to vote on a Council of Europe recommendation about the issue.

İstanbul Today’s Zaman


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