Turkey took historic action on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as the first country to ratify a Council of Europe (CoE) agreement on preventing such violence.
The Turkish Parliament late on Thursday ratified the "Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence," thereby making it the first parliament among the agreement's signatory countries to do so. The agreement was adopted on the eve of the international day for the end to violence against women, remembered across Turkey with exhibits, conferences, protests and rallies.
Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin, stressing the legal efforts being made, said: “Last night in the Turkish Parliament, under the instruction of the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament, Turkey became the first signatory of the Council of Europe convention. I thank all of the legislators and parties who contributed to this success. We can find a common solution to our common problems.”
With an overwhelming total of 246 votes, Parliament ratified the convention in support of the struggle against domestic violence and violence against women. Only one lawmaker abstained from the vote.
The then Turkey-led Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the convention in April. Debates on the landmark agreement took three years before its text was finalized. Turkey has been called one of the convention's strongest proponents.
The convention, the first of its kind in the world, is aimed at protecting women against all forms of violence and requires the signatories to criminalize the practices of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilization, sexual harassment and stalking.
It also foresees the establishment of an international group of independent experts to monitor its implementation at a national level. The agreement was opened for signature in İstanbul in May and was signed by 13 countries.
Marches, seminars and sermons to end domestic violence
As Turkey welcomed a new convention on preventing and protecting women against violence, activists, political leaders and imams joined hands in the cause.
The “We Are Also Here” Internet campaign for men against domestic violence, organized by the Ministry for Family and Social Policy and the parliamentary commission, kicked off on Nov. 25. After reading a prepared statement on the elimination of violence against women on the ministry's official website (www.aile.gov.tr), men can add their names in support.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was the first to sign the declaration. More than 2,000 men across Turkey had signed the statement in support by Friday afternoon.
Şahin, while visiting the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) “No to Violence” tent in İstanbul's Taksim Square, said the ministry is developing all of its policies around female empowerment, educating young girls and financial independence. Calling violence against women a human rights violation, Şahin said the ministry is working with women's groups under the leadership of the Prime Ministry on this pressing issue.
Leaders of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also made statements on Friday to demonstrate their dedication to the fight against domestic violence and violence against women.
Meanwhile, imams in mosques all across Turkey did something a little different from their usual Friday prayers on Nov. 25. In speeches prepared by the Religious Affairs Directorate, they denounced violence against women and called for respect for all women.
The Friday sermon stressed that violence and discrimination are crimes against all and called women the source for the existence of humanity. “The aim of our religion is to build virtuous individuals as well as a virtuous community in which everyone's rights are respected,” the religious leaders read.
Women's groups in the eastern province of Diyarbakır marched Friday to show support in the struggle against violence against women in Turkey. And another 150 women had marched down Taksim's İstiklal Street on Thursday to protest the murders of and violence against women.
‘Turkey is far from where it needs to be’
Turkey continues to struggle with violence against women, with gruesome murders splashing across newspaper pages almost daily in Turkey. In the past seven months, 226 women were murdered, 478 were raped and 722 were hospitalized due to domestic violence, according to recent data.
Some Turkish women's rights activists like Pınar İlkkaracan, however, say that a lot more could be done to address violence against women in Turkey. “As time is passing, things are not improving. It will take coordinated action on the part of the government to signal that the current situation is unacceptable and that they will take all of the measures to eliminate violence against women," she told Today's Zaman in an exclusive interview.
İlkkaracan acknowledged recent legislative reforms but said that means nothing when there is inaction by the government, resistance from the judiciary and the unceasing violence against women across Turkey. “It's not a law that we need, it's a national plan of action. And in this plan, the government would make a goal to reduce domestic violence to, let's say, 3 percent by 2020. Every ministry should be involved and the prime minister should lead the effort,” she said.