Women’s groups outraged by Cabinet’s drastic changes to violence bill draft

Women’s groups outraged by Cabinet’s drastic changes to violence bill draft

(Photo: Cihan)

March 01, 2012, Thursday/ 17:24:00/ YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN

Women's rights activists' excitement about a new draft law intended to address the issue of violence against women has died down as the Cabinet has eliminated important parts of the draft -- including its name -- which was prepared as a result of extraordinary efforts by activists and the related ministry.

“This is scandalous and unheard of,” said women's rights activist and researcher Pınar İlkkaracan. “How can they make so many changes to a draft law prepared by the ministry as a result of months of work? Are they kidding all of us?”

She was referring to the “Draft law to protect women and individual family members from violence” on which women's right groups worked tirelessly with Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin, particularly since September last year.

Two hundred thirty-six women's groups from Şiddete Son Platformu -- the Platform to End Violence, in Turkey where almost every day five women are killed by men -- had prepared their own draft law at the beginning of the drafting process in 2011 and presented it to the ministry. In the meantime, the ministry prepared its own draft and said that they could work with women's right groups on the draft law prepared by the ministry.

Following various ups and downs in the process, they finally sat down together in Ankara in January to finish the job. Officials from the Women's Status General Directorate (KSGM) and other ministries were also involved in brainstorming sessions over days and weekends to address deficiencies in the draft law.

According to the women's groups, the ministry's latest draft had important deficiencies; however, Şahin and her team improved it “unbelievably” as a result of the hard work with activists, mainly from the platform. Finally, the draft law was presented at the end of January to the Council of Ministers, in line with procedures.

On the night of Feb. 24, the Council of Ministers sent the draft law to the parliamentary Commission for Equal Opportunities of Women and Men (KEFEK), also in line with the procedures, but unprecedented changes were made to it.

“This draft law is not the draft law that we agreed with the ministry on,” said Zelal Ayman, an activist from the Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) - New Ways based in İstanbul.

“We don’t accept it. We can’t take this responsibility. This is not the bill we supported,” she added.

The platform is critical of the draft law on many fronts. The first criticism is in regards to the name change made to the draft law by the Council of Ministers, which called the bill “Draft law to protect family and prevent violence against women.”

Activist and lawyer Hülya Gülbahar said that it is obvious that the draft law in its current form aims to protect the family not women.

“The underlying message is that families should be protected; if families are going to break up, eyes can be closed in regards to violence against women,” she said.

The platform pointed out that women’s rights groups have always said when a woman faces violence, she tries to get out of her family, and in that process, it is not possible to protect both the woman and the family.

“This is the basic approach in the world. We said many times that nowhere in the world are laws against violence named like that,” the platform said in its Feb. 29 statement to KEFEK, which met on March 1 in Ankara with representatives from women’s rights groups to hear their comments on the draft bill.

The platform called on KEFEK members to act on their “historic responsibility” and rearrange the draft law without rushing in order to address the rights of female citizens and fulfill Turkey’s obligations under international agreements.

In May last year, Turkey became the first signatory of the treaty, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It requires the signatories to criminalize the practices of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilization, sexual harassment and stalking. It also stipulates that the parties to the convention should take the necessary legislative and other measures to combat honor killings, which usually refers to the killing of women by family members for “staining the family honor.”

According to a report by UN Women released in early July of last year, Turkey tops Europe and the US in the number of incidences of violence against women. Official statistics reveal that four out of 10 women in Turkey are beaten by their husbands. The platform highlights several points in regards to the required rearrangements:

Principal of equality: Concepts, such as, “equality of woman and man,” “de facto equality,” “gender equality in society” and “domestic violence,” which were removed from the draft law should be put back.

International human rights standards: It is crucial that the draft law pays attention to related international human rights documents. First of all those documents are the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Turkey signed.

Protection: There are only 40 public women’s shelters in Turkey, and they are insufficient. For the draft law to be effective, it is vital that the number of shelters be increased in each province by at least adding one more in the initial phase; and the conditions in those shelters should be improved.

Implementation and inspection: “7/24 Intervention Coordination Centers” should undergo a name change to “Violence Monitoring and Prevention Centers;” these units should be established throughout Turkey and provide services to women who face violence under one roof. These centers are not going to be effective since the number of personnel anticipated for these centers was 5,577 but was reduced to 362 in the latest version of the draft.

Education and rights awareness: Education is important for raising awareness of the issues of equality of women and men, gender equality and women’s rights. As suggested in the previous draft law, those educational activities should be given to public officials as well as to women. Those educational activities are important in particular because the draft law gives too much power to law enforcement officials; for example, enabling them to use technological devices or wire tapping to surveil to determine if potential perpetrators of violence comply with the rules; the platform insisted that there should be a ruling from a judge for use of those tools but now law enforcement officials have authority to use them.

Right of notification: Those people who become aware of violence against individuals have the right to notify officials according to Law 4320 on the Protection of the Family, which was adopted in 1998. According to the latest version of the draft, only an individual who faces violence or the state has the authority to prevent or stop that violence. This should be changed.

Ironically, Şahin plans to have the law passed on March 8, the day women’s groups are planning to issue simultaneous press statements to protest the version of the draft law sent to KEFEK from the Council of Ministers. “She [Şahin] thinks that she is making a nice gesture, but this is actually kidding those who worked tirelessly on the draft law. We don’t care if it is passed on March 8 or 18. What we care about is that we want a good law,” said Gülsen Ülker from the Ankara Woman’s Solidarity Foundation before she went to attend the KEFEK meeting.

Ministry officials declined to comment on the latest changes to the draft law because “it is likely that the draft will be changed again.”

Ülker told Today’s Zaman after she came out of the KEFEK meeting that Şahin told them at the meeting the same day at the Justice Commission in Parliament on the draft, evaluations will be made of the draft law that was presented to the Cabinet, not the draft law changed by the Cabinet. Ülker said they do not know if the minister has the authority to say that.

“We will see,” Ülker said and added that they demanded at the KEFEK meeting that it should be the primary commission to make decisions on the draft law. As Today’s Zaman went to print, the meeting with women’s groups at the Justice Commission was continuing.

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