“We have always said that we demand equality in practice,” Pınar İlkkaracan of Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR) told Today's Zaman, also speaking on behalf of other women's organizations.
Referring to the TCK Woman Platform, which successfully lobbied for changes in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) to protect women's rights, İlkkaracan said, “As we were campaigning for a better TCK, we were expecting a change in mentality with the changes in the law. But it hasn't happened.”
She pointed out that they had to fight with discriminatory practices when the drafts of a new constitution were discussed, as they worried about a step backwards because the current constitution's 10th article, regarding “equality before law,” amended on May 22, 2004, was removed in the draft prepared by constitutional experts commissioned by the government.
There are signs to be pessimistic about, she added, such as the decline in the number of girls going to school and record lows in Turkish women's participation in the labor force
According to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Gender Inequality Index, Turkey ranks 123rd among 128 countries when it comes to women's labor participation. However, the EU's Lisbon Strategy requires Turkey to have 60 percent of its women in the workforce by 2010. Turkey has only managed to raise this rate to about 22 percent.
Still, she said, they are optimistic that women's rights will be a concern for other organizations, too, as they prepare their suggestions for a new constitution. For example, she said, a draft prepared by the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK) and submitted to Parliament in June includes changes which are in line with women's demands.
“There is a need for political will. The government should not just sit but act to improve women's lives,” she said and added that this can be done by implementing policies to increase women's participation in the labor force, provide child-care services and improve women's participation in politics.
‘ECtHR’s rule revolutionary’
In the face of a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling finding Turkey negligent in preventing gender discrimination against women, İlkkaracan said it is “revolutionary.”
She said it is “revolutionary” not only for Turkey but for the 47 countries that ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty drawn up within the Council of Europe and entered into force in 1953.
“This rule concerns not only Turkey,” she said, referring to the case of Nahide Opuz, who applied to the ECtHR in 2002 alleging that Turkish authorities had failed to protect the life of her mother, who was killed by Opuz's husband, H.O. “It is binding for all 47 states. In addition, it requires the states to act with due diligence in cases of domestic violence,” she added regarding the court's decision finding it necessary that national authorities act with “due diligence” to prevent violence against women, including violence by private actors, or to investigate, prosecute and punish such violence.
The court made a historic ruling on June 9, fining Turkey 36,500 euros for failing to protect its citizens from domestic violence. The court concluded that the Turkish “national authorities cannot be considered to have displayed due diligence. They therefore failed in their positive obligation to protect the right to life of the applicant's mother within the meaning of Article 2 of the Convention.”
Another important point that comes with the court ruling, İlkkaracan pointed out, is that the court made clear that domestic violence, which is gender-based discrimination, is not acceptable. Indeed, the court's ruling referred 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.
Referring to the Family Protection Act Law, adopted on Jan. 14, 1998 in Turkey, the court stated that there are serious problems in the implementation of the law, as research conducted by human rights organizations indicates that when victims report domestic violence to the police, they do not investigate their complaints but seek to assume the role of mediator by trying to convince the victims to return home and drop their complaint, as the officials consider the problem a “family matter in which they cannot interfere.”