Are women’s rights in danger in Turkey?

Text by Romy Voswijk –

Photo from Instagram, @kadincinayetlernidurduracagiz

As femicides are on the rise in Turkey, women in Istanbul fear for their safety. That is why the organization We Will Stop Femicide was created; to stand up for victims of abuse. However, the platform is now facing a court case for ‘conducting activities that violate laws and morals.’

 Dozens of women with purple jackets and scarfs wave their flags in the air, while they scream anti-femicide chants in front of the court house in Ankara. A feeling of anger and devotion fills the air. For We Will Stop Femicide, this is a weekly matter but this time there seems to be more tension. The upcoming lawsuit has a lot of influence on the future of women’s rights. Fidan Ateselim, general secretary of the organization said the lawsuit was filed because some citizens complained in a form on a website from the presidency.

The group says men in Turkey have killed 285 women in 2021. Most of the victims were killed by their husbands in their own homes. Another 217 women died in suspicious circumstances, even when some of them were registered as a suicide. We Will Stop Femicides strives for stopping femicide and ensuring their protection from violence. “Women are murdered every day in this country. The authorities don’t do enough to stop this,” Ateselim says.

Istanbul Convention

In 2011, the Istanbul Convention was negotiated by 47 European member states. According to the Council of Europe, the Istanbul Convention is a human rights treaty to ensure women’s rights to be free from violence. This treaty was named after the city of Istanbul because it was signed there. In March 2021, Turkey decided to withdraw from the Convention, claiming it allegedly normalizes homosexuality. This adds to the censoring of television shows and banning of the annual Gay Pride march. On Tuesday June 7 2022, We Will Stop Femicide protested against Turkey’s withdrawal.

There are no statistics that show how safe women are in Istanbul because the definition of safety can vary. Multiple young women from Bilgi University (aged 18 to 23) state they feel unsafe walking alone in the city, especially during the evening and night. Most of them prefer to walk together with at least one man. Selin Erkcan, student at Bilgi University says: “Women’s safety is a huge problem in Turkey. It is definitely something that we as a country should improve on and talk about more.” Another female student that wants to remain anonymous says: “I rarely feel safe in the country unless I’m with a male friend.”

 Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power in Turkey for 17 years. As feminist groups fight for women’s rights and safety, the AKP has been criticised for oppressing all kinds of groups by using different tactics. Alev Özkazanç, expert in Political Science and Gender Studies explains political activists get imprisoned and teachers get fired from their jobs while talking about what the party considers to be ‘bad’ or ‘inappropriate’ topics. Now We Will Stop Femicide is facing a lawsuit, it is clear that they are seen as a threat to AKP’s ideas.

The future of women’s rights

Turkey’s presidency is currently giving the impression that they are working on a new treaty or law, similar to the Istanbul Convention. It is unclear when or whether the law will be published and what influence that will have on women’s rights in the country. New protests are planned by We Will Stop Femicide. “We don’t know what future awaits us but until then, we will keep fighting for women’s rights. No one will stop us,” Ateselim says.