“Violence against women is forbidden,” is what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in his victory speech after last month’s elections. According to him, family is sacred; and therefore, rules to protect women are unnecessary.
In Turkey in 2022, 392 women fell victim to this phenomenon called femicide. According to Oxford Languages, the meaning of femicide is the killing of a woman or a girl, in particular by a man and on account of her gender. Lieve, who has researched women’s rights in Turkey for the past three months, explains that in Turkey, men and women are not equal; the traditional family, with traditional family roles, is sacred. Women who work, study, or realize they could get a divorce threaten these traditional values. Therefore, femicide happens more in the progressive parts of the country.
The Istanbul Convention
In Istanbul in 2011, Turkey was the first country to sign the Istanbul Convention. This convention was a result of a Turkish case in the European Court of Human Rights in which a woman was threatened and killed by her husband. The case went to the European Court of Human Rights and Turkey got a high fine. After this happened, the country initiated the Istanbul Convention. This European agreement is supposed to protect women from domestic abuse and violence. The agreement has taken effect since April 2014 and was signed by the EU in 2017. Four years later, in 2021, Turkey left the convention of which they were the first to sign.
According to Erdoğan, the traditional family is sacred, and violence against women is forbidden. For that reason, rules regarding protecting women by law would not be needed and do not fit the culture. “This is simply not true,” explains Berfin; a sociology master’s student and volunteer from We Will Stop Femicide. She believes that the country does need laws to protect their women. “Exactly like in law 6284 or the Istanbul Convention,” she explains. “Besides, we need the legal system to actually work.”
Berfin, and the organization she volunteers for have a very clear opinion on the matter: “Rules are necessary and enforcing them is crucial to stop femicide.”
“A lot of femicide cases are put away as suspicious deaths, like accidents or suicides,” Lieve explains. “That is why a lot of men get away with these murders.” The We Will Stop Femicide organization does several things to do what their names stands for. They publish monthly statistics, follow femicide cases, and shows solidarity with the family of the victims. Next to that, they organize campaigns to prevent human rights violations against women. “We have a holistic approach to the issue,” Berfin tells. “We believe that we can stop femicide through gender equality in all fields of life.”
Women do protest and this seems to be a global trend. The research Lieve has been doing focused on different types of protest, mostly done by women. “Like in Iran and even in France, women are on the frontline of the protest,” she explains. In Turkey, women experience the political situation of the country differently than men, which makes the need to resist bigger. Despite the fact protesting in Turkey is not allowed and will be punished, women will probably keep doing it, Lieve thinks. “Since change is needed, they feel like they must.”
Protests are done in different ways. Actual protests are restricted, but they still take place. For example, on the 8th of March, which is National Women’s Day, and on International Labor Day which is on the 1st of May. Besides the more visible, traditional – and forbidden – ways of protest, people always search for other ways to protest. An example of this is the Istanbul Pride. Pride has been forbidden in Istanbul since 2014. However, the festivities took place anyway – as a form of protest.
The biggest way of protest for women in Turkey is living their lives – the way they want, as much as possible. “The state has left the Istanbul Convention, but the Turkish community hasn’t.”
According to Berfin, the most important thing that needs to happen is for women to understand their basic rights – to understand why femicide is happening and actively work against it. “We as feminists try to distribute this knowledge, which is already going well,” she goes on. The organization will keep lobbying for legal protection for women and they already have international support from other feminist organizations.
*Both Lieve and Berfin did not want to use their surname.