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Framing Gender-Based Violence in Turkey

Elif Gözdasoglu Küçükalioglu
p. 128-157

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Introduction

  • 1 United Nations, General Recommendation (19), 1992.
  • 2 Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 85th Pelanry Meeting, 20 December 1993, G (...)
  • 3 The Platform of Action of the Fourth Women Conference in Beijing, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/ (...)

1The United Nations in its General Recommendation defines gender-based violence as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.”1 The Declaration of the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993, however, acknowledges gender-based violence as a manifestation of gender inequality by stating that violence reveals “unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men”.2 As for the Beijing Declaration and Action Platform, it extended the meaning of violence by icluding all acts of violence including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.3 As understood from these definitions, gender-based violence is taken into consideration only as a manifestation of gender inequality, whose solution is not based on the adoption of legal framework or on protective measures for women but which is closely connected with the transformation of social, political and economical structures of the society.

  • 4 Ayşe Gül Altınay and Yeşim Arat, Altınay, Violence Against Women in TUrkey: A Nationwide Survey, İs (...)
  • 5 Dicle Kogacioglu, The Tradition Effect: Framing Honor Crimes in TUrkey, Differences: A Journal of F (...)

2 Although it is not possible to know the exact extent of the prevalence and occurrence patterns of gender-based violence in Turkey on the basis of official statistics, many academic studies, several reports and various researches conducted by state agencies, NGOs, experts and international agencies provide a general picture of the different types of violence to which Turkish women are subjected.4 In these sources, while domestic violence and wife battering appear to be the most common forms of violence against women in general, honour killings, standing at the intersection of multiple political and social dynamics,5 have come to attract much attention in recent years. Young women’s subjection to virginity checks has been identified as a form of gender based violence. Forced and early marriage is also more and more, considered under this caption rather than simply as tradition.

3According to Bianet's reports of local and national newspapers, news sites and agencies, in the first 10 months of 2017, men killed 242 women and girls, raped 77 women, harassed 207 women, 286 girls suffered sexual abuse, and 338 women were subjected to violence in Turkey.6 The seriousness of the problem does not only originate from the increasing number of women who lost their lives or have been subjected to different forms of violence but most importantly from the “normalization”of violence7. Although since the 1980s, violence against women was voiced as an important problem to be solved by different feminist groups, and connectedly some legal regulations and policies were taken and put into practice, the number of women subjected to different forms of violence has been increasing daily in the country. It is now not surprising at all to see reports about some women raped, killed or abused in the newspapers, like a routine of day-to-day life. This banality of violence requires us to (re)think and analyse the problem of violence against women not only as a reflection of patriarchal mentality and cultural and social norms, but also with reference to gender politics in Turkey under the AKP rule, which has been in power since 2002. At that point, I should emphasise that when the AKP came to power in 2002, it underlined its commitment to Western democratic values and liberal economic goals. But, since 2007, the emphasis shifted to patriarcal and moral notions supported by increased religious reference-making.

  • 8 When The AKP came to power in 2002, it underlined its commitmet to Western democratic values and li (...)

4The aim of this paper is twofold: to frame gender-based violence in Turkey, which has been in the political agenda of the state as well as of civil society organisations since the 1980s; and to focus on the gender politics of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments and their conservatising of Turkish society through strong references to the reinforcement of the patriarchal gender regime. The first section of the paper discusses the problem of violence against women from a historical perspective by addressing the women’s movement against gender-based violence, legal and institutional frameworks as well as the impact of international organisations. In this section of my paper, I would like to show that gender based violence has long been considered a serious problem and many legal attempts and steps were taken to combat the problem. In the second section, however, I will attempt to evaluate the normalisation of gender-based violence by focusing on the gender politics of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi-AKP)8. To do so I will be focusing on the conservatives discourses used by the President Tayyip Erdogan and his political party (AKP) in order to reveal how the party is involved with the propagation of patriarchal values legitimised by religion and traditions. At the very heart of violence against women, there is gender inequality that stems from patriarchy. For this reason, an analysis of the rhetoric and the language used by the AKP might be helpful in having a better understanding of the naturalisation of gender inequality as well as in offering a tool of analysis as to why the number of women subjected to violence has been increasing.

Gender-Based Violence Against Women on the Public Agenda

  • 9 Sevgi Uçan Çubukçu, “Post-1980s Women’s Movement in Turkey: A Challenge to Patriarchy” in Fatmagül (...)
  • 10 For more details see Nazik Işık, “ 1990’larda Kadına Yönelik Aile içi Şiddet ile Mücadele Hareketi (...)

5The introduction of the problem into the political agenda, and the definition of violence as a field of political struggle, goes back to the development of the feminist movement in Turkey in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the 1980s, the issue of domestic violence constituted an important place in the actions and discourses of the women's movement in terms of showing that the private sphere is political. Various women’s groups in Turkey initiated several different activities and campaigns which played an important role in raising public awareness on the issue of domestic violence. The activist women’s movement, in adressing the problem of violence, gained momentum when it was heard that a judge in the city of Çankırı dismissed the divorce case of a pregnant woman (with three children and subjected to violence by her husband) on the grounds that “no woman should be without a child in her womb and a stick on her back9. The Campaign against battering was the first struggle by women against domestic violence. In time, women assembled a strong pressure group and intensely voiced the need for the state to take measures and to open shelters.10

  • 11 Canan Arın (2003) “Violence against Women,” in Bridging the Gender Gap in Turkey: World Bank Povert (...)

6The campaign against domestic violence contributed a lot to the understanding of the issue as an important social problem, and paved the way to several positive outcomes. Firstly and most importantly, the public was forced to acknowledge the social dimensions of violence against women; local and national government agencies began to accept that domestic violence was a serious problem to be addressed. In a sense, women’s activities played a key role not only in sensitising the public but also in pressuring governments to create shelters for battered women. In 1990, the first women’s shelter, the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation was established in Istanbul by a group of feminist women with the aim of struggling against violence in the family and supporting women subjected to violence. This was the first concrete institutional step towards fighting violence against women. It was followed by the establishment of a second organisation in 1991, the Women’s Solidarity Foundation. Several other shelters as well as women’s counsel centres were opened in different cities with the aim of protecting victims and raising awareness on gender-based violence.11

  • 12 Çubukçu, p.71.

7The ‘Campaign against battering’ was followed by others conducted against gender-based violence. “Our Bodies are Ours, Say No to Sexual Harassment”, in November 1989 in İstanbul, for example, was organised to call attention to sexual harassment.12 With this campaign, women attempted to question and uncover the sexist norms and morality that prevailed in their society. It used the slogan “we demand back the streets and the nights”, indicating women’s wish to claim public spaces free of harassment. In the “Purple Needle Campaign”, another feminist activity, feminists sold needles with purple ribbons tied onto them to women on the streets, to “ward off” men who make unwelcome sexual advances.

  • 13 Ibid.

8The women’s movement also played a significant role in taking up the existing inequalities in laws and practice. Their first legal accomplishment after 1980 was the abolishment of Article 438 of the Penal Code, which allowed a reduced sentence for those who raped prostitutes. For the annulment of the law, women orchestrated a number of activities in order to keep the issue in the public agenda. In 1990, in the “All Women against Article 438” campaign, the discriminatory distinction between ‘chaste’ and ‘unchaste’ women was protested against, spotlighted by the theme “No Rape is Justified”. The struggle to have this article revoked on the grounds that it violated the principle of equality guaranteed in the Constitution (Article 10) succeeded and the Constitutional Court abolished Article 438 of the Turkish Penal Code in 1992.13 Virginity tests, on the other hand, came to the attention of the public in 1992 when two young women, in two different cities in Turkey, committed suicide because they were asked to undergo ‘virginity tests’. The news of their deaths led to protests by women from different cities. Several women’s groups came together and started a campaign that they called, “No to Virginity Tests! This is my Body!” Thanks to women’s NGOs activities and campaigns since the 1980’s, several issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and general patriarchal oppression that had all previously been taboo subjects started to be addressed in public.

  • 14 Within the scope of this campaign, Hürriyet organised training sessions titled “Spousal Relationshi (...)

9In Turkey, in those years, media as a civil society actor, also played an important role in discussing different types of gender-based violence. In several activities and protests by women’s NGOs, media was utilised to diffuse information. In this period, not only more and better coverage of events in the area of violence against women in the domestic sphere became apparent, but also a change of attitude in reporting domestic violence emerged in the media. A previously ‘matter of fact’ and, often, insensitive handling of issues turned to a more critical reporting that reflected basic human rights standards more than before. Hürriyet, a very influential Turkish newspaper, for example, launched the campaign “No to Domestic Violence” in October 2004 in partnership with the Contemporary Education Foundation, CNN Turk and İstanbul Governorate Human Rights Department (later with the support of UNFPA) with the aim of taking a public stance against domestic violence in the society and initiating social change.14

International Organisations and Agreements Influencing the Policy Process

10Behind the institutionalisation of the fight against violence against women, in addition to civil society’s engagement international organisations, particularly the United Nations, and international involvement also had a significant role in developing legal and policy mechanisms to prevent violence against women and to protect victims. In the Turkish case, the most important international factor was the signing and ratifying of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985. When CEDAW was approved in 1985 by the United Nations, a signature campaign started and, the Women’s Petition” for the implementation of CEDAW was the first mass-action of the 1980s. Even though its ratification was initiated by state elites, the commitment to prepare and present periodic reports to the Committee and to establish mechanisms for the improvement of women’s status in the country is owed much to women’s movements’ efforts in Turkey.

11At this point, it is important to note that women’s movements in Turkey placed violence against women as their priority, and they had started taking to the streets several years before the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women was adopted, as discussed above. One of their most important achievements was the abolishment of the law giving reduced sentences to rapists of prostitutes in 1989. Although violence against women was the first issue that made women take to the streets and start fighting with the problem, there is no question that global norms and institutions provided important opportunites for women’s networks in Turkey. The emergence of global political and legal norms on women’s human rights contributed to women’s struggle in local contexts. The enactment of the Family Protection Law happened after the participation of the Minister of Women’s Affairs to the CEDAW Committee, which was to the initiative of the minister and the advocacy of women’s groups.

  • 15 Turkey submitted its first report to CEDAW in 1990, the second and third combined report in 1997, w (...)

12During the 1990s, women’s organisations played a crucial role in forcing equality legislation and policies for implementation. Their efforts covered areas such as raising public awareness, informing people about existing gender disparity issues, problems to be faced and also capabilities, resources and mechanisms to be employed. In this period, the women’s movement also established a strong connection with international organisations. Turkish women activists and academics became actively involved with international organisations via lobbying, forming pressure groups and submitting shadow reports to the CEDAW Committee. They contributed to the assessment of problems, development and monitoring of policy programmes.15

13Along with the CEDAW process, Turkey established its first National Machinery for Women, KSSGM (General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women) in 1990. The Directorate General on the Status and Problems of Women was established under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in response to both such increased activism on the national level as well as the governments’ willingness to follow worldwide tendencies for setting up mechanism for gender equality. In 1995, Turkey participated to the IVth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and approved the Platform for Action without reservations. Accordingly, the National Program for the Enhancement of Women’s Integration in Development, financed jointly by the government of Turkey and the UNDP, was prepared and launched by the KSSGM with the participation of public organisations and institutions, universities, and various civil society organisations. As international law evolved and the UN turned its gaze towards the issue, violence against women has become one of the most concentrated concerns of governmental policy on gender equality in Turkey. Over the last decade, much of state action has focused on legalistic and prosecutorial measures in responding to violence. With contributions from international donors such as UNFPA, UNDP and the World Bank specific programs were developed and implemented with a specific focus on the issue of domestic violence, and honour killings.

14Another important international factor in the development of gender equality policies, for Turkey, was the EU accession process. The adoption of Accession Partnership in 2003, commonly known as the Copenhagen Criteria, which included targets for gender equality, focused on political criteria for accession. The Accession Partnership and the Draft Negotiation Framework, adopted in 2005, have been used by the EU to criticise, advise and revise legal frameworks and implementations for the fulfilment of political criteria.

  • 16 The Old Turkish Civil Code of 1926 was adapted from the Swiss Civil COde of the time and included s (...)
  • 17 Ibid.

15Within this perspective, in the years 2000s, Turkey initiated comprehensive legal reforms including Constitutional amendments as well as changes in fundamental laws such as the Turkish Penal Code, Civil Code, and Labour Code which signified a new paradigm in the conception of women as bearers of individual, sexual and bodily rights. On these changes, basic paradigmatic shifts from earlier existing legal conceptions were significant. For example, while women as equal partners in marriage was accorded new validity by the abolishment of the ‘head of the family’ notion in the Civil Code16, women’s status as the sole bearer of her own individual, sexual and bodily rights was recognised through the provisions of the new Penal Code in 2004 that defined sexual crimes as crimes against the person rather than against public morality. 17

Legal and Institutional Framework on Gender-Based Violence

  • 18 Nüket Kardam, Turkey’s Engagement with Global Women’s Human Rights, Suusex, Ashgate, 2005, p.121.
  • 19 Kardam, pp.120-121.
  • 20 Feride Acar, The First CEDAW Impact Study, 2000,The Centre for Feminist Research, York University a (...)

16On January 1998, as a result of women’s activities against gender-based violence, the Turkish Parliament approved the first-ever law on domestic violence entitled “the Law on the Protection of the Family No. 4320”. This law can be considered significant because with it, what was considered a private matter until then became “public” for the first time.18 Turkey’s engagement in the CEDAW process was the most salient factor in contributing to the enactment of this law. The impact of this political move resulted in the fact that the issue of domestic violence against women gained an official platform in Turkish politics and the most important outcome was the enactment of the Law on the Protection of Family.19 Thus, the domestic violence act, promulgated in 1998, was influenced by CEDAW in terms of not only the inspiration and ideology that promoted and legitimated women’s human rights and obliged the State to take action to protect women from violations of their human rights, but also with regard to the timing of governmental efforts for proposing this law”.20

  • 21 For more details, see Women for Women’s Human Rights: New Ways, Turkish Civil and Penal Code Reform (...)
  • 22 Ibid.
  • 23 Custom Killings” can be described as killings of women and girls suspected of sexual involvements (...)

17Another major step towards the elimination of gender-based violence in Turkey was taken with the adoption of the New Penal Code in 2004.21 The Penal Code was revised in accordance with Copenhagen criteria in anticipation for EU membership. This legal reform meant a change of legal attitude towards treating women as individuals and as controllers of their own bodies. The new Penal Code included more than thirty amendments towards gender equality and the protection of sexual and bodily rights of women. The Code, which states in its first article that the aim of the law is to "protect the rights and freedoms of individuals," brings progressive definitions and higher sentences for sexual crimes; criminalises marital rape; eliminates all references to patriarchal concepts like chastity, honour, morality, shame or indecent behaviour; abolishes previously existing discriminations against non-virgin unmarried women; eliminates provisions granting sentence reductions in rape and abduction cases; criminalises sexual harassment at the workplace and considers sexual assaults by security forces as aggravated offences.22 On the issue of honour killings23, on the other hand, although, the new code provides heavy penalties, the demand of women’s groups to define all types of honour killings as aggravated homicide was not accepted, but it will not be wrong to suggest that these changes in the new Penal Code meant that many discriminatory provisions against women that existed in the legal framework were eliminated and there was significant progress on the basis of combat against gender-based violence.

  • 24 T.C. Başbakanlık Kadının Statüsü Genel Müdürlüğü (Turkish Republic Prime Ministry Directorate Gener (...)

18Another significant step taken by the state in its struggle against gender-based violence and to protect women against violence was the establishment of a Parliamentary Commission on Prevention of and Measures to Combat Violence against Women and Children, and Custom and Honour Crimes in the Turkish Parliament in 2005 for the aim of understanding of causes of honour killings and examining various dimensions of violence against women and children. The Parliamentary Commission published its report in 2006, analysing different factors of honour killings and outlining important preventive measures.24 Based on this report, the Turkish Prime Ministry published a Circular on domestic violence and especially cases of honour killings, which underlined the need for cooperation between different institutions and organisations in the struggle against these crimes. The Circular can be considered as an important turning point in governmental policy-making and implementation history on gender-based violence in Turkey because it aims at gathering data on domestic violence through periodical reports. A comprehensive National Action Plan for Combatting Violence Against Women 2007-2010 was prepared accordingly and became effective in 2007 with the aims of legal arrangements, societal awareness, establishement of protective services and rehabilitation services.

19Following this, on 8 March 2012, the Turkish National Assembly adopted a comprehensive law to address the issue of violence against women with the aim of protecting women, children, family members and victims of stalking. This new Law established provisions on protective and preventive measures. It seeks to protect women, children, and family members of victims of domestic violence and to provide services such as shelters, financial aid, and psychological and legal guidance services. The law calls for the establishment of Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers to act as shelters for victims, to design and implement programs on violence prevention, and to collect and analyse data on preventive cautionary imprisonment and sentences. The National Action Plan on Combating Violence Against Women 2016-2020 was, however, prepared in pursuance of all international conventions, including mainly the Istanbul Convention, the provisions of national legislation and all policy documents, with the contribution and involvement of relevant public institutions, non-governmental organisations and universities’ women studies research centers.

  • 25 Kardam, p.125.

20As can be observed from what has been discussed so far, there have been many important steps to combat violence against women since it became the political agenda. Although many significant measures and legal regulations were taken, analysts concur that legal reforms do not necessarily mean effective implementation due to the embedded traditional social norms.25 Although all of these developments are crucial steps for progress on the issue of gender-based violence, the gap between legislation and its implementation remains a major problem. Within the scope of domestic violence, the persistence of traditional cultural norms, along with low economic and educational statuses, form strong impediments to the access to available legal rights and services by individual women.

21It should be also emphasised that the legal system’s treatment of gender-based violence reflects, to some extent, the gender norms existing in the society whereby women are not perceived as ‘individuals’ but defined in their collective identities as mothers and wives. The gender equality policies in general, and regulations on violence against women in particular, tended to oscillate between the liberal democratic principle of equal rights of women – a major tenet of the Turkish Republic – and the conservative worldview which cherishes the sacredness and permanence of the family. The Law on the Protection of Family, for example, made spousal abuse illegal but as its name reveals, it aimed at protecting the harmony of the family, lying at the centre of Turkish society. In this sense, it should be noted that current legal regulations and governmental policies, which are put into practice, consider ‘family institution’ as the suffering party from domestic violence rather than women and girls who are subjected to violence. The lack of vigour in public policy and government intervention against domestic violence continues to be justified in the name of family privacy often voiced by conservative circles.

Gender Politics under the Rule of the Justice And Devolopment Party (AKP)

  • 26 Dilek Cindoğlu, “Gender and sexuality in the authoritarian discursive strategies of 'New Turkey”, E (...)
  • 27 Didem Ünal, Dilek Cindoğlu, “Reproductive Citizenship in TUrkey: Abortion Chronicles”, Women’s Stud (...)

22After a historical review of gender-based violence in Turkey and different legal arrangements and regulations, in this part of my paper, I will attempt to elaborate on the normalisation of violence against women in Turkey observed in the last few years. For this reason, I will focus on the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) gender politics, characterised mainly by permanent control of women’s bodies and sexuality. The discursive utilisation of women’s bodies and sexualities revealed itself under the AKP rule as the main tool to consolidate the conservative gender regime.26 Since 2002, in Turkey, there has been a transformation of both political discourse and practice in regards to many issues (such as education, economy, or family), which is manifested in the policies of the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). While the AKP has always defined its major identity axis as ‘conservative’, between 2002 and 2007, it emphasised its strong commitment to Western democratic values and liberal economic principles, emphasising Turkey's goal of joining the European Union. In this period, it realised a neoliberal program prioritising economic concerns; nonetheless, it is still possible to speak of a rise of conservatisation generating important outcomes for gender relations and gender equality in the society.27 And particularly since 2007, patriarchal and moral notions and values, often framed by religion, have increasingly become dominant in the party's discourse regarding the regulation of social and cultural domains, and even political and international relations. The AKP’s policy initiatives and declarations about women in the post-2011 period clearly show the decline in the party’s reformist impetus and the rise of an assertive position in reinforcing conservative gender norms and values.

23One can note that the AKP’s governments showed concern for the issue of violence against women, especially domestic violence, as we see by their attempts to improve the existing legislation and to reform policies in line with international standarts. Among gender sentisitive policies, it is possible to name: the Turkish Penal Code in 2004, the amendment to the Law on Municipalities in 2005 which obliges municipalities with more than 50.000 habitants to open women’s shelters, and the formation of the Parliamentary Commisssion for the Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men in 2009. The Turkish government actively supported the adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (İstanbul Convention) during 2009-201128. The promulgation of a new law entitled “Law on the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence” in 2012, to replace the 1998 Law on the Protection of Family, was also considered a positive action although it has falllen short of international standarts.29

24All these policies can be cited as positive steps for the recognition of domestic violence as a political issues as well as the sensitivity of the AKP to the prevalence of violence against women. The problem concerning the AKP’s gender politics is the lack of theoretical connection between gender equality policies and gender based violence. Although the AKP initiated several legal amendments as discussed above, it could not establish a new gender regime that would improve women’s status in public and private spheres. Violence against women is not considered or taken into consideration as the violation of women’s human rights, but basically as a problem threatening the unity of family. Moreover, the discourse utilised by the political party has been reflecting the reaffirmation of a patriarchal gender regime.

25One of the most striking examples for the consolidation of this patriarchal gender regime is observed in Erdogan’s declaration on equality between men and women. In 2010, when he was the prime minister, he declared for the first time that he did not believe in equality between men and women at a meeting where several women organisations were also present. This marked the beginning of the shift away from international gender equality norms and human rights in the prevention of violence against women towards a new understanding based on religious and heterosexist culture. The definition of gender equality, as the enjoyment of the same rights by men and women, was the formal approach since the beginning of the Turkish Republic. This statement of the prime minister who declared that he did not believe in the equality between women and men, in a meeting where leaders of women’s organisations were discussing gender equality problems, was meaningful in terms of crystalising the AKP’s conservative minds and their refusal of gender equality. In 2014, President Erdogan declared this implicitly this by saying ““You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different.”30 In the Women and Justice Summit hosted by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), he declared that: “Sometimes, here they say ‘men and women equality.’ But ‘equality among women’ and ‘equality among men’ is more correct. However, what is particularly essential is women’s equality before justice.31 As understood from these two quotations, the notion of gender equality was replaced by the the concept of gender justice, which was put forward to slow down and change the direction of the struggle for gender equality. Additionally, President Erdogan considered feminists as “marginal women” who do not comply with the traditions of the society, which is why they cannot represent the ideal Turkish woman. In a speech to local authorities, he declared “You know these feminists, they say, ‘How can women be entrusted to men? This is an insult.’ Well, you have nothing to do with our religion and civilization. We are looking at the words of our prophet. He says ‘Women are entrusted by God. Respect and do not harm them.’”32

  • 33 Özlem Tolunay, Erdogan’s Women, p.6

26This antifeminist discourse can be regarded as a part of the rhetoric used by the AKP’s rule in the discussion of gender politics. At this point, it should be noted that in raising public awareness and adressing all forms of violence against women, as analysed above, women’s organisations played a crucial role and worked with the AKP government in several legal amendments such as the changes to the Penal Code. Several women’s organisations participated effectively in the approval of the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) and in the process of enactment of the Law no.6284 in 2012. Although it does not include all proposals from the women’s organisations, the organisations’ contribution was extremely important for the law to incorporate the experience of 30 years of combating violence directly and the holistic approaches based on universal principles of gender equality. For the same reasons, the implementation of these laws is only possible with the participation and contribution of independent civil organisations. The dialogue between the government and independent women’s organisations was severed when the Ministry of Family and Social Policies wanted to exclude independent women’s organisations from the process of proposing the candidates in 2014 for the Istanbul Convention Expert Committee Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) from Turkey. 33

  • 34 Negron-Gonzales, “The Feminist Movement during the AKP era in Turkey”, Middle Eastern Studies, 52:2 (...)

27These kinds of cooperation are no longer in practice approximately since 2012. On the contrary, the process is reversed; the experiences and opinions of the organisations are ignored and devalued through various discourses and obstructions. The AKP government has been attempting to marginalise and silence women’s organisations and activist groups. At this point, it would be important to notice that the AKP has replaced them with other organisations and other women. In other words, on the one hand, feminist groups were rejected and on the other hand, some other associations of women in conformity with the AKP’s conservative ideology appeared on the scene. Islamically rooted women’s organisations took the place of the former secular ones and the approach to women’s rights shifted towards assigning to women the function of mother. Islamist women’s participation has not only been encouraged in the inner structures and local branches of the party, there also has been a significant increase in the number of pro-family civil society organisations of women. For example, TÜRAP (Turkish Family Platform/ Türkiye Aile Plateformu) established in 2012 is a coalition composed of over ninety civil society organisations, with the objective of promoting family values.34 The establishment of the KAGEM (the Center for Women and the Family) in 2013, however, and the establishment of Family Guidance Offices at local preachers’ offices in 2003, all had the task of raising women’s awaraness of religious dictates on family matters.

  • 35 Ayşe Güneş-Ayata, Gökten Doğangün, “ Gender Politics of the AKP: Restoration of a Religio-Conservat (...)

28It will not be wrong to suggest that under the rule of the AKP, women’s empowerement within the family became a priority, and for that reason, althought feminist women’s groups were discouraged, Islamic women’s organisations have been encouraged and integrated in the discussions of gender issues which remain under the ideological debates of Islam, modernisation and westernisation.35 Since 2013 leading pro-government women’s organisations favouring the government’s views on women and gender reforms, such as KADEM (Association for Women and Democracy), directly sponsored by the government have been spreading a new gender approach in order to bypass feminist organisations on equality issues. Through the substitution of gender equality for ‘gender justice’, women’s difference argument is turned upside down to defend women’s primary roles as mothers and wives.

29According to the AKP’s politics, being a woman is evaluated according to the traditional gender norms within the familial sphere. Women are essentially considered according to their familial roles as mothers and wives. Accordingly, being a woman is considered within the family and women are rendered subservient to the unity of the family. The utilisation of the importance of motherhood is made through reference to Islam. In one of his speeches, Erdogan said: “Our religion has given mothers a status: Motherhood. Our religion has laid the paradise under the heels of mothers. Therefore, you kiss from your mother’s heels. I do kiss from my mother’s heels. Don’t move your foot, it smells like paradise, I would tell her. You can’t tell this to feminists!”36 As understood from the quotation, the AKP government has been holding family above all by saying that women should be mothers. In 2008, for exemple, Erdogan called women to give birth to a minimum of three children saying a woman’s life is “incomplete” if she fails to reproduce. He said “a woman who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete. In a recent statement, however, he clearly exposes the importance attributed to marriage in the definition of ideal womanhood: ‘don’t postpone the issue of marriage. Take action if you find what you are destined for. Don’t be too selective. Then you may have to leave the flower garden empty handed.’”37 The government program states that women’s problems should be solved for bringing up the next generations and for ensuring happiness of the family. 38

  • 39 Cindoglu, p.5
  • 40 Özlem İlyas Erdoğan, Erdogan’s Women, p.6
  • 41 Burçin Belge, "Women Policies Erased from Political Agenda". 9 June 2011, http://bianet.org/english (...)
  • 42 Negron-Gonzales, “The Feminist Movement during the AKP era in Turkey”, Middle Eastern Studies, 52:2 (...)

30The politics of family have been a powerful tool for the reinforcement of traditional roles and the consolidation of the patriarchal regime. It will not be wrong to suggest that the AKP’s discourses and policies are mainly based on the idealisation of family as a regulative principle not only in the social and political realms but also as a metaphor for the imagi(nation) of the community.39 It is possible to give many examples to illustrate this point, but within the limits of the article, I would like to give two striking examples. The AKP named the law enacted to protect women against violence the “Law for the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women”. As the name indicates clearly, protection of the family is more important than the protection of women or women’s human rights. When a young woman was murdered by her boyfriend, Erdogan declared that “if a girl is left unattended by her family, she will run away either to a drummer or to a trumpeter”.40 Moreover, this position became clear when the Ministry of Women and Family was replaced in 2011 with the Ministry of Family and Social Policies whose vision has been defined as the construction of strong families. At a press conference held on the 9th of June 2011 for the announcement of the newly established ministries, during which he declared that the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs was replaced by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared: "Our party is a conservative democratic party. The family is important to us"41. Naming is of crucial importance in symbolising the articulation of family into gender politics and the replacement of women with family relegates women’s issues to matters of family in accordance with a pro-family worldview. 42

31Within these conservative politics, the implications for the control of women’s bodies and sexuality have been reflected and represented by the emphasis on the notions of moral order and chastity. Another important example revealing the intrusion of the AKP’s conservative gender discourses into the most intimate spheres of life is the Deputy PM’s declaration on women’s chastity and moral disorder. He said: ““Chastity is so important. It is not only a name. It is an ornament for both women and men. [She] will have chasteness. Man will have it, too. He will not be a womanizer. He will be bound to his wife. He will love his children. [The woman] will know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness43 This misogynist public statement is informative of the character of Turkey’s contemporary patriarchal gender regime.44 Connectedly, one can note that the newspapers’ reporting on sexual assaults and violence against women is based on interrogations of those women’s moral order. As suggested by Altunok, women are judged according to whether they are “decent family daughters”, ‘chaste wives’ or ‘immoral agents’. In order to make the picture more meaningful, it is possible to give two different examples. When a young girl, a university student, Özgecan Aslan was killed by a bus-driver, her death set off protests all over the country. Since she was an innocent and chaste university student, some religious authorities raised her to the status of martyr.45 After her death, some female members of the Akp proposed chemical castration for sex crimes and some public figures, including ministers, suggested the men should face the death penalty. After the killing of this young girl, a divorced woman with a child was killed by her boyfriend; in the newspapers, this event was reported as the killing of a widow woman, mother of a six years old girl, killed by her young lover. This reveals the fact that sexual crimes and different forms of violence against women are considered with reference to a moral order. Both the victims and the perpetretors are judged according to this moral order. For that reason, they are considered as either deserved or undeserved targets of violence.46

Conclusion

32The prevalence of violence against women and the increase in the number of female homicides in Turkey is essentially related to inequality between men and women. Although there are legal and institutional developments to prevent violence against women, there is a dilemma generated by policies aiming to subdue women within the family unit. It would not be wrong to claim that this contradiction engenders men’s reaction against the emancipation of women and legal regulations.

  • 47 Kardam, p.125.
  • 48 Ibid.
  • 49 Ziliah Einstein, “Writing Bodies on the Nation for The Globe”, in Women States and Nationalism, pp. (...)

33To sum up, I would like to make two concluding remarks based on what has been analysed above. Firstly, it is important to understand that legal reforms do not necessarily mean effective implementation due to embedded traditional social norms.47 Violence against women is an accepted part of everyday life in Turkey, in different contexts, and is reproduced through a patriarchal discourse. This fact makes implementation of legal reforms slow and difficult. Male superiority and men’s right to control female sexuality are deeply entrenched in the psyche of Turkish society although not in a uniform manner and in all segments.48 Chastity of women occupies an important place in many parts of Turkish society. The symbolisation of female bodies with special significance as representations of community and cultural continuity remains a reality for many groups although there is also a fast social and cultural change that impacts particularly urban and educated groups. Nonetheless, the control of women’s sexuality has long been considered as one of the main responsibilities of men. In a way, the chastity and honour of women represents the honour of the community or the nation. As Eisenstein has put it, “women become a metaphor for what they present, rather than what they are”.49 The control of female bodies and chastity by men legitimises many acts of violence committed against women and can even slow down the effective implementation of legal norms.

  • 50 Ayata and Doğangün,p. 672.

34Although there have been many discussions about whether there is a real rise in violence against women, or whether it has just become more visible under the rule of the AKP, it will not be wrong to suggest that the murder of women or the number of women subjected to violence are not diminishing but are continuing to increase because of the conservative policies of the AKP government. There has been a very clear attack on gender equality. As some scholars note, gender inequality is naturalised and power relations between men and women have been denied because the AKP has reinforced traditional gender steteortypes by promoting family and motherhood, using references to religion and traditions. 50

35It will not be wrong to suggest that the role of the legal and institutional framework on transforming the patriarchy-based social ideology is highly important in struggling with gender based violence, but the most efficient solution relies on the realisation of gender equality in every sphere of social life, through sincerely embracing the issue by both political discourse and actions. Identifying woman as an individual and eliminating the obstacles that limit their individual and social freedom depend mostly on ensuring their basic rights, such as equality in health, education, professional life and political participation. The role of preventing violence against woman through providing gender equality should be better assessed as a part of the democratisation process and social and economic development of Turkey. In that sense, supporting women’s empowerment and emancipation in a violence-free society should be perceived as a political goal. To end violence against women, gender equality in all spheres of social life should be ensured. Accepting woman as an individual, while emancipating her from the restraints of the patriarchal social structure ought to be prioritised. For this transformation, one of the main features of modernisation to be accepted by men, gender equality discourses and policies should be carried out in a consistent and sustainable way. Women’s emancipation should be supported as an important factor of Turkey’s development and democratisation.

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Notes

1 United Nations, General Recommendation (19), 1992.

2 Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 85th Pelanry Meeting, 20 December 1993, Geneva:

3 The Platform of Action of the Fourth Women Conference in Beijing, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/violence.htm

4 Ayşe Gül Altınay and Yeşim Arat, Altınay, Violence Against Women in TUrkey: A Nationwide Survey, İstangbul: Punto, 2009. . Ankara: TÜBİTAK 2007; Işık, N.S. (2002) “1990’larda Kadına Yönelik Aile İçi Şiddetle Mücadele Hareketi İçinde Oluşmuş Bazı Gözlem ve Düşünceler”,A. Bora ve A. Günal (Der.) 90’larda Türkiye’de Feminizm (s. 41-73). İstanbul: İletişim.

5 Dicle Kogacioglu, The Tradition Effect: Framing Honor Crimes in TUrkey, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 15:2, p.119 Kogacioglu suggests that honor crimes are viewed not just from a combined traditional and institutional perspective, but also from a perspective that places women’s rights and well-being at the forefront

6 https://bianet.org/bianet/toplumsal-cinsiyet/191356-erkek-siddeti-ekim-2017

7 Deniz Kandiyoti, Locating the politics of gender: Patriarchy, Neo-Liberal governance and violence in Turkey, Research and Policy on Turkey,2016, 1:2, 103-118. Kandiyoti uses the term “normalization” in Foucault’s terms to refer to “social processes transforming ideas and actions into taken-for granted natural realities”.

8 When The AKP came to power in 2002, it underlined its commitmet to Western democratic values and liberal economic goals but since 2007, it has emphasized patriarcal and moral notions by making reference to religion.

9 Sevgi Uçan Çubukçu, “Post-1980s Women’s Movement in Turkey: A Challenge to Patriarchy” in Fatmagül Berktay eds. The Position of Women in Turkey and in The european Union: Achievements, Problems and Prospects, Ka-Der Press, 2004.

10 For more details see Nazik Işık, “ 1990’larda Kadına Yönelik Aile içi Şiddet ile Mücadele Hareketi İçinde Oluşmuş Bazı Gözlem ve Düşünçeler, 1990’larda Türkiyede Feminizm, edts. Aksu Bora, Asenal Günal, İletrişim Yayınları, İstanbul 2002, p.465.

11 Canan Arın (2003) “Violence against Women,” in Bridging the Gender Gap in Turkey: World Bank Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Unit.

12 Çubukçu, p.71.

13 Ibid.

14 Within the scope of this campaign, Hürriyet organised training sessions titled “Spousal Relationship Support Program” in order to help in improving communication and conflict resolution within families. Training sessions for participants, male and female, were provided in a specifically designed bus that served as a mobile classroom travelling different districts of İstanbul. The sessions covered several important topics such as description of domestic violence, ways of coping with violence and alternative problem-solving methods.

15 Turkey submitted its first report to CEDAW in 1990, the second and third combined report in 1997, with the collaboration of a group of academics, bureaucrats, NGO representatives and political parties. The fourth and fifth combined report was prepared and submitted in the same way in 2004, along with two shadow reports prepared by two NGO’s.

16 The Old Turkish Civil Code of 1926 was adapted from the Swiss Civil COde of the time and included several articles reducing women to a subordinate position in the family and the husband was defined as the head of the marriage union. For more details see Women for Women’s Human Rights, New Ways, Turkish Civil and Penal Code Reforms from a Gender Perspective: The success of two Nationwide Campaigns, İstanbul: Women for Women’s Human Rights, 2005.

17 Ibid.

18 Nüket Kardam, Turkey’s Engagement with Global Women’s Human Rights, Suusex, Ashgate, 2005, p.121.

19 Kardam, pp.120-121.

20 Feride Acar, The First CEDAW Impact Study, 2000,The Centre for Feminist Research, York University and The International Women’s Rights Project., p212..

21 For more details, see Women for Women’s Human Rights: New Ways, Turkish Civil and Penal Code Reforms from a Gender Perspective: The success of two Nationwide Campaigns, İstanbul: Women for Women’s Human Rights, 2005.

22 Ibid.

23 Custom Killings” can be described as killings of women and girls suspected of sexual involvements seen as improper by the community. They are often carried out by underage male members of a family upon the decision of a family council. For different studies on honour killing, see Aysan Sev’er, “ In the Name of Fathers: Honour Killings and Some Examples from-South-Eastern Turkey”, Atlantis 30(1): 129-145, 2005; Dicle, Kogacioğlu, “The Tradition Effect: Framing Honour Crimes in Turkey”, A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15(2): 119-151, 2004; Nükhet, Sirman “Kinship, Politics and Love: Honour in Post-Colonial Contexts-The Case of Turkey,” in Violence in the Name of Honour: Theoretical and Political Challenges eds. Shahrzad Mojab and Nahla Abdo, 39-56. İstanbul: Bilgi University Press, 2004, AysanSev’er and Gökçicek Yurdakul, “ Culture of Honour, Culture of Change: A Feminist Analysis of Honor Killings in Rural Turkey”, Violence Against Women, 7(9), pp.964-998, 2001.

24 T.C. Başbakanlık Kadının Statüsü Genel Müdürlüğü (Turkish Republic Prime Ministry Directorate General on the Status of Women). 2006. Töre ve Namus Cinayetleri ve Kadınlara ve Çocuklara Yönelik Şiddetin Sebeplerinin Araştırılarak Alınması Gereken Önlemlerin Belirlenmesi Amacıyla Kurulan TBMM Araştıma Komisyonu Raporu (Report of Research Commission of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on the Description of Prevention of Measures Against Violence committed to Children and Women and Custom and Honour crimes). Ankara: Can Ofset Matbaa.

25 Kardam, p.125.

26 Dilek Cindoğlu, “Gender and sexuality in the authoritarian discursive strategies of 'New Turkey”, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 24:1, p.1, 2017

27 Didem Ünal, Dilek Cindoğlu, “Reproductive Citizenship in TUrkey: Abortion Chronicles”, Women’s Studies International Forum, p.24,

28 https://www.coe.int/fr/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/rms/090000168008482e

29 Acar and Altunok, p.18.

30 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-president-erdogan-says-gender-equality-against-nature-74726

31 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-president-erdogan-says-gender-equality-against-nature-74726

32 Hürriyet News, 19 February 2015

33 Özlem Tolunay, Erdogan’s Women, p.6

34 Negron-Gonzales, “The Feminist Movement during the AKP era in Turkey”, Middle Eastern Studies, 52:2, 198-214, p.208

35 Ayşe Güneş-Ayata, Gökten Doğangün, “ Gender Politics of the AKP: Restoration of a Religio-Conservative Gender Climate”, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 19:6, 2017, p. 616.

36 http://m.bianet.org/english/women/160213-erdogan-bringing-men-and-women-to-equal-status-is-against-nature

37 See www.bianet.org/bianet/toplumsal-cinsiyet/157312-erdogan-dan-kadin-ogrencilere-cok-secici-olmayin-evlenin

38 The party programme of the AKP, https://www.akparti.org.tr

39 Cindoglu, p.5

40 Özlem İlyas Erdoğan, Erdogan’s Women, p.6

41 Burçin Belge, "Women Policies Erased from Political Agenda". 9 June 2011, http://bianet.org/english/women/130607- women-policies-erased-from-political-agenda (accessed 12 12, 2017).

42 Negron-Gonzales, “The Feminist Movement during the AKP era in Turkey”, Middle Eastern Studies, 52:2, 198-214, p.208.

43 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/women-should-not-laugh-in-public-turkish-deputy-pm-says--69732

44 Cindoglu, p.10.

45 Gülbanu Altunok, “ Neo-conservatism, Sovereign Power and Bio-power: Female Subjectivity in Contemporary Turkey”, Research and Policy on Turkey, p.140

46 Ibid.

47 Kardam, p.125.

48 Ibid.

49 Ziliah Einstein, “Writing Bodies on the Nation for The Globe”, in Women States and Nationalism, pp.33-53.

50 Ayata and Doğangün,p. 672.

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Elif Gözdasoglu Küçükalioglu, « Framing Gender-Based Violence in Turkey », Les cahiers du CEDREF, 22 | 2018, 128-157.

Référence électronique

Elif Gözdasoglu Küçükalioglu, « Framing Gender-Based Violence in Turkey », Les cahiers du CEDREF [En ligne], 22 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2018, consulté le 18 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cedref/1138

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Auteur

Elif Gözdasoglu Küçükalioglu

Associate Professor, Ufuk University, Ankara

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