Demonstrators hold banners and shout slogans during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women rally at Beyoğlu district of İstanbul, Turkey on November 25, 2019. (Onur Dogman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Protesters: Turkey Not Implementing Laws to Protect Women

Government promised new program to look at violence amid public outcry over recent killings

The Turkish government says it will carry out a new plan to combat violence against women, but activists say authorities have failed to implement existing laws meant to accomplish this.

Family, Labor and Social Services Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk announced the plan, called “Coordination Plan to Eliminate Violence Against Women,” to review laws on protecting women, in Ankara on Monday to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Hürriyet Daily News reported.

Later in the evening, thousands of people gathered in the center of İstanbul at a women’s rally, a rare show of protest in authoritarian-leaning Turkey.

Attendants chanted, blew whistles and carried posters reading “We are rebelling” and “We defend our lives.”

The marchers went onto the city’s main pedestrian street, İstiklal Avenue, but were stopped by riot police from walking further down toward Taksim Square. Police eventually tear-gassed those at the rally.

“This is the only time we can march in the country,” said Öznur Karakaş, 35, a translator.

Karakaş told The Media Line there needs to be systematic change.

“All around the world we have this phenomenon of femicide,” she said. “In Turkey, it’s a dire problem. … This is a huge problem for us.”

Karakaş also suspected Turkey’s economic crisis, sparked by a currency meltdown, would more negatively affect women because they had a higher rate of unemployment.

She complained that the government had not implemented laws meant to protect women and promote gender equality, including a Council of Europe treaty known as the İstanbul Convention, which was ratified in 2012.

Fulden, 30, a university student, agreed that the march was one of the few protests that could happen in the country.

“I think this is one of the rare events we can have without state oppression,” she told The Media Line.

Fulden added that she wanted to stand in solidarity with other feminists: “I need to feel it for myself that we are not alone.”

Recent killings of women have focused more attention on violence against women in Turkey.

The İstanbul district of Kadıköy, a stronghold of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, announced it would be naming parks after women who were killed in gender-based violence.

One park will be named after Emine Bulut, whose killing sparked protests in İstanbul in August after video of her death spread across social media.

Bulut’s ex-husband stabbed her at a café where they were discussing custody of their 10-year-old daughter, who was also present.

In the video, Bulut is heard yelling “I don’t want to die!” and her daughter is heard pleading for her mother’s life.

Her husband claimed he attacked Bulut after she insulted him. He was sentenced to life in prison last month.

Activists say violence against women has been on the rise for several years. The leading women’s nongovernmental organization reports that 378 women have been killed so far this year and that the number has steadily risen since 2011, when there were 121 deaths.

The World Health Organization says 38% of women in Turkey experience violence by a partner compared to about 25% in Europe.

The government has made some efforts to combat violence, including an app that allows women to contact police quickly if they are in danger.

However, critics argue that the government has promoted an unequal view of women.

A recent government-produced commercial encourages men to talk more to their wives by showing a woman serving cake and tea to her husband, who is on his phone. Later, he sits down with her to talk. Critics claim that the video perpetuates a subservient image of women.

A column in Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday argued that conservatives were fighting against the İstanbul Convention based on fears of empowering women and claims that family structure would be harmed.

“The government is, unfortunately, under the pressure of a small minority … fiercely targeting the İstanbul Convention with the aim of rolling back the gains of the women’s movement in Turkey,” Barçın Yinanç wrote, adding that members of parliament were trying to decrease protections for women.

One example Yinanç cited was a proposal to ban public access to court hearings dealing with family law, even though it was public outcry that fought against lenient sentences for perpetrators.

Judges are allowed to reduce sentences if they believe the defendant has shown good behavior in court.

Two men who are currently on trial for the murder of a 23-year-old university student were initially released by police, until a Twitter campaign raised questions about her death.

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