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Femicide in Turkey is increasing, but protections for women are under threat

Women in Turkey have taken to the streets to protest increasing femicide in the country. Anger over gender-based violence grew in recent weeks after the horrific murder of Pınar Gültekin, a 27-year-old student, by her ex-boyfriend. It has also been reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is considering pulling out of the Istanbul Convention, further fuelling the protests.

The UN Women Global Database on Violence Against Women found a 38% prevalence of lifetime physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in Turkey. Turkish campaign group We Will Stop Femicide has been tracking murders of women, with 474 being murdered in 2019. This was an increase on 2018, where 440 women were murdered. Fears that the Covid-19 lockdown will increase domestic violence have been confirmed by Turkish press agency Bianet, who reported that in July 2020, 32 women have been killed, of which 17 were suspected femicide, 80 women were subjected to violence, and 113 women were forced into sex work.

With such alarming numbers, activists have been rightly concerned over the possibility of Turkey withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention.

Established in 2011 by the Council of Europe, the treaty intended to protect women from domestic violence, being ratified by 34 Member States. It criminalised various offences such as psychological violence, stalking, physical and sexual violence, and forced marriage. Turkey was the first Member State to ratify the treaty and would also be the first to leave if the decision goes ahead. Conservatives in Turkey say the Istanbul Convention “undermines family structures” and are opposed to the values it promotes that may conflict with conservative religious stances. Amnesty International’s Women’s Rights Researcher, Anna Błuś, said that “Turkey’s withdrawal from the Convention would have disastrous consequences for millions of women and girls in the country and to organisations providing vital support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence”.

The consideration to withdraw from such a vital treaty comes as domestic violence rates have surged not only in Turkey, but worldwide due to Covid-19 lockdown procedures.Since the pandemic began, the UN reported double the amount of calls to domestic abuse helplines in Lebanon and Malaysia and triple the amount in China. In the UK, the first week of July saw a 54% rise in women needing emergency accommodation compared to the previous week.

The pandemic brought further problems in assisting those who needed help, as many shelters were shut or converted into medical facilities to cope with the demands of Covid-19, and healthcare providers and police were overwhelmed. UN Secretary General António Guterres acknowledged that “many women under lockdown for Covid-19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes”. He urged governments to take action and include preventing violence against women as part of their national pandemic response strategy.

As Covid-19 dominates the news cycle, awareness of increasing violence against women took storm through an Instagram trend: #ChallengeAccepted.

Initially, the trend promoted female empowerment, but Turkish activists spoke out about how the hashtag was intended to raise awareness for femicide.

Posting a black and white photo represented solidarity with victims of violence, but also highlighted the harrowing reality of seeing a new women’s face on the news after another murder. Not only did this raise awareness of femicide, but also the concern over stripping the right to protection under the Istanbul Convention. International traction on social media has also shed light on the brutality faced by women in Turkey who are speaking out and protesting, as many have been arrested, furthering the cycle of repression and violence.

Activists hope that the voices of women in Turkey will be heard. The AKP rolling back legislation not only exhibits the lack of concern for gender-based violence but reduces the likelihood that victims will see justice. With the surge in domestic violence coinciding with the Covid-19 lockdown, the Istanbul Convention should be strengthened, not taken away.

Read the Istanbul Protocol HERE.

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