Despite the activism of women’s groups in Turkey, violence against women has dramatically increased since Turkey’s Justice and Development Party gained power almost a decade ago.
The murder of women has increased by 1,400 percent between 2002 and 2009. The latest official figures indicate that during the first six months of 2011 alone more than 26,000 women in Turkey reported family violence cases, including domestic violence, honor killings, sexual assaults and incest.
Yet despite this appalling statistical evidence, Turkish authorities have not seriously addressed the problem. Prime Minister Erdogan has commented that women should have at least three children and openly announced that he does not believe in gender equality. Subsequently, Prime Minister Erdogan replaced the Ministry for Women and Family with a Ministry of Family and Social Policies despite concerns by Turkish women’s rights groups and international organizations that such change could divert much needed efforts to promote the rights of women.
Over the past decade, Turkey has witnessed major legislative reform on women’s rights and is signatory to the new European Convention to Prevent and Combat Violence Against Women. Turkish signatures to such conventions are meaningless, however, unless followed by actions.
Turkey desperately needs more women’s shelters, and it needs a better-trained police force. Women activists have noted that if a woman seeks police protection from domestic violence, law enforcement officers who place preserving patriarchal familial structure and family unity over her individual safety often hand the woman back to abusers.
Above all, if Turkey is to reverse the frightening rise in violence against women, leadership has to come from its ruling party. As Turkish women’s activist Melek Özman has pointed out:
“If we can have the prime minister, who uses such strong rhetoric, saying with full conviction, ‘Whoever slaps a woman, carries out violence against women, will face the state; the state is against this,’ it would be a major step in resolving this crisis.”