Hayırlı olsun! This binding treaty is the most comprehensive European convention addressing violence against women, encompassing not just domestic abuse but also forced marriages, harassment and genital mutilation. It also includes mechanisms to support and monitor its implementation and is therefore an important step in the right direction. While the new treaty provides ground for hope, we should not forget that Turkey has been a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 1985. Regular reports by the CEDAW committee have highlighted shortcomings, yet the gender gap has not narrowed significantly and violence seems to have increased. Legislation creates the framework, but implementation is what really matters.
Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin is working hard to amend existing laws, boost infrastructure to improve protections for victims of violence and to curb an alarming rise in murders and abuse. She will not let the matter rest. Civil society organizations have been very active, urging the authorities to take action. Men are beginning to join the battle, still in small numbers, acknowledging that the root of the problem lies with them and their expectations, rather than with women themselves.
Parliament endorsed the new treaty with apparent enthusiasm, with only one deputy abstaining. Time will tell if the ease with which this comprehensive document was adopted signals a radical change of mentality or is simply an indication that politicians do not fully engage with this problem and view such documents as having little impact on their lives.
Many politicians have yet to accept that you don't have to practice violence yourself to be part of, and implicitly support, a system that sees male dominance as the norm. Domestic violence, as defined by the Council of Europe treaty is not limited to physical abuse, nor is it restricted to the family. Rather it encompasses “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.” The tight financial control exercised by many men on the domestic front falls within this definition.
Violence against women is linked to a power imbalance in society. It is therefore not possible to dissociate the fight against abuse from the need to empower women through education and access to jobs. Gender equality is still viewed as an impossible goal, and an unwelcome one, by many traditionalists who believe that the differences between men and women require them to play different roles. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended this view last year during a meeting with women's rights activists.
A sermon against domestic violence, prepared last week by the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs was read in mosques across the country, condemning those who raise their hands against women and children. Such initiatives are obviously useful but the text, entitled “Our spouses, our daughters, our sisters: Women” did little to promote the notion that women have rights as individuals and not just as members of a family.
In spite of numerous cultural, political and economic obstacles, the tide may slowly be turning. Pressure has been mounting on the government to take swift action after 226 women were murdered in the first seven months of this year alone. The ratification of the new treaty should be welcomed in this context. Another important milestone will be reached when far-reaching new measures to protect victims of abuse submitted to the cabinet by Şahin are put into effect.
But the real proof that Turkey is serious about tackling all forms of violence against women, will be in the strict implementation of these new rules by all state institutions, and the allocation of sufficient resources to take this crucial fight to the next level. Treaties are means to an end, which should be a measurable reduction of violent incidents.