Turkey was shaken when a brutal video was posted on social media Aug. 23, showing the last moments of a woman's life after she was stabbed by her former husband.
Emine Bulut, 38, is seen covered in blood and clutching her throat as she says, “I don’t want to die.” Next to her, her 10-year-old daughter screams, “Mom, please don’t die.”
On Aug. 18, the pair had met with her ex-husband Fedia Varan in the central Anatolian city of Kirikkale. An argument ensued and Varan attacked Bulut.
“After she insulted me while talking about the custody of our child, I stabbed her with the knife I keep with me," Varan told prosecutors after being taken into custody.
The event has been a watershed moment in a nation where the murder rate of women has surpassed one a day in 2019. According to the women’s rights platform We Will Stop Femicide, at least 285 Turkish women have died violently so far this year.
Government officials have responded by saying that harsher punishments are needed to deter future incidents, yet women’s rights advocates say the Turkish legal system already provides robust protections for victims of domestic violence and they simply are not being implemented.
Turkey was among the first signatories of the Council of Europe’s 2011 Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women. The document outlines the legal framework to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence while bolstering protection and support mechanisms for victims.
Though the convention came into effect Aug. 1, 2014, women’s rights advocates said some of its most basic provisions have yet to be enacted due to pushback from conservative political and religious leaders who claim the convention harms “family unity.”
Canan Gullu, president of the Federation of Women Associations of Turkey, told Al-Monitor that legal provisions enabling more autonomy for female family members are seen as threatening to long-established gender roles in some segments of Turkish society.
“This whole argument is feeding on itself and extending gender inequality in Turkey,” said Gullu. “The woman is seen as a sex object. Rather than seeing the woman as an important part of the family, they see her as a little piece of the household that is there to reproduce, get pregnant and make more individuals.”
Noting women’s low participation in the labor force — about 29% of Turkish women held formal jobs in March 2019 — Gullu said disruptions to a social order where men provide and women accommodate can be seen as affront to conservative norms. For such reasons, she believes the Turkish government has yet to set up the 24/7 domestic abuse call center outlined in the convention.
Though some organizations do run call centers, none are dedicated primarily to handling domestic violence issues around the clock, Gullu said. She explained that legal frameworks such as restraining orders exist under Turkish law, but that police officers and judicial employees recently surveyed in 40 Turkish districts were not adequately informed on Istanbul Convention guidelines and protocols.
“Women can get restraining orders against abusive partners, but there’s no controlling mechanism to apply it because we’ve seen several examples where men go to the houses from which they are legally barred and they end up killing the woman who requested protection,” Gullu told Al-Monitor.
Filiz Kerestecioglu, a lawmaker with the Peoples’ Democratic Party who is on the parliament’s equal opportunity commission, maintains that there is a strong women’s movement in Turkey that has helped establish legal protections for domestic abuse victims. She said the introduction of 2012's Law No. 6284 improved protections for women and children against abusive family members and stalkers, but the law continues to stir controversy among state legislators.
“Prominent conservative leaders criticize the Istanbul Convention and Law No. 6284, and in parliament they reacted by trying to build the commission to prevent divorce,” Kerestecioglu told Al-Monitor. “We are responding by saying, ‘Don’t prevent divorce, prevent violence.’”
Both Gullu and Kerestecioglu said important provisions of the Istanbul Convention are being ignored. The convention calls for mandatory school programs to educate students about gender equality and the impacts of childhood marriage, but such courses remain widely absent from public school curricula.
Both also said they believed increasing tensions stemming from Turkey’s ongoing economic downturn and political upheaval have worsened domestic disputes. Kerestecioglu said the increased stress combined with violent TV shows and daily news broadcasts of police officers apprehending female protesters may be impacting and encouraging male audiences.
“You can watch MPs like me get attacked by police and I’m almost 60 years old,” Kerestecioglu said, noting she has been subjected to police violence four times since becoming an Ankara deputy. “This is state violence against women. Big guns, police pushing you, and when a child or a man sees this at home on television, they can feel they also have the right to use violence against women.”
Noting that domestic violence is a deep-seated societal issue, Gullu said solutions are more attainable than many might suspect. She said officials with the ruling Justice and Development Party signed the Istanbul Convention, and it's now their duty to follow through on the legal framework they introduced.
“If the government is genuine and accepts that domestic violence goes beyond politics … this is an issue that could be solved within two years,” Gullu said. “We have the right pieces. We have the right tools. We just need to put them in the right places. I remain very hopeful.”
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