The Black and White Campaign in Turkey and its Repercussions Amidst Rising Femicides and an Increasing Hostility Towards the Istanbul Convention

Pinar Gültekin a 27-year-old University student was brutally beaten and burned to a crisp by her ex-boyfriend on 21stJuly 2020 in Turkey adding to the country’s long list of femicides. The victim was reported missing for six days before being found dumped in a bin strangled to death by her former partner for disagreeing to reconcile with him. 

While the news of Gültekin’s death ignited demonstrations all across the country and women and men alike took to the street’s, the death of Pinar and similar atrocities against women in Turkey inevitably raises a few questions. What should happen when a 27-year-old girl is strangled to death and burned to a crisp by her ex-partner? What are the repercussions of a mother being stabbed to death by her husband in a café in front of her child? What happens when a girl is stabbed and burned to her death because she resists rape? What happens when the mysterious death of an eleven-year-old girl is deemed “suicide” by the judiciary. Maybe the answer to the above-mentioned questions lies not in what happens but how it happened or who/what perpetrated the incidents. While the atrocities may be perceived by some as interpersonal their prevalence only against a particular section of the community indicates towards an institutionalisation of violence abetted by a chauvinist patriarchal society. 

Violence against women existed long before the expression “femicide” was devised in 1976 by Diana E. Russell at the first “International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels, Belgium”. While the term is defined by the “United Nations Office in Drugs and Crime”as the gender-based homicide of women it not just refers to the killing of women but condones an entire system of Judicial administration that fails to safeguard the women and prosecute the perpetrators. The concept is similar to “rape culture” except applying only in cases of murder concerning a women’s sexual orientation, indigenous identity, dowry-related issues. However, contrary to majority perception the acts under no circumstances are unrelated and spasmodic but is abetted by a chauvinistic society exhibiting unequal power structures and conventionally defined gender roles where women often find themselves pushed to the margins. Encouraged by Right-Wing Populist Parties the above-mentioned manifestations of violence against women in Turkey has increased exponentially over the decades.

The misogynistic heteronormative dogmas embedded in the social fabric of Turkey gets exemplified by the Global Study on Homicide, 2018 conducted by the “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime” which reportedly delineated the death of 89,000 women in Turkey in 2017. Turkey has been ranked114 of 167 countries in the “Women, Peace and Security Index, 2019” and 130thof 149 countriesin “WEF’s the Global Gender Gap Index, 2020”. The data is at face value enough to glean the status and treatment of women in the country. 

LEGAL OBLIGATIONS OF TURKEY 

Ironically unlike many countries, in Turkey, the laws criminalising gender-based discrimination are apace. However, the government’s patriarchal ethos makes the implementation of these legislations difficult, consequentially leaving women unprotected against violence from men. The ruling party of Turkey AKP and its neo-liberal economic policies move in consonance with “religious conservatism” propounding socially constructed beliefs, deeming “motherhood”as “sacred” and reinforcing the traditional “Turkish Family Model”. Under the AKP since 2010 violence against women has escalated with more than 3000 women being murdered, with the figure rising over the years. Majority of the killings happen because the women choose an independent life governed by their decisions, spurning proposals from men or breaking up with a partner. In 2011 Turkey was the first country to ratify the “Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence”, also referred to as the “Istanbul Convention.” The covenant criminalises all kinds of discrimination against women and Turkey as a signatory is obliged to ensue measures to prevent any gendered violence. “Law No. 6284 to Protect Family and Prevent Violence Against Women,” was enacted by the Turkish Government in 2012 and the AKP accordingly implemented a national action proposal promoting “gender equality”.Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution bans any discrimination based on gender and sex while granting women equal rights. The “Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women”ratified by Turkey in 1985 defines discrimination against women as “any distinction,exclusion or restriction made based on sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”. By ratifying the Convention states agree to enact measures to end discrimination against women in all forms. However, effective implementation of the above-stated legislations gets obstructed due to a persistent lack of political will abetted by the sexist comment of famous populist figures such as President Recap Erdogan. The President while condemning feminists for rejecting “motherhood” asserted that “women and men could not be treated equally, as it is against nature.” Erdogan’s anti-feminist, chauvinist, family rhetoric renders significant ramifications on the implementation of existing policy measures, legal practices and the broader anti-gender discourse as manifested by the recent controversy surrounding Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in April 2020 by AKP’s less educated, increasingly conservative women members (AKP). The president sparked the debate by asserting in the typical populist vogue“if people want us to leave it, we will”. Reasons behind spurning the convention are rooted in centuries-old anti-feminist dialogues, and unfounded prejudicial claims that the convention “destroys families by empowering LGBT+ groups”.

CONCLUSION AND THE WAY AHEAD 

The brutal murder of Gültekin triggered protests all across the country and sent shockwaves through the world. The 27-year student was strangled and beaten to death by her boyfriend who later dumped her body in a bin and filled it with concrete, simply because she disagreed to reconcile with him. Women have taken to the streets in over ten cities and the social media in protesting her death and exhibiting support for the Istanbul Convention. However, ramifications of the efforts of the Turkish Government to preserve family unity at the cost of individual autonomy is abominable. The Government’s inaction is decimating the country’s legal machinery, leaving the aggrieved concerned citizens at the mercy of brute police forces and tear gaswithout any hope of justice. The Government had been arraigned for its meaningless condolences and sanctimonious silence to the multifarious crimes encountered by the women and its failure to take appropriate actions to protect women from such crimes.

However, amidst the hypocritical silence and inactiveness of the Turkish Government, the native women have re-instituted the social media campaign “#Challenge Acceptedusing #kadınaşiddetehayır and #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır” roughly translating to “Say no to violence against women” “(kadına şiddete hayır)” and “Enforce the Istanbul Convention” “(Istanbul sözleşmesi yaşatır)”. Inspired from the concept the Turkish women posted black and white pictures of themselvesonline, symbolising how they could be the next victim of femicide. The hashtag has been perceived as a symbol of female empowerment and gleans internationalresponse to the issue of femicide in Turkey. Though the campaign is steadily gaining prominence it cannot overshadow the responsibility of the Turkish Government to step up glean accountability for the atrocities committed against their women, their gender norms, patriarchal notions, and bio-politics; and owe up to their shortcomings by strengthening scrutiny concerning the protection of women. The international community should subsequently come together and battle femicide in their respective countries, because there are many Emine Buluts and Pınar Gültekins forcibly being silenced across the globe. The need of the hour is an effective amalgamation of social media campaigns and vocal tangible presence on the streets to make “the Voice of the women be heard”. Accordingly  Gülseren Onanç –Republican People’s Party’s vice-president (CHP) and the originator of the Equality, Justice and Women Platform –initiated her new project called “the Voice of Women,” aiming to empower women across social media platforms. The efficacious usage of social media is indispensable in raising consciousness and encouraging action on women’s rights. Let us, in the end, recall a quote by the feminist author Eve Ensler  

“When you destroy a population, once femicide happens, we’re going to see the end of humanity, because I don’t know how you sustain a future without vitalised women.”

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