The Gender Security Project
Violence Against Women in Turkey
By Ritheka Sundar
Violence against women involves any acts committed by partners, family, or communities that causes damage to women’s physical, psychological or sexual well-being (Krug, Mercy, Dahlberg, & Zwi, 2002). While this is a persistent problem in various countries, the prevalence of violence against women in Turkey gained traction in the society only during the mid-1980s with protests against violence. As stated by the first comprehensive Turkish nationwide survey (Turkish Republic Prime Ministry Directorate General on the Status of Women, H. U. I. o. P. S., ICON-Institute Public Sector GmbH, & BNB Consulting, 2009), examining violence against women, 42% of Turkish women between 15 and 60 years of age had suffered some form of violence at the hand of their partners. However, it is crucial to recognize that the real sexual violence rates are likely to be higher than reported (Altinay & Arat, 2009).
Factors Linked to Domestic Violence
This has serious repercussions encompassing violation of human rights and long-term damage to the well-being of women and the society as a whole. An analysis into the causes of forms of violence points towards patriarchal norms that dominate the Turkish society. Kocacik, Kutlar and Erselcan (2007) employed the ecological model to narrow down the factors that increase the risk of violence. By conducting a survey in four Turkish cities, they concluded that almost all the factors present in the inner circle of the ecological model such as age, education, and domestic violence in childhood, are linked with patterns of violent behaviour in male partners. Additionally, abused women were typically not a part of family decisions (Sahin and Sahin, 2003). A negative relationship has been established between women’s employment and domestic violence, that is, an increase in women’s employment reduces domestic violence and vice versa. However, accustomed to the traditional role as “breadwinners” of the family, men resort to violence to resolve crises of male identity which are said to be provoked by challenges that threaten to dismantle patriarchal control such as women empowerment (Moore, 1994). Violence against women has been inextricably tied to cultural norms. Women are burdened as the bearers of tradition and cultural authenticity. Culturally justified forms of violence supposedly fall under the private domain, inclusive of the family. However, gender-based violence, that may start at home, easily permeates the public sphere. Those who commit violence are let off with reduced sentences or impunity under the culture bandwagon while women who defy such norms are more likely to be punished by men. Violence has also been found to be dependent on the number of children in the family: more the children, higher the violence experienced (Balci and Ayranci, 2005; Sahin and Sahin, 2003).
Turkey’s Withdrawal From the Istanbul Convention
Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is indeed a step backwards in combating gender-based violence. It was the first country to sign the convention that seeks to prevent and eliminate domestic violence. This convention is the first legally binding instrument that establishes offences characterized as violence against women and the States that ratify the Convention are bound to criminalize such offences. Turkey’s withdrawal is defended by the argument that the treaty promotes homosexuality and threatens Turkish norms and traditions. However, the Convention has not made a mention of the LGBTQ+ community. UN Women (2021) has strongly condemned Turkey’s withdrawal and urged Turkey to reconsider its position in continuing to protect and promote the rights of women by remaining committed to the Istanbul Convention. It is necessary to refrain from undoing decades of advocacy by women’s movement and organizations that have led to acknowledgement of the fact that systemic discrimination manifests itself as violence against women which is a deterrent to development as well.
Prevention Strategies for Violence
Based on the social ecological model, Kerman and Betrus (2018) have noted that prevention strategies for violence against women needs to address four levels of the ecological framework: societal, community, relationship, and individual. They emphasize that while implementing these strategies, the concerned authorities should be highly cautious so that victim blaming is avoided at all costs. At the societal level, transforming societal norms and laws should be focused and community mobilization programs can change the attitudes towards gender and the general social acceptance of violence against women (Ellsberg et al., 2015). Creation of economic and educational opportunities can be addressed at the community level. Poor education among women is said to be a reason for violence against women (Cin & Walker, 2016; Iltas¸, 2016) and functional improvements are needed in the education system to support girls attending school. Recognizing the power imbalances in relationships, communication skills training and group-based training interventions are found to appreciably reduce violence. As for forced marriages, the government should assume accountability in duly punishing the perpetrators and community service activities, in this regard, should be extended. Emphasis should be centered on changing beliefs and behaviours at the individual level without the implication that women are largely responsible for averting various forms of violence. In fact, men can play a key role in changing societal norms and reaching gender equality (European Commission, 2010b; UNFPA, 1994).
Further research can be directed towards changing abusers’ ideologies or behaviours which spurs violence. Similarly, appropriate intervention programs can be researched and implemented to reduce violence against women.
BBC News. (2021, March 20). Domestic violence: Turkey pulls out of Istanbul convention. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56467689
Greiff, S. (2010). No Justice in Justifications: Violence against women in the name of culture, religion, and tradition. Resource Paper, Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women, 1-44.
Hortaçsu, N., Kalaycioĝlu, S., & Rittersberger-Tilic, H. (2003). Intrafamily aggression in Turkey: Frequency, instigation, and acceptance. The Journal of Social Psychology, 143(2), 163-184.
Kocacık, F., Kutlar, A., & Erselcan, F. (2007). Domestic violence against women: A field study in Turkey. The Social Science Journal, 44(4), 698-720.
Tekkas Kerman, K., & Betrus, P. (2020). Violence against women in Turkey: A social ecological framework of determinants and prevention strategies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 21(3), 510-526.
The Domino Effect of Normalizing Violence Against Women: Why Turkey’s Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention Has Become the Norm Rather Than the Exception. (2021). Global Risk Insights. https://globalriskinsights.com/2021/05/the-domino-effect-of-normalizing-violence-against-women-why-turkeys-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention-has-become-the-norm-rather-than-the-exception/