The Turkish battle against domestic: Violence Towards Women

2013-07-02 19:40:00


Nazila Isgandarova

Weekly Zaman, 14 January 2013, Monday 
The disequilibrium of power between women and men is the root of domestic violence against women in Turkey. In traditional Turkish families, only a few women are involved in the decision-making processes, but this process still cannot be considered as being on an equal footing with men. Families with lower social and economic statuses make women of all ages a subject of domestic violence.


Domestic violence against women ranges from emotional, spiritual and physical violence such as slaps, punches and kicks to assault with a weapon. The majority of people, however, do not consider “mere” slaps and punches to be acts of domestic violence.

Abusive husbands, fathers or brothers will justify their abusive acts towards women with women’s “disobedience”, failure to be a “good” wife or alleged infidelity. It is disturbing when you hear these “men” frequently say the abused women have “asked for it” by the way they behave or dress. My question is: Who supports and maintains values that demand female submission in an abusive relationship? What is the role of the Muslim clergy in maintaining such values in Turkey? Are the religious leaders in Turkey able to identify red flags in a marital relationship or understand and show sincere compassion to women who do not know how to break the cycle of violence?

The role of religious leaders

The mainstream Muslim organizations in the West, especially in North America, have already realized that religious leaders play a significant role in maintaining the values that support or eradicate domestic violence towards women. An example is the ongoing efforts of the prominent national as well as local Muslim organizations, community leaders and activists, as well as imams from across Canada, who joined together to issue a “Call to Action to Eradicate Domestic Violence.” Canadian Muslims, in their call, highlighted six ways to combat domestic violence:

1. Working within our community and with other communities to raise awareness of the harmful (and sometimes lethal) attitudes that lead to this violence.

2. Working within our communities to raise awareness about the serious psychological, judicial, social and religious consequences of such practices, through Friday sermons, public lectures, workshops and other means.

3. Morally opposing the use of the word “honour” when describing honour killings to ensure no positive connotation is implied directly or indirectly in connection to such heinous crimes.

4. Working with community leaders and Imams in order to ensure that they are equipped with the necessary resources and training so that they can offer mediation, conflict resolution and domestic violence counselling in a manner that reflects professional standards, contemporary research and religious scholarship.

5. Educating parents and youth about existing resources that can help them deal with intergenerational conflicts and misogynist leanings before it reaches the point of violent confrontation.

6. Teaching parents and youths how to deal with intergenerational conflicts and misogynist leanings.

The progressive Muslim leadership across the world has realized that cultural and religious factors play an important role in reducing incidents of abuse against women in society. Taking this important factor into consideration, how does the Turkish government use the power of religious leaders to combat violence against women? What should the role of the Religious Affairs Directorate be besides providing spiritual and religious services to Muslims in Turkey? My argument is that religious leaders should have an active voice for abused women and that the Religious Affairs Directorate should broaden their scope of activity by training their employees, i.e., imams, to identify signs of abuse in marital relationships and to improve their skills to counsel the battered women. They should actively participate in finding solutions to one of the significant social problems in Turkey and possess social awareness that there are thousands of women who are subjected to domestic violence in Turkey.

For instance, according to Weekly Zaman, “more than 40 per cent of women in Turkey have suffered from violence at some point in their lives”. Some studies suggest that incidents of domestic violence during pregnancy are significantly reduced due to the fact that signs of violence are easily detectable as pregnant women have to see doctors often for physical examinations. However, the study also suggests that women who are subjected to domestic violence refrain from reporting these incidents to health care professionals or the police and Councils of Forensic Medicine. Those who report domestic violence later on withdraw their complaints for different reasons, including thinking that government institutions/courts do not have enough precautions to prevent domestic violence. Moreover, the factors such as less education, lower income, women with more children and so on also report less than those with higher education and income.

The Turkish government, including the Religious Affairs Directorate, views domestic violence against women as a violation of basic human rights and freedoms and a criminal activity towards women. Both civil and government organizations recognize domestic violence as a social issue and an important problem. The Turkish government also admits that the economic and social situation of women is not yet at the desired level. For instance, in 2012 the Parliament’s Human Rights Commission reported an increase in incidents of domestic violence in Turkey from approximately 48,000 cases in 2008 to over 80,000 in 2011.

The Turkish government accepts the fact that women’s health covers emotional, social and physical well being and is determined by biological, social, political and economic conditions and factors caused by the family and the society. Moreover, women’s health problems can also result from unhealthy working conditions as well as by being exposed to abuse and violence at home. From this framework, Turkey has taken important steps to prevent domestic violence towards women. For example, enforced since 1998, Law no. 4320 on the Legal Protection of the Family is a step taken to fulfil the commitments in terms of the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It is true that Turkey considers CEDAW to be a binding convention to improve the status of and reduce the violence against women. The obligations Turkey has to meet are assessed through countrywide reports to be submitted to a committee every four years. This committee reviews these reports and makes recommendations accordingly.

Incidents of domestic violence on the rise

The official government reports indicate that Turkey is attempting to achieve a steady improvement in the economic and social situation of women.  However, in 2012 the Parliament's Human Rights Commission also reported that incidents of domestic violence in Turkey increased by approximately 32,000 cases between 2008 and 2011. Moreover, as a Strategic Research Organization (USAK) researcher also indicated, there are “major deficiencies” in Law no. 4320, such as providing protection exclusively for legally married women and an absence of “sanctions through which legal authorities could protect women”.

Law no. 6284, which was passed on 8 March 2012, “includes all women, regardless of marital status and expands the rights of the victim” and states “punitive sanctions for perpetrators have been intensified.” According to the new law, “Perpetrators of domestic violence are to be removed from the home for one month.” Turkey’s National Action Plan to Combat Violence Against Women is also one of the most important governmental measures to prevent violence against women. The National Action Plan identifies domestic violence against women as an important problem area in Turkey. According to the Hürriyet Daily News, the Family and Social Policies Ministry also plan to introduce legal regulations, raise awareness, enable changes in mentalities, support women, provide protective services and improve health services. The aim of the National Action Plan in 2012 is to reach 12,000 religious officials in the Central Anatolia region and train 100,000 religious leaders and clerics by 2015 for the struggle to counter violence against women. In the second step, religious officials who are assigned to posts abroad by the Religious Affairs Directorate and the provinces in which there are family guidance and consulting offices of the ministry will be preferred.

The projects mentioned above contribute to the formulation of a comprehensive national action plan for combating domestic violence against women, the creation of a database to monitor the changes effected in the country, the development of service models and various in-service training program modules to raise consciousness. Religious officials like other professionals such as healthcare professionals, law enforcement officers and so on should fight violence against women.

In general, the National Action Plan for domestic violence in Turkey should be applauded. However, Turkey still tries to comply with its obligations in accordance with CEDAW and has certain commitments regarding domestic violence and child abuse. Many government projects and steps such as the special training of healthcare professionals, teachers, police and religious officials can only be effective if they create a new understanding of women’s role in society and the family, validate women’s experience and strengths, and hold these officials accountable for reporting domestic violence as a legal obligation. As more Turkish women leave abusive relationships and seek new roles and voices within Turkish society, they are adapting traditional norms and creating a new understanding. The religious leaders have to bring a spiritual dimension to the universal physical, spiritual and psychological experience of women. Otherwise, the incidents that cost the lives of women will deepen the problem of domestic violence against women in Turkish society.


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