EWL News

Turkey: No joy this March 8 because of increased violence against women, say EWL members

[Brussels, 17 March 2011] In the aftermath of International Women’s Day, the EWL’s Turkish members speak out in the national media about the prevalence of violence against women in their society, and ’sustainable inequality’. Read the interview with Çi?dem Ayd?n in Today’s Zaman, published on 13 March.

[Today’s Zaman, Istanbul, 13 March 2011 - YONCA POYRAZ DO?AN]
Considering that violence against women has reached alarming levels, it is meaningless to celebrate March 8 this year, a women’s rights activist has said.

“According to records released by the Ministry of Justice, the number of women who have been killed by men in their immediate circle has risen 1400 percent in the past decade,” said Çi?dem Ayd?n, chairwoman of the Association for Education and Supporting Women Candidates (KA-DER). She added that women often get into trouble when they try to pursue their rights.

“What we are seeing is that women who are killed or become victims of violence are often those who have tried to pursue their rights, such as their right to a divorce or separation from their husbands or boyfriends. This shows that men have no tolerance toward women who seek their rights,” said Ayd?n, who has served in KA-DER in a number of positions since the organization was founded in 1997. KA-DER’s new campaign, which started on March 2, has a clear message: “275 women for Parliament.”

The campaign is attention-getting because included among the women pictured is a woman wearing a headscarf. Ayd?n said KA-DER has improved and changed. “KA-DER is against all kinds of discrimination among women — be they women who choose to wear a headscarf, Kurdish or gay, etc.,” she said. She elaborated by answering a number of our questions.

You mentioned that there is not much to celebrate this March 8, despite the various celebrations throughout the country. Why do you think this way?

This is because of the increase in violence against women. A few months ago Turkey was ranked close to the bottom of the list [126th out of 134 countries] by a World Economic Forum [WEF] report in terms of the division of resources and opportunities among men and women. There seems to be no reason to celebrate on March 8 in Turkey.

We know that women are subject to violence in every country around the world. Do we know where Turkey ranks in that regard?

There are reports that provide data regarding different countries and how many women are affected by violence. We are placed in the middle of one such list. Turkey has a higher rate of violence against women when compared to European countries.

What is the situation in Turkey in terms of record keeping when it comes to women who are victims of violence? Has it become easier?

Women’s organizations have become more forceful in their demands for accurate record keeping about women who’ve been subjected to violence, so the government has started to take it more seriously. There are now figures available which document the number of cases of violence against women. According to records released by the Ministry of Justice, the number of women who have been killed by men in their immediate circle has risen 1400 percent in the past decade.

What do you think the reason is behind the rise?

What we are seeing is that women who are killed or become victims of violence are often those who have tried to pursue their rights, such as their right to a divorce or separation from their husbands or boyfriends. This shows that men have no tolerance toward women who seek their rights

There are only about 70 shelters in Turkey, a country with a population of more than 75 million. The first ever official figures relating to violence against women revealed in 2009 that four out of 10 women in Turkey are beaten by their husbands. According to the Law of Municipalities No. 5393, if an area under the jurisdiction of a municipality has a population of more than 50,000, that municipality is required to open a women’s shelter. How do you think that situation will improve?

Obviously it is not adequate just to pass a law to address an issue. The government’s attention to some issues sometimes disappears once a law is passed. This attitude hinders our efforts to obtain results. But when we look deeper into the issue to see why municipalities do not offer more shelters, we see that some of them say they don’t have appropriate locations that could be used for women’s shelters, they say it would be too obvious in their town that there is a shelter for women who need to be in hiding for their protection. Other municipalities don’t meet the minimum 50,000 population requirement. But often there are several towns, not far from each other with 7,500, 4,000 or 10,000 in population. For example, towns near the province of Bodrum. In those cases, there is a need to make an arrangement to bring several municipalities together to offer an appropriate shelter for women. But when nothing is done, when there are no mechanisms requiring innovative solutions and when there are no sanctions for those who don’t comply, then there isn’t much effort being put into developing practical solutions for these problems. That’s where we need the power of the state to come in: To check the results of implementations and to develop rules of enforcement if required.

‘Women have to wait for retirement in order to enter politics’

Do you think there will be change in this attitude if there are more women in Parliament?

That’s what we are working towards. We believe that women have different concerns than men. Those concerns have to be addressed. But when there aren’t any women in Parliament, all decisions, even though some of those decisions directly relate to women, are made by the men in Parliament. In most cases, women’s priorities are not priorities for men. This makes our lives difficult. It is imperative that women are included in decision-making mechanisms. This is also a requirement of democracy. One of our biggest problems is that women are not equal citizens in society. In order for this to be achieved, we need more women in high-level positions such as directorates general and heads of local administrations.

It is a fact that women have difficulty entering politics at the national level because of many reasons, including financial obstacles. What is it that prevents women from entering politics at the local level?

Women fall behind men when it comes to the level of education and income, especially in regional areas. Most women do not have an income of their own. Even professional women, who have regular incomes, have difficulty entering politics because of the expectations from them outside of their job. When they go home, they have additional work waiting for them such as childcare, elder care, housework, etc. They always work longer hours. They don’t have any free time to devote to political activities. Women have to wait to reach a certain age, such as retirement or when their children grow up, in order to enter politics. Even then the demands of political life are difficult for women because they need to establish networks and relationships, which take a lot of time to develop. If more women held high-level positions in the bureaucracy, they would have greater courage, resources and skills to be active in politics.

You have a campaign for more women in politics, and you’re aiming high: “275 women” in the 550-seat Parliament, where the current percentage of women is only 8.87 percent. One male columnist called your effort, “Fine but an empty initiative.” What is your opinion of that comment?

We know what we are doing. Since 2004 KA-DER has been a member of the European Women’s Lobby — the largest umbrella organization of women’s associations in the European Union. This is very important because we became a member even though Turkey is not a member of the EU. They passed a resolution in their general council to include us and that’s how it happened. We closely follow developments on parity in European governments and efforts to improve the slow progress of parity. Some of their solutions are suitable for Turkish society, some are not. We believe that our efforts are not “empty” and as a result the number of women in the next Parliament will increase.

On this March 8, political parties promised to increase women candidates in Parliament. Do you see signs of it?

They haven’t shared many of their strategies with us because they know that we will not compromise on our 50-50 demand. There are countries that have achieved it and we can do it too.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said that they do not just want to have more women in Parliament just for the sake of having more women, and that they prefer quality women candidates. What is your view on that idea?

I’d say that we need to see some research on the quality of men in Parliament. Maybe then we can seriously talk about this idea. Usually, women have higher profiles than men in Parliament but our argument should not concentrate on that quality issue because what is important in politics is representation. It is about decision-making, participation and representation.

‘Women with headscarves have a right to elect and to be elected’

What is attention getting in KA-DER’s most recent campaign is the presence of a woman, Nihal Bengisu Karaca, wearing a headscarf. It seems like a significant development since there have been deep divisions among women’s rights activists regarding the representation of women who prefer to wear headscarves. How have you overcome those divisions?

We are improving and changing. We are following developments in the country. As KA-DER is against all kinds of discrimination among women — be they women who choose to wear a headscarf, Kurdish or gay, etc. — we need to reconcile the issue.

Are all members in agreement on the issue of women who choose to wear headscarves?

There are members who are very reactive. But KA-DER is a coalition. We have members from all walks of life. We also have members who wear the headscarf. Some members have a strict interpretation of secularism, some do not. We try to say that women who wear headscarves have a right to elect and have a right to be elected. KA-DER has to defend this right.

Do you think a female deputy wearing a headscarf would be well received in Parliament?

I really don’t know; we have to live and see. But I have to point out some hypocritical remarks by the prime minister, who says secular women should defend the rights of women who wear headscarves. We find his remarks divisive. Our recent campaign also aims to oppose this view because we are saying that when it comes to the representation of women in Parliament, we women have a mutual understanding, even though our views might differ on some other issues. Additionally, the government could have changed internal regulations in Parliament that define the dress code if it really wanted to address the issue.

What would you say about the opposition party’s [Republican People’s Party – CHP] approach to the issue? Do they oppose you because you defend the rights of women who wear headscarves?

They haven’t expressed any displeasure to us about our campaign. The CHP should also have candidates who wear the headscarf. Why not? Some people can define themselves as pro-Atatürk, democratic, secular and headscarf-wearing.

You ask for support from the media for the campaign. How has the response been?

It has been very good. We have appointments with the editors-in-chief of many newspapers, TRT is going to broadcast our campaign advertising and it will also be shown in movie theaters.

‘Turkey continues to have sustainable inequality’

Releasing its fourth report on “Turkey’s Gender Inequality Scorecard in Representation” KA-DER’s chairwoman, Çi?dem Ayd?n, said Turkey continued to score “0” and have “sustainable inequality.”

Since the last general election in 2007, the presence of women in Parliament has been 8.87 percent.

After the last local elections in 2009, percentage of female mayors was 0.90 percent.

There isn’t a single female governor in any of the 81 provinces of Turkey.

There aren’t any women on either the Supreme Court of Appeals or on the Court of Accounts. There is only one woman in the Council of State.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have no female provincial heads, while the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has 22, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has two.

There are no women in the administrative boards of many labor unions such as the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (D?SK), the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (HAK-??), the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-??), the Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) and the Civil Servants’ Trade Union (Memur-Sen).

There aren’t any women on the administrative boards of many business associations and unions, including the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (MÜS?AD), the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB), Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) and the Turkish Tradesmen’s and Artisans’ Confederation (TESK).

‘EP should have done better in report on women’s rights’

What is your reaction to the European Parliament’s 2010 report on Turkey’s progress toward accession in relation to its coverage of women’s rights?

The EP states that it “encourages the introduction of a system of reserved quotas in order to ensure a meaningful presence of women at all levels in business, the public sector and politics; [and] calls, in particular, on the political parties to use the opportunity of the forthcoming elections to strengthen women’s active engagement in politics.” It is good that it talks about women’s political participation but I find it is not enough. It should have at least reiterated the percentage of the required quota at the European Commission — which is 40 percent — and expressed an expectation regarding Turkey’s adoption of it. What does “meaningful presence” mean? It is an ambiguous statement.

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