One More Victim of Turkey’s Empty Promises to Women

by Hillary Margolis Hillary Margolis is the researcher on Syria for the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. 17.02.2015

The grim discovery of Özgecan Aslan’s body last Friday in southern Turkey – murdered and burned following her attempted rape – is only the latest episode in an entrenched culture of violence against women in the country. 

Mass protests have erupted in the wake of her death, a show of Turkish women’s frustration with their government’s failure to take serious action to end violence against women. An online petition calling for steps to end the killing of women has gathered over 700,000 signatures. Aslan’s is by no means an isolated case: The independent Turkish press agency Bianet reported 27 women killed by men in January 2015 alone. Nearly half were murdered by their husbands. The civil society group We Will Stop Murder of Women Platform reported tha t294 women were killed by men in Turkey in 2014.

In 2011, a Human Rights Watch report documenting domestic violence in Turkey found that gaps in existing laws and lax enforcement left women without adequate protection: some groups, including divorced and unmarried women, were excluded from legal protections, and police and judges at times lagged in issuing protection orders or blocked women from accessing them altogether. The following year, with enormous input from local women’s organizations, Turkey’s parliament enacted a new law on protection from domestic violence. In 2012 Turkey also became the first country to ratify a Council of Europe treaty on violence against women – known as the “Istanbul Convention” in honor of the city where it opened for signature. At the annual meeting of the UN women’s rights body in 2013, then Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Şahin stated that the new law would improve prevention of and protection from violence against women, and that its implementation would be properly monitored.

But months after the Istanbul Convention came into force little seems to have changed. On a single day in July 2014, three women were killed by their partners. In November 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had neglected to adequately investigate the alleged suicide of a woman who had previously been treated for physical injuries due to her husband’s abuse. In its ruling, the Court noted a “pattern of judicial passivity in response to allegations of domestic violence.” A lack of available data makes it difficult to ascertain the full extent of violence against women, but Bianet reported that 735 rape and 986 harassment cases were covered by the media in the past five years.

Turkey took pride in being the first country to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. Now it’s time for Turkey to stop failing its women and start living up to its promises.

Hillary Margolis is the researcher on Syria for the Women’s Rights Division. Her work focuses on violations against women and girls within the Syrian conflict as well as in refugee settings. This includes sexual violence, access to services and resources, exploitation, arbitrary detention and abuse in detention, and escalation of practices that are harmful to women and girls such as early and forced marriage.

Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Hillary worked on women’s and children’s rights in Southeast Asia and Africa. She led humanitarian aid programs to support survivors of sexual and gender violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and at a camp for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad. Hillary also conducted research on women’s and children’s rights in Cambodian prisons, worked at a drop-in center for sex workers and women in the service industry in northern Thailand, and managed a public health project in Burma. Hillary earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Yale University and a master’s degree in development studies from the London School of Economics, where she specialized in women’s rights and conflict.

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