29 July 2011During the first five months of this year, more than 100 Turkish women died as a result of abuse. In response to this statistic, high-ranking state authorities recently announced plans to prevent violence against women.
Last week, President Abdullah Gul directed the State Audit Board (DDK) to conduct an in-depth investigation into domestic violence cases and the efficiency of related legal and administrative services.
At the same time, the head of the newly formed Family and Social Policies Ministry, Fatma Sahin, announced plans for the electronic monitoring of offenders. The plan requires offenders be placed under a restraining order and monitored regularly via electronic cuffs.
Combatting domestic violence is one of Sahin's main priorities. As the former head of parliament's Honour Killings Research Committee, she wants to explore why the state has failed to prevent these deaths in the past.
Women's organisations have responded positively to the new plan as they struggle to prevent the normalisation and the "internalisation" of domestic violence in Turkey. At the same time, however, they view the plan as preventative, not proactive.
The president of the Women Associations' Federation of Turkey, Canan Gullu, supports the new electronic tracking mechanism. However, she warns that the issue of violence should not be oversimplified. The electronic cuffs may punish offenders, but they do not prevent the initial violence, she tells SETimes.
Nazan Moroglu, an expert on women's rights law from the Istanbul Bar Association, agrees that violence against women cannot be reduced to finding solutions to individual incidents. "This is a gender problem involving aspects of both hierarchy and power," she says.
Beyond embedded gender norms in society, one of the major problems facing Turkey is discrepancies between legal improvements and actual practice.
Moroglu asserts that electronic monitoring can only be effective if Turkey develops the strong technical infrastructure needed to enforce it. It will take time to design this infrastructure and train relevant personnel, she says.
Women's Shelter Foundation (Mor Cati) volunteer Zelal Yalcin thinks that significant legal improvements to the civil and penal codes have been made since 2002.
Yet, she notes that "legal improvements stay on paper; they are not always implemented in practice." She believes that political will and a rational budget would provide an easy solution.
Vildan Yirmibesoglu, an attorney and director of the Istanbul Governorship's Human Rights Board, tells SETimes that "until recently, political authorities thought that violence against women was exaggerated and only involved individual cases," adding that recent initiatives show positive change.
After the summer recess, parliament will likely pass the proposed amendments to the Law on the Protection of the Family.
Gullu stresses the importance of these amendments. "With this law, women who report violence to the police station will be immediately put under state protection," she says.
The proposal also includes protections for unmarried women in relationships and financial support for victims.
Women's organisations insist that the scope of the witness protection programme must expand to allow more victims to change their identities and to ensure confidentiality. "This programme should also cover death threats," says Yirmibesoglu.
But more than anything, women's groups continue to advocate for public awareness and educating society about domestic violence.