While we are going through a process that threatens the legal gains and rights of women and LGBTI+s in Turkey and the world, we are trying to get information from experts in the field about the problems related to the current regulations and the difficulties in implementation with our interview series that has been going on for a while on Çatlak Zemin, bringing controversial topics such as the right to abortion and the right to alimony to the agenda.
In this episode of the interview series, we talked to Diyarbakır Bar Association Board Member and Women’s Rights Center Coordinator, Lawyer Hatice Demir, about the implementation of law in relation to acts that lead up violating the right to life and in relation to gender-based violence against women, the problems they face in the local area, and the struggle.
What are the most common problems women face when it comes to gender-based violence? Jurally is it possible to approach the problem of violence with an intersectional perspective?
When it comes to gender-based violence, in spite of the fact that the problems faced by women have similar characteristics in all geographies, they also appear in other forms when they intersect with regional and cultural differences and disadvantages such as ethnic, racial, class status, immigrant or refugee status.
Although the most common problems faced by women are the forms of violence, they are exposed to by the men they are in close relationships with, state violence can also be involved when they intersect with the disadvantaged situations I have mentioned. For example, this situation turns into an obstacle in the struggle for rights and access to justice for Kurdish or refugee women. Fatma Altınmakas, who was sexually assaulted and killed by her husband in consequence of not taking the necessary precautions because she could not express her complaint in Turkish, İpek Er, who committed suicide because she was sexually assaulted by special operations officer Musa Orhan and could not get any results for her complaints, Ekin Wan, whose naked body was exhibited for days by security forces, the sexist graffiti of the security forces during the conflict in the region, especially in Sur and Cizre, and the message intended to be given to the Kurds through the female body by the threats implying sexual assault against women, are unfortunately the heaviest examples of recent history. Of course, these problems jurally necessitate approaching the issue of violence with an intersectional perspective. There are important criticisms by feminist lawyers that law is a patriarchal institution, that theories of law are developed by men and are based on male experience and reflect a basic male prejudice, even in cases where they are gender neutral. The fact that women’s lives are different from men’s lives requires women’s experiences and perspectives to be included in law. This can be possible by seeing the experience and demands of all the different identities I mentioned.
What are the practical problems in combating violence against women through law?
The most fundamental problem we encounter in the legal struggle against violence is the policy of impunity due to the failure to adopt the principle of gender equality. It is possible to talk about two dimensions of impunity. The first is the de facto state of impunity caused by inability to apply to judicial authorities due to the reasons such as women’s distrust of judicial authorities, bureaucratic difficulties in the application process, patriarchal patterns keeping women immobilized, questioning women’s credibility, and social stigma. The second is due to problems in the judicial system. In particular, because of the masculine nature of the law, the “law in law” and “law in real life” for women are not the same, and the implementations such as not following international legal standards that must be followed during investigation and prosecution, not taking gender-sensitive special measures, not taking the rights of the victim into the center, failure to take the protective and preventive measures women need or taking insufficient measures, not imposing forced prisons on perpetrators of violence who do not comply with the measures, avoiding criminal cases from the public and women’s organizations by giving confidentiality orders in the files, isolating the women who are victims of violence by rejecting the involvement requests of women’s organizations, not giving any punishment to the perpetrator of violence, or turning the punishment into alternative sanctions by applying serious reductions in the punishment given, or not resorting to arrest measures lead to impunity for crimes against women by the judiciary.
Do administrative organizations and local governments contribute to the solution of the problem?
In its current form, the administrative organizations and the municipalities of the AKP [Justice and Development Party]-MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] alliance implement the government’s policies of women locally. Limited studies are carried out with the implementation and monitoring of national legislation by Provincial Action Plans, for which Provincial Directorates of Family and Social Services are responsible. Unfortunately, these studies are limited to the intervention to acute violence and cannot even ensure the effective implementation of the measures regulated in the Law No. 6284. Because all actors take a stance according to the current policies of the government. However, the Istanbul Convention offers a perspective to everyone in the fight against violence, sets a standard and aims to create a radical change in society based on the struggle against gender inequality, which is the source of violence. In order to achieve this, particular importance is given to NGOs, and it says to carry out inclusive and coordinated policies in which all state institutions and organizations and NGOs will participate. Before the trustees, Kurdish municipalities in the region were struggling to achieve this by taking into account local differences and especially the influence of the Kurdish women’s movement was reflected in the women’s policies of the local governments. But after the trustees, all this accumulation was liquidated.
How did the antidemocratic practices and appointments of trustees, dating back to the pre-state of emergency and increasingly going on afterward, affect the process of combating violence?
As previously reflected to the public, the first target of trustees was women’s studies. “Head of departments for women and family” were established instead of “head of departments for women’s policy” in Kurdish municipalities. Experienced women working in municipalities were dismissed with the Emergency Decrees, and they were replaced by staff tasked with maintaining the government’s policies. The women’s units of the municipalities, which were established with the influence and effort of the Kurdish women’s movement, were liquidated. Mayors and councilors were arrested, co-mayorship was criminalized. In other words, Kurdish institutionalization in the localities was abolished, their organization was liquidated. All these pressures and threats affected the whole society. Because local governments were an essential authority to apply for Kurdish women. Local governments had autonomous shelters. These shelters not only provided women with life safety, but also carried out activities that empowered women. It is very difficult for Kurdish women to apply to the institutions of the state in the face of the violence they are exposed to. Because, as a result of the heavy conflicts in the region due to the Kurdish issue, there is always tension with the state and its institutions. Because it is considered as “showing their weakness to the enemy” or “betrayal”, it is very deterrent for women who are victims of violence to apply to these authorities and to complain about the man they are in close relationship with, because of the fear of exclusion from the social environment or family they live in. For this reason, it was both easier to go to Kurdish municipalities, not to have language problems, to make the first contact through these municipalities and to take the necessary measures to combat violence with the support of the experts working there, and also the perpetrator men could change their behaviors feeling shame for being complained to “their own institutions” or could respect woman’s decision. Here women were deprived of these mechanisms.
On the other hand, systematic judicial harassment against Kurdish women activists, raids on associations that receive applications, criminalization of Kurdish women and all women’s studies leave women exposed to violence without support. The fact that the current legal system in Turkey works “based on Turkishness” and the use of criminal law as a means of social and political control due to dual law makes every voice regarding Kurdishness criminal. Moreover, while Kurdish women are subjected to terrible punishments for their activities, the women’s movement of Turkey unfortunately failed to give a good test in this regard. It wasn’t questioned enough and didn’t become a current agenda that such heavy sanctions were imposed in the eastern part of the country while they were carrying out the same work as Kurdish women. Of course, there are individual support and solidarity networks. Even though they started to be talked about after Gezi, it is not enough. Not bothering about Kurdish women being prosecuted under the Anti-Terror Law just because they are celebrating 8 March also means implicitly confirming this.
Diyarbakır Bar Association has an important position in combating violence against women, which has become indisputable with the Opuz Case being brought to the ECtHR. With what perspectives and ways does the Diyarbakır Bar Association continue this struggle today?
With the influence of the women’s movement that has risen since the 1980s in Turkey and the Kurdish women’s movement, which has been autonomous since the early 2000s, opportunities for women’s studies are offered within the Diyarbakır Bar Association. Women lawyers established the women’s commission in 1996 and they have accomplished very significant works that will raise awareness in the region. So much so that the Opuz/Turkey decision, which has very important results for all women both in the national and international arena, is based on the data that is the product of the studies here. With the inspiration and strength, we got from the women who left us this legacy, we continue our work today with feminist principles and international human rights values. As the Women’s Rights Center, we organize in-service training on women’s rights from a gender equality perspective. We publish reports and organize campaigns. For example, we have recently published the “Report on Alimony Research in the Light of Court Decisions” based on 2097 different decision reviews. We carry out awareness activities in the region for the development of women’s rights awareness and for women’s access to justice. We organize panels and conferences and develop collaborations at local and national level. We offer free legal support to women who have been subjected to violence and follow criminal cases. Thus, we fight both sexist crimes and impunity. Our legal aid unit within our bar offers free lawyer support in cases such as divorce, custody, alimony for the freedom of women with no financial means to seek their rights. In this context, we have made gender training compulsory for our members who continue legal aid activities. This year, we added gender education to the internship training curriculum.
Translator: Gülcan Ergün
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan