We know that despite all the attacks, we will continue our struggle by learning from our solidarity until we have the lives we dream of.
Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was sudden yet not unexpected. As a women’s organization working in the field of violence against women, what are your observations about the effects of ongoing discussions on the field?
Leyla: It is impossible to grasp the Istanbul Convention debates independent of the general political atmosphere. All the attacks on women’s rights which have been going on for years now, the political discourse that feeds and reproduces the root causes of violence against women, and the family-oriented social policies – it is possible to see direct effects of all these on the field. This very approach is the foundation of all bad practices that prevent women who are subjected to violence from accessing support. This approach, which focuses on the family and deliberately ignores the system on which male violence is based, is the root cause of the problems in the implementation of Law No. 6284, the obstacles women face in accessing legal and social support, and the inadequacy of shelters both in terms of number and quality.
Açelya: We know that these discussions encourage men who are the perpetrators of violence while making the struggle of women who are subjected to violence more difficult. Experiences that women share with Mor Çatı is the manifestation of this. In addition, it is not only perpetrators who take courage from the disruption of the resolute struggle against violence; we also see that the institutions which are supposed to support women take encouragement from these discourses and continue their bad practices, in fact, turn them into habits. As the government ignores international agreements and takes steps toward abandoning the discourse on gender equality, the steps taken so far to change bad practices have begun to go down the drain.
Melike: When we work in the field, on the one hand, we have tried/try to decode the problems in the implementation, on the other hand, we try to exert pressure with our struggle for the implementation of the laws. The Istanbul Convention was an assurance in the struggle against violence and, at the same time, it put the state under obligation to take action against violence. While referring women, who were subjected to violence and supported by Mor Çatı, to institutions, we referred to the Istanbul Convention to ensure that women could enjoy their legal rights. In this sense, it was a safety net for us. At this point, I think that the decision to pull out of the convention will make women more insecure and pave the way for violence.
Numerous incidents that we have witnessed in the last few days have shown us that we will see many tragic incidents in the upcoming days. Even in the early stages of the debate, women encountered the attitude that “the Istanbul Convention is lifted, we cannot do anything anymore”, when they applied to get support from the institutions. In the last few days, we have heard that the law enforcement told women, “the Istanbul Convention is lifted; you cannot even issue a restraining order.” In the coming days, reasons such as “we pulled out of the Istanbul Convention” will be used as an excuse for the problems in implementation. While the women we stand in solidarity with know that violence is a crime and they have legal rights to get away from violence, there are some women calling women’s organizations to ask, “is battering allowed now?” The withdrawal decision has encouraged both the perpetrators and the bad practices in the institutions from which women need to get support.
Of course, we will not give up on our rights, gladly, we have women’s solidarity.
When the convention was still in force, some attributed the failure to prevent femicides to the convention while others said, “It is not implemented anyways, what is the point of pulling out of the convention”. What do you think about that?
İlke: Of course, there are many problems in implementation. And this is not new. Even before the convention was signed, there were problems in the implementation of the existing domestic laws and regulations. However, back then were we questioning the existence of domestic law? In our experience, there have been many cases where we could ensure support by invoking the Istanbul Convention. Despite all the problems in the implementation, Law No. 6284, as it is implemented, is of crucial importance for protecting women who are subjected to violence. Also, what the convention proposes is not only the implementations at the practical level alone. We must remember that the Istanbul Convention is, at the same time, a political accord. In other words, it is an integral to the convention that the states develop holistic policies to prevent violence such as opening sufficient number of shelters and making shelters operative to support women. The Istanbul Convention is also a manifestation that the signatory states will take steps in this regard and will show willingness to make changes in their domestic laws accordingly. Political transformations about violence against women and making state institutions qualified for that cannot be a short-term process. The fact that women’s organizations also criticize the inadequate implementation of the convention does not mean that the convention is/will be dysfunctional.
Kübra: First of all, pointing out the implementation of the convention or pinpointing bad practices neither reduces the quality of the convention nor means that it does not function. It is important to carefully evaluate what has been lost in the difference between the existence of the convention albeit with some problems in the implementation and the altogether non-existence of the convention. Because the Istanbul Convention, in its essence, is a crucial tool for combatting violence against women. I think, arguing that the Istanbul Convention is not implemented anyway, so it does not matter to pull out of it amounts to ignoring a threat that might lead to the violation of other rights.
The Istanbul Convention not only includes the currently operational practices but, by defining ‘violence against women’, it also implies the development of policies and measures by the state parties to combat violence against women. This, in turn, forms the basis of making demands when the relevant measures are not taken.
Selime: As is the case for many issues in Turkey, there is an increasingly widening gap between the laws concerning women and their implementation. The most obvious manifestation of this is that legal abortion rights are inaccessible in the public hospitals. The same applied to the Istanbul Convention and still applies to Law no. 6284. Women cannot enjoy their rights or have difficulties in accessing these rights; nevertheless, there are no sanctions against these bad practices. We prepared reports monitoring how this situation has unfolded during the pandemic and we know that no measures have been taken about the authorities who subjected women to ill-treatment and sometimes even endangered their lives. After all, women’s lives are worthless. Of course, the opponents of the convention manipulate this fact. However, the state which claims to protect each and every woman also lies. The convention is important because it lays the foundation for what the system and its implementation ought to be. It is also a crucial tool in fighting these bad practices.
What will be the repercussions of pulling out of the Istanbul Convention in practice? How do you think it will affect women’s struggle to get away from violence?
Leyla: Right now, the Istanbul Convention is the guarantee of all the mechanisms we have such as the shelters that are vital for preventing violence and helping women get away from violence, counselling centers, the entire domestic legislation, and social supports; it has a direct influence on women’s lives. However, practically speaking, the Istanbul Convention is most useful when there is a deadlock in the domestic law or when the support mechanisms are not operationalized. Some forms of support that women need to stay away from violence are not at all defined in any of the domestic legislation. The Istanbul Convention is the document that fills all these gaps. Besides, the Istanbul Convention helps us to pressure the relevant institutions when we encounter a bad practice in support mechanisms; it gives us a chance to say, “You have to implement the Istanbul Convention.” The Istanbul Convention is much more than a legal document, it is a safety net for all the mechanisms that we use to protect women from violence and to prevent male violence; it is an umbrella, as it were, that guarantees all the mechanisms. For this reason, pulling out of the Istanbul Convention means paving the way for bad practices, giving space to and encouraging arbitrary violations, and losing one of the tools through which we insist and exert pressure.
Aslı: When the ground for reckoning with the violence is damaged, it has a direct impact on women’s lives. The steps taken for the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention very clearly indicate that the state is not on the side of women. Although we know that every woman has her own unique coping and empowerment method to deal with the violence they experienced, we also see that there are many factors affecting the empowerment process, one of which is the legal response to violence. When we establish solidarity with women about their unique yet non-isolated experiences of violence, the first thing we talk about is that the violence they have experienced is a crime and they do not deserve to go through it. We not only see the empowering impact of hearing from another woman that male violence is a crime, we also witness the impacts of bad practices on women’s lives when the laws are not properly implemented. We see that male violence, which is used as a way of controlling and punishing women, is reinforced by these bad practices and that the women’s say about their own lives is suppressed by the practitioners in various ways. We trust that we, feminist women, will always struggle to find a method, or to produce that method; however, in practice it is possible to see that the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention has already paved the way for arbitrary violations.
Groups campaigning for pulling out of the convention immediately started to run their campaigns against Law No. 6284 and conventions such as CEDAW and Lanzarote immediately after the withdrawal decision. What kind of backlashes do you think these attacks will lead to?
Açelya: First of all, I believe that we will do our best as women so that there will be no further backlashes. The decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention clearly revealed the state’s attitude towards women’s and children’s rights and the constitution of gender equality. For this reason, I think that the attacks against other conventions and Law No. 6284 will be even more outright. We know that the state has for a while been refraining from fulfilling its obligations under international agreements, including CEDAW, and that gender equality, which was previously advocated at least at a rhetorical level, is no longer spoken of. We witness that the problems we have faced in the implementation of Law No. 6284 since the day it came into force have increased in recent years. It is also clear that the sexist attitudes and perspectives that prioritize the family rather than life and freedom of women by law enforcement will exacerbate. In addition, I am worried that while removing the reference to the Istanbul Convention, the state will make regulations to the detriment of women and that bad practices will be completely unleashed.
Elif: On the one hand, I think that we should consider each agreement/legislation separately (CEDAW, the Istanbul Convention, Lanzarote), and we should analyze each agreement without overlooking the specific impact each of them has on women’s lives. In understanding these attacks, we must remember what the Istanbul Convention concretely means for the lives of women who struggle for staying away from violence. On the other hand, I think that we need to openly and clearly name what these attacks mean altogether: misogyny and refusal of gender equality. From this point, it is clear that this is an attack against women’s public existence and their free and equal participation in life. Thus, it can lead to a backlash in every aspect of the existence and participation of women. But it is precisely for this reason that I think we can build a very strong feminist struggle, as the attacks aim at such a total and fundamental eradication. I think we actually get the signal of this potential from each other.
Selime: It is obvious that the ultimate goal of these misogynists is to leave women to men’s disposal. Each right they attack actually aims at destroying alternatives for women. They want unlimited domination over women. What is worrying here is that although they base their arguments on “our values”, they express the same words and demands as the increasingly rising misogynists in Europe. It is no coincidence that these countries are referenced in the statement by the Directorate of Communications. The only hopeful thing here is our transnational feminist struggle. We have received many solidarity messages after the pulling out decision and we still do.
Mor Çatı is a women’s organization that has been working and struggling in the field of violence against women for 30 years. When you consider the steps taken towards and backlashes in the field of violence against women for the last 30 years, do you think that this decision is different?
İlke: Yes, I think this decision is different. First of all, this was a convention signed by the President himself. For a long time, the government expressed in various international platforms and within the country that they had taken a very important step by signing the convention. But then again, the same President and government discredit the convention and pulled out. In the last ten years we see that violence has been on the rise and problems in implementation are getting more severe. There have been many changes such as renaming the ministry, total change in the operation of public institutions which allegedly combat violence against women, and the opening of violence prevention and monitoring centers (ŞÖNİM). However, at least some of these were carried out with some degree of communication with women’s organizations working in the field, even if the result was not always as women desired. Or, these changes were made under the name of combating violence against women. However, what we are facing right now is the government’s total disregard of all relevant institutions and individuals. In addition, pulling out of a convention which internationally has the most comprehensive regulations for combatting violence against women means withdrawing from this struggle. On top of that, violence has exponentially increased during their own term in office and the functioning of public institutions has terribly deteriorated; thus, their claim to do better with other conventions or regulations is not believable at all.
Gülsun: I don’t see this decision is different from the other steps; on the contrary, I think that they have become tougher. Because we, in the world and in Turkey, started to fight for ourselves, for where we want to be, and what we want to do; we started to use our power and energy for ourselves. I think that they take these harsh, relentless, and enraged decisions as women have grown stronger. That’s why when I look at them, I see our own strength.
How do you plan to build your struggle from now on? Do you have any messages for women?
Leyla: Of course, this development has made us all very upset and angry, leaving us with a deep feeling of “loss”. However, we know that whatever mechanism we have at hand to combat violence against women is gained by women’s struggle. None of them was conferred upon us by anyone. Our feminist movement in Turkey has not progressed in a linear way; we have achieved some things, we have faced the threat of losing, we fought, we gained back, we faced losing our gains again. This non-linear form, although exhausting, gave us a strength to resist; we have always drawn our strength from our organized struggle and women’s solidarity. From now on, we will do what we know best. As a feminist, what I trust most in this world is the strength, resistance, and solidarity of women.
Açelya: Although they think that the perpetrator will be even more enraged when they try to break up and they know that their family will not support them and that they will not have access to sufficient support when they leave home, and that they will have a very difficult life ahead, the women who apply to Mor Çatı continue their struggle for a non-violent life as they dream of, and often move on without even looking back despite all the difficulties. I know that despite all the attacks, we will continue our struggle by learning from our solidarity; until we have the lives we dream of.
Gülsun: I have always felt that I am getting more and more empowered with each application I have received since 2002. Every time I came to Mor Çatı, when I talked to women face-to-face or on the phone, I saw that women, in order to survive in a violent environment, use their power, energy, and skills to maintain their marriage, that union, and the family structure. And, I realized how weak the men were and the reason for their fear was the power of women. That’s why I am hopeful. When I look back at our past selves, at our struggle, at what we left behind, I see that 3000 women were marching in Yoğurtçu Park back then. Now, seeing tens of thousands of women, young women, joining the march in Taksim and working with women in Mor Çatı make me full of hope. They can’t take my hope from me. Yes, they always have the power to make these decisions. It seems natural to me that they are making harshers plans and will increase the pressure upon us in order to struggle against us, to suppress us, to weaken us, to take our power from us and use women’s power for their own plans, programs, dreams, and goals. When I look at women, I see our strength. Again and again, I see our own strength in the face of pressure and intimidation. That’s why I have hope.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan