Women hold demonstrations throughout Turkey ahead of Women’s Day

Turkish women’s rights group We Will Stop Femicides Platform (KCDP) held demonstrations in several provinces throughout the country on Friday ahead of larger-scale protests planned for the weekend for International Women’s Day.

The KCDP and Women’s Assemblies gathered in 10 provinces, including megacity Istanbul and capital Ankara, as well as Izmir, Eskişehir, Manisa, Ordu, Kayseri, Marmaris, Tokat and Kastamonu. Friday’s demonstrations focused on sentence reductions and impunity for femicides, as well as suspicious deaths that aren’t added to the total tally of murdered women in the country.

“We are still fighting hatred, and they dare say femicides are on the decline,” KCDP Secretary General Fidan Ataselim during the demonstration in Istanbul. “Those who don’t want to hear women when they shout out can’t speak of declining femicides.”

The women’s movement in Turkey has been the driving force behind promises Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made over the years to improve the legal framework for women’s rights, Ataselim said.

Boğaziçi University students attending the Beşiktaş gathering held up an LGBTQ flag and a sign that read, “We are all Şilan”, referring to Şilan Delipalta who was arrested in February for participating in the weeks-long protests against Erdoğan’s appointment as rector of a party loyalist to one of the country’s most prestigious universities.

Advocacy groups keep statistics for murdered women themselves, as Interior and Family Ministries don’t have public records on the matter. Anıt Sayaç, or the Counter Monument, an initiative that keeps a record of femicides going back to 2008, recorded 408 murders for 2020.

Another 171 women died under suspicious circumstances last year, KCDP’s Melek Önder told news platform Medyascope on Wednesday.

Domestic violence increased under the COVID-19 pandemic last year, while all other crime declined, Önder said.

The KCDP is planning for street protests on March 8 in 28 provinces.

Another coalition of women’s movements, the March 8 Women’s Platform, has called for demonstrations on Saturday in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district.

“We will continue to say women’s rights, and win back our freedom,” the platform said in a call for Saturday’s demonstrations. This year’s theme is “No Shame, Yes Resistance”, in reference to comments by Özlem Zengin, the deputy group chairwoman of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“With no shame, they still speak of women’s rights. What would you know of women’s rights?” Zengin asked in a congress for AKP’s women’s chapter.

Zengin has recently come under fire from the opposition for speaking against women who came out with accusations of unlawful strip searches in police custody. “A woman with honour and morals wouldn’t wait a year (before coming forward),” said Zengin, responding to pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who has focused on unlawful strip searches on both women and men in police custody since last summer. Gergerlioğlu now risks losing his parliamentary status over his advocacy, according to the deputy’s own assessment.

“I do not believe there are strip searches taking place in Turkey,” Zengin said in December.

Erdoğan recently announced a human rights action plan, which foresees lawyers appointed to women subjected to violence, and expansions to the scope of aggravating reasons for crimes against women.

The government’s plans for women’s universities were also subject to protests by advocacy groups. “We will go over the limits patriarchal minds have set for us one by one, we don’t want women’s universities,” said a platform of women’s groups in Turkey’s universities in a joint statement in January.

“Women’s universities feed the sexist, heteronormative education system, and do nothing but isolate women from society,” the young women continued.  “The government works to legitimize male state violence everywhere, including in universities.”

“If you care about women’s safety, implement the Istanbul Convention,” the group Campus Witches said.

Conservative and Islamist groups have been calling on the government to withdraw Turkey from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence -or the Istanbul Convention- saying it goes against Islamic values.

The convention, and Turkey’s Law No.6284 on the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence against Women are two main legal resources for women in Turkey, which ranks 69th out of 162 countries in the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index, and 130th in the Global Gender Gap Index.

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