This report is submitted by Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Reem Alsalem to inform the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Turkey.
Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation
Input for the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Reem Alsalem
Information about Mor Çatı
Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation is an independent feminist organization that has been active in the field of combating violence against women since 1990. To date, over 40,000 women and children have received support from the solidarity center, more than 1000 women and children stayed in the shelter of Mor Çatı. An average of 15 women are assisted every day on the phone, via email and in person. Every woman who calls is provided social support and they may also obtain legal, psychological and shelter supports if they so require. Mor Çatı runs the only independent women’s shelter in Turkey with a capacity of 25 women and children. Mor Çatı’s shelter work aims at keeping the sustainability of this shelter as a model for women’s shelters demonstrating the effectiveness of a feminist method in empowering women and children.
In addition to our work in the solidarity center and shelter, in light of the information acquired from women and the experience brought by working in the field, we identify both what pro-women changes need to be enacted in legislation and the shortcomings in the implementation of existing laws. In order to overcome these shortcomings in implementation, we monitor and evaluate the work and policies of public agencies. Our findings resulting from such monitoring and evaluation processes are shared with the public in an effort to put pressure on public authorities. Reports on the current situation are also sent to international monitoring mechanisms such as CEDAW, ECHR, GREVIO, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Political lack of will to combat male violence against women in Turkey
In Turkey, thanks to the women’s efforts for the reforms in the Civil Code (2002) and the Penal Code (2004), women’s equality and independence was achieved in legal terms. In 2009, ECHR found Turkey in violation of its obligations to protect women from domestic violence and in 2011, Turkey ratified the Istanbul Convention. Yet, the last decade has witnessed a shift away from gender equality towards family-oriented policies; there is a lack of will by the state to achieve gender equality and to prevent violence against women. This lack of will is reflected in the anti-equality discourses voiced by the government, parliamentary commission’s report on preventing divorces and the increasing attack on the women’s vested rights, especially on family law.
The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and the way it is implemented reflects the total disregard for international human rights frameworks, decades of regression and attacks against the rule of law, women’s rights and gender equality in Turkey. The withdrawal has put other domestic and international laws regarding violence against women and women’s rights such as CEDAW and the Law no. 6284 (Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence Against Women) at risk. There is a concrete lack of will by the state to oblige the judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials to implement the international legal norms and standards. Turkey’s lack of will to commit to the international and regional human rights frameworks can also be seen in the ongoing non-implementation of the Opuz judgment by the ECHR and in the fact that since the 7th periodic review in 2016, none of the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations have been implemented or progress made. On the contrary, there has been a growing attack against the gender equality approach, which can be observed in the latest national action plan (2021-2025) which does not use the concept “gender equality” at all (while in the previous action plan the concept gender equality was used 30 times). The CEDAW Committee also reflected their concerns during the 8th Periodic Review in June 2022.
Current legal frameworks and issues with the implementation
The Law no. 6284 was adopted in 2012 in accordance with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention. This Law regulates the measures to be taken to protect women, children, family members and stalking victims subjected to or at the risk of violence, and to prevent any violence. The measures include shelter support, temporary close protection, barring/restraining order, confidentiality order, change of identity, temporary alimony, custody and financial support. The law appoints Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers as the responsible body for coordination of these measures and supports for the women and children. Law enforcement officers are authorized to refer women to shelters, provide temporary protection and file barring/restraining orders. Family courts are assigned to issue barring/restraining orders, confidentiality order, temporary alimony and custody.
Women’s organizations share concerns on the implementation of the Law no. 6284, indicating the violations and bad practices encountered by women when they try to access their rights and seek support. The most common violations and bad practices are the lack of coordination between responsible institutions, problems at the monitoring and enforcement of confidentiality orders, short duration (2 weeks in some cases) of barring/restraining orders (which oblige women to apply for the order repetitively), non-implementation of forced confinement in cases of violation of barring/restraining orders, misinforming and discouraging women to get away from the perpetrator with sexist motives and impunity for the bad practices of the law enforcement officials and judicial personnel. Pandemic conditions deepened the already existing implementation problems of the violence prevention mechanisms.
There is no definition of violence against women in the Turkish Criminal Code to explicitly criminalize domestic violence and to enable the punishment of perpetrators. Impunity, unjust provocation reductions and the lack of effective investigation are burning issues on femicides in Turkey. In March 2022, the Minister of Justice, introduced The Bill on Amendments Envisioned in Combatting Violence Against Women and Violence in Healthcare and the Bill came into force in May 2022. The Bill claimed to end discount in punishment in criminal cases of male violence against women. It includes criminalization of stalking, consideration of violence against women as a sentence aggravating factor for crimes involving violence, measures limiting good conduct reductions in sentence decisions, listing willful injury among catalogued crimes, and appointment of legal aid for women survivors of violence. Despite the positive changes proposed by this bill, it confines the battle against VAW in the framework of punishment and falls short of being effective and does not address the root concerns and the sexist decisions of judges, because it is based on a pretense that is blind to gender and gender-inequality as the root cause of male violence against women.
Besides, gender stereotyping and family-oriented approach in judicial processes, including in sexual violence and child custody cases is a major issue. In sexual violence cases, Mor Çatı volunteer lawyers share their experiences where women’s statements are questioned; physcial evidence is demanded. Judges’ sexist and misogynist behavior discourage women from pursuing their cases, restricting their access to justice while encouraging the perpetrators. In cases of child custody and visitation rights, based on three focus group studies we conducted with 25 experts (including social workers, psychologists and lawyers), public officials (law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, etc.) sustain the understanding of “family integrity” vis-a-vis children who are exposed to the effects of domestic violence. While women can obtain confidentiality orders and restraining orders for themselves, they are unable to obtain similar orders for their children on the grounds of “protecting the relationship between fathers and children”. In these cases, perpetrators use the children as means to inflict violence.
Issues of capacity and coordination in the support services
According to Law No. 6284, Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers (ŞÖNİM) are responsible for coordination in Turkey. However, ŞÖNİMs don’t fulfill this function. Women cannot have access to comprehensive information about the bureaucratic procedures on confidentiality orders; they often coincidentally learn about procedures–sometimes after the confidentiality order was violated. ŞÖNİMs do not ensure the necessary inter-institutional coordination for confidentiality order and women find it necessary to go door to door to apply to different institutions.
ŞÖNİMs do not analyze women’s unique situations. They do not monitor the implementation of the protective and preventive orders and confidentiality orders. There is no available data on the forced confinement cases issued for the perpetrators who violated the order. Based on Mor Çatı’s experiences, forced confinement is issued in rare situations and the punishment is converted into a fine. The State does not collect or share data with the public.
There is also the issue with the coordination between ŞÖNİMs and law enforcement. Both institutions designate each other for monitoring the confidentiality and restraining orders and for the steps to be taken in cases of violation. This, in turn, causes women to have to tell their experiences repeatedly, due to the lack of coordination between the institutions. In such a confusing situation, especially the risk assessment cannot be fully and comprehensively carried out.
Another problem is regarding the coordination with other social service institutions affiliated to the Ministry. Social Service Centers (SHMs) which, unlike ŞÖNİMs, provide widespread service, do not work in coordination with ŞÖNİMs for women’s needs.
Besides, there is no dedicated hotline specifically for the violence against women. ALO 183 is not specific to the issue of VAW and works as an information line or a call center rather than an emergency help line that provides services for women’s unique needs. There is no specific social service for women who exposed to sexual violence.
The Women’s Emergency Support Application (KADES) was introduced in 2018 and presented as a solution to VAW and femicides. The app functions as an emergency button to reach the police immediately. Although the app provides a fast reach to police, the app is far from being a solution to VAW because of the already mentioned bad practices of police officers. Electronic bracelets are not granted to the perpetrators of VAW, based on the experiences of Mor Çatı volunteer lawyers. The state fails to provide disaggregated data on the electronic bracelet.
The public shelters are not enough in terms of capacity and not effective in terms of the quality of the social work provided to women. The procedure of admittance to the shelters takes a long time and women who need urgent advice are unable to receive it in due time. All women who apply for a shelter must stay at overcrowded “First Step Stations”. There is a six-months limit for staying in the public shelters. In shelter admittance, discrimination is carried out on the basis of age, disability status, citizenship status and type of violence. Women over the age of 60 and women who have a son over the age of 12 are not admitted to the public shelters. There are not any mechanisms to monitor and follow-up not only victims and perpetrators subject to protective or preventive orders, but also women and children who have benefitted from and then abandoned shelter services.
Refugee and migrant women’s access to support mechanisms in Turkey
Discrimination in shelter admittance, lack of socio-economic and social supports and language barrier are the major problems for refugee women in Turkey. The situation exacerbates for the undocumented women. There are barriers in admitting women without an identity card to public shelters. The registered women are forced to apply for shelter in their place of residence, where the threat of violence is highest. The barriers cause them to live in danger by going back to the place of the perpetrator or not applying to the services at all. If a refugee woman isn’t exposed to physical violence, doesn’t have evidence of violence, doesn’t want to complain about the perpetrator or was exposed to violence a while ago, she is not admitted to shelters. ŞÖNİM doesn’t refer to any other alternatives for women and children whom they don’t accept. The normalization of some forms of violence against refugee women and girls with the bias that it is a “cultural” phenomenon is another challenge. The support services for refugee women are not owned by the state and are provided by the limited potential of humanitarian aid organizations who do not have a comprehensive knowledge on gender inequality and gender-based violence makes it difficult for refugee women to get away from violence.
Women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights
According to the law no. 2827 on Population Planning which took effect in 1983, it is legally possible in Turkey to have an abortion upon request until the end of the 10th week of gestation. The law allows abortion for pregnant women over 10 weeks of gestation if the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk or may cause severe disability for the to-be-born child, provided that the expert physicians present a report justifying the abortion. If the pregnancy is a result of a sexual assault, the period for abortion can be extended up to 20 weeks if it is supported by a judge’s decision. Meanwhile, the law requires spousal consent for married women to have an abortion and parental consent for girls younger than 18 years of age. The consent of pregnant women with mental disabilities is not sought, but rather the consent of their guardian and a permission of a magistrate are required for them to have an abortion.
Notwithstanding that abortion in Turkey is a right safeguarded by law, we see that in practice access to abortion, abortion on demand in particular, is subject to de facto restrictions and prohibitions. Research conducted in 2020 based on interviews in 295 public hospitals in Turkey reveals that only 10 of these hospitals provide services for voluntary abortion (these 10 public hospitals are located in eight provinces). In Istanbul, which is not among these provinces and where a quarter of the total population of Turkey lives, there is only one public hospital that provides voluntary abortion care for up to eight weeks of pregnancy. According to the same research, 55 of the interviewed hospitals provide wrong and misleading information, stating that “abortion is banned or illegal”. To terminate an unwanted pregnancy, women who cannot have an abortion at public hospitals are forced to go to private hospitals that provide abortion services. Abortion services at private hospitals cost almost as much as the minimum wage.
Anti-abortion discourse and the rising conservatism are not only against abortion but also access to sexual health services are seen only as a concern for married women. For instance, family physicians may skip the required follow-up questions related to sexual health when their patients are unmarried women or they may refrain from giving information on sexual health. The fact that abortion requires spousal consent for married women and that there is an unlawful and arbitrary attempt to even make IUDs (intra- uterine devices) subject to spousal consent is a significant indicator that women’s bodies are not considered as their own and health services adopt a patriarchal and conservative approach. Ultimately, women’s restricted access to information on sexual health and related services leads to a rise in the number of unwanted pregnancies, while the difficulty in access to abortion services prevents women from terminating such unwanted pregnancies.
 There are many cases of femicide, sexual attacks and child abuse discussed on Twitter which make the argument “searching for justice on Twitter” a phenomenon in Turkey. It suggests that justice in the court is impossible if you don’t create a very strong public outrage. Even in the cases that are campaigned on Twitter, the justice system might fail. For example, Gülistan Doku has been missing since January 2020 and the prime suspect and his family have not been adequately inquired. The suspect and his family have left the city after the incident and nothing has been done. In another case, Yüksel Koç abused his daughter for 9 years. The forensic report documented the abuse however the court acquitted the perpetrator of abuse due to the lack of evidence. Aleyna Çakır is another infamous case, in which the perpetrator Ümitcan Uygun is accused of sexual attack and murder, is released as the trial is ongoing. Months later Uygun sexually attacked and killed another woman, Esra Hankulu.
 One example to the ineffectiveness of this new Bill is despite this “positive” change in the law, on June 20, 2022, the court used the provision of “unjust provocation” to reduce the jail term of Cemal Metin Avcı who brutally killed Pınar Gültekin back in 2020 and then burned her body.
 For further information on the effects of male violence and mechanisms to combat male violence on children’s rights in Turkey, please see Mor Çatı’s submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the 91st Pre-session (7 February – 11 February 2022): https://en.morcati.org.tr/reports/the-effects-of-male-violence-and-mechanisms-to-combat-male-violence-on-childrens-rights/
 For further information on the coordination-related problems in support and services provided in an effort to combat male violence against women, please see Mor Çatı’s 2021 report on coordination: https://en.morcati.org.tr/reports/the-monitoring-report-on-coordination-in-combating-against-male-violence-in-turkey/
 One example of the lack of social support and follow up in public shelters would be that in March 2022, the news about a sick abandoned baby was reported in the newspapers; the baby was later taken to the hospital under state protection. The mother who abandoned the baby was subsequently arrested. Mor Çatı volunteer lawyers interviewed the mother and were informed that she could not have access to her right to abortion in a public hospital; she did not have any kind of social support in the shelter where she was staying as a pregnant women; she was not informed about other options such as adoption. She was discharged from the shelter after she stayed for six months as this is the maximum limit of stay in public shelters in Turkey.