Femicides in Turkey and the life-saving importance of the İstanbul Convention

You might have seen women sharing black and white photos of themselves with hashtags like #challengeaccepted or #womensupportingwomen. Although shared with good intentions, the majority of these posts do not talk about the reason why Turkish women started this movement.

This article mentions violence against women, there are no detailed descriptions. Please be aware and take care of yourself.

On July 21, Cemal Metin Avcı confessed to brutally murdering 28 year-old student Pınar Gültekin who was reported missing 5 days prior. The few days before Pınar’s body was found, I had started seeing photos of her on social media, stating that she was lost, her friends and family asking for any leads on her whereabouts. When Pınar’s photos on our feeds turned from colour to black and white, we knew what had happened.

The black and white photos Turkish women share of themselves represent the ones we see every new day in the news, announcing another woman killed. 

A man she knew murdered Pınar and brutally disposed of her body. She was neither the first nor the last woman to die at the hands of men. In Turkey, in June 2020 alone, men murdered at least 50 women, raped 7, sexually harassed 13 and assaulted 61. Men molested at least 46 children and killed 3.

Pınar’s murder happened against a damning backdrop. In the weeks prior, representatives from Turkey’s governing conservative party AKP, including the country’s president Tayyip Erdoğan, have been discussing withdrawing from the İstanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

The İstanbul Convention protects women and LGBTQI folks and holds governments responsible and accountable for their safety. It is a carefully prepared legislative framework crucial in preventing, questioning and penalising violence, especially domestic violence. The Convention covers heterosexual and homosexual relationships and doesn’t limit relationships to arbitrary and conservative notions of “family”.

Even with the convention in place, the Turkish government is clearly not doing enough to protect women and marginalised people. There aren’t strong enough deterrents in place against domestic violence, sexual harassment, violence against women and rape. Many offenders receive light sentences if any. Withdrawing from the İstanbul Convention will have catastrophic results for the safety of women and LGBTQ+ people in Turkey.

At the same time as Turkey, Poland’s conservative government is also planning to withdraw from the İstanbul Convention.

Turkey is not a safe place for women, trans women, old women, young women, queer women, refugee women, Kurdish women, women who are sex workers, women who are students, housewives, lawyer women, doctor women. Poland is not a safe place for women. The world is not a safe place for women.

These crimes of violence against women and LGBTQ+ folk are not isolated incidents. This is a problem of culture, governance and a problem of infrastructures that deny the right to live to women and marginalised people. This is not just the problem of governments failing to protect women but it’s about their nonchalant approach to it.

Femicides are political. Domestic violence is political. Rape is political. Sexual harassment is political.

Feminist activism is the only way we currently have to fight, to protect ourselves and each other. If you want to support organisations that work for women and trans people across the world, you can donate to Mama Cash below. Mama Cash is a fund that supports organisations economically, provides education and creates networks of support.

Cover image by Joanna Irzabek

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