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‘Ladies Last’ at last in Turkey?

There is no need of revisiting the Abrahamic scriptures to establish the age-old dignity worth of the woman in society. One doesn’t have to go to the goddesses-rich ancient Greek myths and legends either. Nor do we have to dig in the immediate past history library and museum archives for the likes of Israel’s Golda Meir, British Margaret Thatcher, Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike or India’s Indira Gandhi.

It’s now the story of dateline shuttle between New York, Geneva, Brussels, Strasbourg, Ankara, Istanbul, Mediterranean City resort of Antalya and Shusha in Azerbaijan.  And the bottom line of it all is: “Finally, it’s no longer ‘Ladies First’ in Turkey”. How can a senior western ally, seeking the European Union membership, for that matter, hoist a “Ladies Last” flag?

Irrespective of a legend that the “Ladies First” practice originated in Germany – maybe this is why Angel Markel has remained the country’s Chancellor for so long — anyone, even with the vaguest background information about the Turkish Palace, could start doubting if the regime still shares the concerns of First Lady Emine Erdogan. Consider the following scenarios.

Dateline Antalya, Emine Erdogan is quoted as telling First Ladies of other countries at a Diplomacy Forum in the middle of March, this year, that “while prejudices are getting stronger and racism is rising all over the world, we want to make the language of love prevail.”

She stresses at the forum, hosting 12 Heads of State, 43 foreign ministers, four former Heads of State, and more than 50 representatives of international organizations, intellectuals and academics, that the world needs a climate of peace.

About three months later, in mid-June, during a visit to Azerbaijan, she meets First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva at Shusha and delivers almost the same kind of message.

During the last week of June, 2021, Miguel Angel Moratinos, high representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations says: “People have to rediscover their humanity which includes values, culture, religion…  that make us be human beings…” He recalls Turkey, of 2005, under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spearing a permanent engagement with the alliance.

Kadin Haklari

All these are taking place after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey emerged with a world shocker. In March, last year, the President decided to withdraw from a convention negotiated in the Turkish Commercial Capital Istanbul and going by that name “to prevent and prosecute domestic violence and promote equality.”

Putting women’s rights on a global agenda, the Convention was opened for signature in 2011, and had, by 2019, secured signatures from 45 countries. Erdogan’s decision drew condemnation from many Turks and western allies.

Camnan Gullu, President of the Federation of Turkish Women’s Association, said the decision translated into “Turkey shooting itself in the foot…”

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the decision “set the clock back ten years on women’s rights and set a terrifying precedent.” She expressed the withdrawal as “sending a reckless and dangerous message to perpetrators who abuse, maim and kill that they can carry on doing so with impunity…”

Attempts were made to annul the Presidential decision through the court. But, as one would have expected, the verdict of the Administrative Court, under the officially paralyzed Turkish Judiciary and justice delivery system, the attempts were thrown out of the window. The court said that Erdogan had the “authority”. And that was it.

A letter from the Council of the Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mitatovic, to Turkish interior and justice ministers expressed “concern about the rise in homophobic narratives by some officials, some of which target the Convention.”

“All the measures provided for by the Istanbul Convention reinforce family foundations and links by preventing and combating the main causes of destruction of families; that is violence,” she said.

In response to attempts to annul the decision, President Erdogan’s office statement to the Administrative Court had argued: “Our country’s withdrawal from the Convention will not lead to any legal or practical shortcomings in the prosecution of violence against women.” 

At the domestic level, however, one monitoring group says that over the past five years, roughly one woman has been losing life per day. In simple Arithmetic, including one leap year, this translates into 1,826 lives lost at the grassroots’ level.  When I was patching up this analysis. The heavens know how many perpetrators of this crime have been brought to justice.

On June 30, 2021, a Demiroren News Agency (DHA) dispatch revealed its reporters having saved a 26-year-old woman from violence in the northwestern province of Bursa involving a kidnap case by her partner. “This is not the first time. I’ve been beaten and received death threats,” she said, “calling on authorities to take the necessary action after stressing that she has no life safety.”

Globally, according to the World Justice Project’s 2017-18 Rule of Law Index, Turkey fell to the 101st position out of 113 countries. This is largely due to rising widespread concerns that fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law in the country have eroded since state of emergency was announced in July 2016. This is after the near-mystical coup allegedly the brain of Muslim cleric living in the Pennsylvania State of the U.S., Fethullah Gulen.   

Thousands of the detainees have been women, some of whom even recently left the maternity homes to live with their babies in prison. It is said that if you educate the mother, you educate the family. So, strategically, the crackdown on women has been to, among others, create a chill factor in Turkish society and intimidate people from exercising their rights including freedom of speech, assembly, and other liberties. It is carried out by leaders who demonize and vilify their critics in a wholesale approach by constantly calling social groups like the Gulen movement traitors and agents of foreign powers

There are authentic reports of Turkey violating a number of other international conventions, especially with respect to the rights of female detainees and their children. The abuse of women and children ranges from sexual abuse to physical torture and ill treatment. Pregnant and elderly or sick women or women with babies were denied effective access to healthcare, their visitation rights were ignored, and they were threatened with the persecution of other family members including their children.

This inhumane treatment leaves a mark on many women and children that in some cases may have a permanent effect on their wellbeing and health. It is not convincing for any well-intentioned rule to ignore such details and abusive practices like strip searching women and female university undergraduates on the pretext of combating threats to national security.

In Africa, we say the curse of the hen does not kill the1 hawk.  But the hen has always to be on the watch out and every time a chick gets snatched away, curses should accompany the hawk. There is no giving up. Likewise, the people of Turkey, (wherever they are), international as well as intergovernmental organizations, must continuously observe, identify, investigate and report these massive human rights violations in Turkey and hold those who act with impunity to account.

Formalizing Turkey’s quits from the treaty to prevent violence against women should not be the end but the reason for which the country should be under special and continuous surveillance against such crimes. The “Ladies First” good global practice should not die in Turkey. What title shall we now give to Emine Erdogan?  The Turkey’s “Last Lady”? God forbid.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.


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