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Women’s rights raft running farther adrift in Turkey

In observance of the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD), the United Nations per se can be conceptualized as having come up with an “#EmbraceEquity” campaign tag; while the UN Women, a scheduled body to turbo charge progress on meeting the women’s and girls’ needs worldwide, can be seen to have surfaced on stage waving a “DigitALL” theme banner, highlighting “Innovation and technology for gender equality”. What reasons can be advanced for this view? That is the question.

The 2023 International women’s day and beyond under the #EmbraceEquity campaign theme, we have been e told, is to prompt the world into talking about why equal opportunities aren’t enough. It somehow brings the 2022 “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” to a higher platform. In his last year’s message, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had cautioned on backwards spinning clock on gender equality and called for “effective action for women by women”.  Fine as it instantly sounded on the face value because it is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches, the solution of gender issues cannot be left to women alone, making this year’s “#EmbraceEquity gain one slot up.

Why? People start from different points or places. So, true inclusion and belonging require equitable action and commensurate considerations. It also seeks to help forge worldwide conversation about this important issue and its impact. Although we use the words equality and equity interchangeably, they have a very narrow but important difference worth understanding for real delivery.  At the end of the day, it is the level of equity that will determine the amount and quality of equality. This rings to memory another set of common words — effectiveness and efficiency. We normally use them leisurely; but they bear a whole result-difference in reality. A country can have an effective social or economic development programme which ends up not being efficient. Even at family level, imagine, in the worst scenario, a parent failing to buy school shoes for a child, going in for amputation? Equity is worth a full embrace on any equality building programme.

 The UN Women, as the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, among others, supports member states as they set global standards for achieving gender equality and works with governments and civil society to design laws, policies, programmes and services needed to ensure that the standards are effectively implemented and truly benefit women and girls worldwide. It works globally to make the vision of the SDGs a reality for women and girls and stands behind women’s equal participation in all aspects of life. How this can happen today in the science and technology age in the absence of a DigitAll approach is unimaginable if any of the 16 SDGs is to be attained. This is why the Commission on the Status of Women will address the gap that exists for women and girls in accessing digital spaces and skills, as well as dangers they face from online violence.

But, that notwithstanding, with or without the #EmbraceEquityand DigitALL points of view, the determining factor of the success or failure of global efforts towards attaining women’s and girls’ equality and equity targets, depends on what is taking place on the ground in individual UN member states. Already in some of these countries, like Turkey, one comes across situations that fall in the African indigenous knowledge concept category of “beating the drum under water” or “fine tuning a guitar for a goat entertainment session”.

According to a 2022 Women’s Rights Review, femicide cases and violence against women remained serious problems in Turkey with women being killed, raped or beaten every day. Ban has been slammed on events organized by rights groups while women protesting gender-based violence have been detained.  We Will Stop Femicide Platform says at least 382 women were murdered and 226 died under suspicious circumstances during the year, bringing the total number of deaths to 608.  Many give the main reason behind this situation as being the policies of the government, which have allowed courts to continue handing down reduced sentences to perpetrators on the grounds that they were “provoked”. Article 29 of the Turkish Penal Code has often been used as an excuse on the grounds that the victim provoked the murder with her actions. There have also been provisions whereby a perpetrator could be set free by promising to marry the victim. What is pro-women’s rights about this?

A report by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tannkulu, says that a total of 520 children under the of age of six are accompanying 470 mothers in jail. By simple arithmetic, and on average, this translates into 50 mothers living there with more than one child. Turkish prisons hold about 14,000 women, most of them having been thrown to jail after the false flag coup of 2016 and due to alleged links with the Hizmet Movement and Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in the United States since 1999.  The penetration of #EmbraceEquityand DigitALL, amounts to an uphill task in the absence of ethical leadership.

A trace of the woman’s place in Turkey today paints a picture of a country that has back peddled so much in recent years to justify tears being shed on women’s rights devolution. Records show the existence of the Sultanate of Women of the Imperial Harlem under which underage sultans ruled on decisions made by their mothers and elder sisters (princesses).  Towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, women established the Ottoman Women’s Welfare Organization. During the Turkish War of Independence, one Kara Fatma was a successful militia leader. In 1930 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — the Father of Turkey— took the lead ahead of many European countries in giving women regional political right to elect and be elected, making it applicable all over the country four years later.  

In 1990 the General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women was established with the objective of protecting women’s rights and strengthening the position of women in social, economic, cultural and   political life. In 1993, Turkey got the first woman Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. It was the first country to have a woman as president of the Constitutional Court. Turkey was given prominence during the Council of Europe process of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women tagged Istanbul. Turkey was the first country to ratify the Convention in 2012, coming into force in 2014. It is said to have taken a leading role in the drafting of the articles.

Now Turkey has grown into a fertile land for all sorts of injustices against women and girls such as arbitrary arrests, detention, trumped up charges, imprisonment and even, strip searches. The 2021 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Turkey 133 out of 156 countries. All that is taking place today on the ground can be traced to the coming on the politics’ scene of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2003 with camouflaged religious-based values that have shaped the country’s political and social life.

 The situation grew worse in July, 2020 when AKP Deputy Chair said Turkey’s decision to ratify the Istanbul Convention and its Optional Protocol was wrong and hinted on possible withdrawal.  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently signed the lethal decree on the pretext that the Convention threatened “family values” and “normalized homosexuality”. The move attracted strong opposition at home and abroad.  Turkey turned its back on the gold standard for the safety of women and girls. In September of that year, a female politician of Kurdish origin was sentenced to 11 months’ jail for calling President Erdogan an enemy of women in a speech she had made four years earlier.

Eventually, a Turkey top administrative court ruled that president Erdogan had the right to pull the country out of the Istanbul convention, a Council of Europe treaty designed to prevent violence and domestic abuse against women. The state of gender equality in the country has been more than last year’s UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ backwards spinning clock caution. The symbolic Turkey women’s rights raft, under Erdogan, has run farther adrift than during the Ottoman era.  One hopes that since women constitute about half of the population, protests that have been going on against Erdogan government’s violation of gender rights, will be reflected in the ballot box during the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

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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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