Proposed AKP bill to protect women 'manipulative,' activists say

Women’s rights groups in Turkey say that the legislation proposed by the government to protect women - and healthcare workers - is manipulative and insufficient.

A woman holds a placard saying, 'We don't want to die,' at a women's rights rally.

Müzeyyen Yüce / DUVAR 

The Turkish government this week introduced a new legislative package aimed at combatting violence against women and healthcare workers. While doctors said that the bill could create new risks for their profession, women’s groups are saying that the package is “manipulative” and would not actually protect women in Turkey. 

In particular, women’s groups reacted to the provision in the bill that a display of "remorse" during the trial process for a crime against a woman could result in a reduction of sentence or punishment. In other words, a reduction of sentence is directly tied to the judgment of the legal system - which has long given perpetrators of crimes against women light sentences - that someone has shown remorse. 

Included in the law is the criminalization of “persistent pursuit,” whereby someone continues to pursue or stalk a woman even after divorce, or after she has said she is uninterested. The law includes a sentence of six months to two years for this crime; if the stalking causes a woman to leave her school, workplace, or home, the sentence increases to one to three years.

According to the legislation, persistent pursuit or stalking crimes cannot be resolved with mediation.

The legislative package also claims to address femicide. Rather than a life sentence for the intentional killing of a woman, those that perpetrate such a crime will be subjected to an aggravated life sentence. The minimum sentence for injuring a woman would be increased from four to six months; from six to nine months for issuing a threat against a woman; and from three to five years for violent abuse. 

Despite these proposed reforms, women’s groups say certain provisions in the legislation - such as the reduction in sentence for apparent remorse - mean that women’s situation in Turkey will not change.

Canan Güllü, President of the Federation of Women's Associations of Turkey, in particular, pointed to the “regret” clause as proof of the bill’s insufficiency. 

“Is there any regret for violence against women, for killing? This bill clearly and unequivocally states that ‘violence against women is a crime; Therefore, we are waiting for an article stating that the sentence issued will not be reduced,” she said.

She also indicated that the scope of the crime of femicide was not defined in the bill and that this made its provisions difficult to enforce. 

“A clear definition of femicide should have been made here, but not done. At the same time, it is stated in the article that the crime of willful injury is regulated, that the punishment will be increased by half if the victim is his/her spouse or divorced spouse,” she said.

She said that the fact that so much judgment of these crimes was left to the judge meant that punishment would not be carried out in a fair and equal manner.

Güllü said she wished the government had taken into account the opinions and work of women’s groups when writing this legislation. Then, maybe, these weak points could have been addressed.

Fidan Ataselim, Secretary-General of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, said that this package will not lead to reform. She says that the inclusion of reductions in sentence for good behavior, in essence, legitimizes violence against women. 

“We are in a moment when violence against women is legitimized by the judiciary,” she said. 

She says the proposed legislation is “manipulative,” meant to appease those calling for action on violence against women without initiating real change or reform. 

“After the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, the government is trying to win the hearts of women with this arrangement. But women's lives will not change positively with discourses that are not solution-oriented,” Ataselim said.

(English version by Erin O'Brien)