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Cablegate: Turkish Women Too Fight Domestic Violence

DE RUEHAK #2066/01 3331523
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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Turkey's young but steadily growing
women's rights movement can claim progress in recent years.
A handful of committed NGO's pushed the GOT to make women's
rights one of the centerpieces of the government's 2003-2004
effort to accelerate EU-related reforms. They succeeded: the
GOT enacted over 30 amendments to the Turkish Penal Code to
address the previously taboo topic of domestic violence by
criminalizing marital rape and stiffening punishments for
those responsible for "honor killings." However, Turkey has
stagnated since then, and much remains to be done. The
November 25, 2008 International Day for the Elimination of
Violence Against Women provided us the opportunity to reach
out to a wide array of contacts to assess the state of
Turkey's efforts to combat domestic violence and to conduct
outreach activities on the issue (we report our outreach
septel). Our contacts agreed that Turkey is still struggling
to implement the new legislation, and that success requires
the government to recommit itself to the issue. End summary.

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Domestic Violence Strikes Turkey

2. (U) Domestic violence remains all-too-widely accepted in
Turkish society today, according to our contacts in Turkey's
women's rights community and a series of recent academic
studies. An 18-month survey involving 1800 married women
conducted by Sabanci and Bogazici University found that one
in three Turkish women have experienced some form of domestic
violence. The report stated that women are highly
susceptible to abuse in their own homes at the hands of male
relatives, and that the problem affects both urban and rural
areas. A recent report by the Compassion Association
(Sefkat-Der) listed the various reasons Turkish men gave for
abusing women: a woman's perceived inability to bear a male
child, leaving the home without permission, wanting to work,
and a woman's unsatisfactory cooking skills.

3. (SBU) Hidayet Tuksal, President of the Capital Women's
Association, told us that lack of education is the most
important contributor to domestic violence. She noted that a
large percentage of Turkish women do not receive an education
beyond primary school. According to Ministry of Education
statistics, 80 percent of women aged 25-64 have only a
primary education or lower. The number of un-enrolled school
age children during the 2007-2008 school year was 190,000, of
which 157,000 were female. Tuksal believes this lack of
education directly impacts the way young women perceive the
issue. Bearing out her view, a 2003 study by Hacettepe
University found thirty percent of women felt domestic
violence was justified in certain situations.

4. (SBU) Meltem Agduk of the United Nations Population Fund
told us that the lack of economic opportunities that stems
from poor education negatively affects women's attitudes
toward domestic violence. Women are unequally represented in
the Turkish work force. According to the European Union's
2008 accession report on Turkey, women represented 24.7
percent of the workforce in 2007. The overall employment
rate for women was even lower at 22.2 percent, the EU noted.
Agduk told us that she has seen a great deal of anecdotal
evidence to suggest that Turkish women who lack economic
independence are less likely to leave their abusers or seek
help. She noted that even holding down a job is not
sufficient protection, as many husbands force their working
wives to give them control of any earnings.

5. (SBU) Agduk told us that lack of education contributes to
the persistence of the barbaric practice of "honor killings"
-- murders ostensibly committed to uphold a family's honor.
According to a July 2008 Prime Ministry Human Rights
Presidency report, approximately 1000 honor killings have
been committed in Turkey during the last five years. The
report noted that honor killings are not tied to one specific
group of people, but they are more likely to be committed by
persons of rural backgrounds and low levels of educational
attainment. Agduk noted that Turkey has made progress on the
issue, including by passing legislation in 2005 to sharply
stiffen punishments for family members who are involved in

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the killings, but said that there is a long way to go. She
noted that the new legislation had had the perverse effect of
causing families to try to avoid the harsher penalties by
enlisting minors to commit the killings or by forcing their
female relatives to commit suicide.

Bold Women Hurdling Over Obstacles

6. (SBU) Tuksal told us that the emergence of the women's
movement in Turkey during the 1990s brought the issue of
gender based violence to the national agenda. Groups such as
Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR) persistently lobbied
parliament to address domestic violence. In 1998, Parliament
passed a law that introduced the legal mechanism of
restraining orders for domestic-related violence to Turkey.
This was followed by reforms to the Civil Code in 2001 and
Turkish Penal Code in 2004 that brought outdated notions in
line with modernity. Tuksel explained that the old civil
code provision that declared the husband the legal head of
the family was changed so that, "the family is based on
equality between spouses," giving married women an equal
voice in matters related to children and property. In 2004
Parliament passed a Law on Municipalities that required
municipalities with over 50,000 residents establish a shelter
for victims of domestic violence.

7. (SBU) Since then, progress has faltered, according to our
contacts. Ilknur Ustun of the Association for Supporting and
Training Women Candidates (KADER) told us that the primary
problem is that the government has failed to ensure the many
new laws were implemented. She said that the 2004 law
requiring women's shelters epitomizes the problem. As
documented by Amnesty International, only 35 shelters have
been opened in Turkey to date, she noted. In some provinces,
NGOs are establishing their own shelters and in some cases,
contributing their own funds to operate the facilities. The
Purple Roof Women's Shelter (Mor Cati), based in Istanbul,
has contributed 400,000 lira of their own funds to open a
women's shelter in the municipality of Beyoglu. According to
recent media reports, Purple Roof is no long able to provide
financing for the shelter and is being dismissed from the
project. The government will reportedly take over all
operations at the shelter. It is unclear if the shelter will
remain open.

8. (SBU) Tuksal added that another key obstacle is the
reluctance of authorities to get involved in an issue that
has traditionally been considered a private family matter.
In some cases authorities ignore complaints reported by
women. These attitudes have contributed to the reluctance of
women to seek help from authorities. Many women who do seek
help from authorities cite gender insensitivity and claim
that police often attempt to find a compromise between
spouses instead of treating the violence as a crime.

A Unified Solution

9. (U) Our contacts agreed that a combined top-down and
bottom-up approach is the only way to solve the problem.
Progress requires the government to enact and implement
progressive legislation to provide a framework for
advancement. But the real key -- changing the mentality of
Turks -- requires a grass-roots approach complementing the
government's efforts. Our contacts identified three key
strategies: Get them young; teach them well; and change
society's perception.

10. (SBU) Get them young: Ugur Ilhan of the Young Women's
Shelter House Association (Genc Kiz Siginma Evi Dernegi) told
us that the generational impact of violence against women
creates a "chain of negative impacts," that is difficult to
break without immediate attention. She therefore is working
to locate and counsel girls early. Ilhan said she hopes to
break the chain of violence early, by intervening in cases
like that of one of her clients -- a woman who had been raped
while attending a girls, school who, in an attempt to
protect her own daughter, refused to send her to school. Had

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this woman received counseling earlier, her daughter would
not be trying to obtain a primary school education at the age
of 20 and her grandchildren would have had a literate and
educated mother.

11. (SBU) Teach them well: Ipek Ilkkaracan of Women for
Women's Human Rights (WWHR) told us that educating women
about their rights helps to combat violence by creating
awareness. It also provides women strength by and building
of a community of like-minded individuals. Ilkkaracan said
her organization collaborates with the GOT's Social Services
Directorate to provide training on women's rights and
Turkey's legal system in over 70 community centers around the
country. WWHR's Hulya Gulbahar described the multiplier
effect of this training with an anecdote about the male
colleagues of the policewomen who received this training
requesting such training themselves.

12. (SBU) Change society's perception: According to Canan
Arin of Purple Roof, the Turkish media often sensationalizes
honor killings and violence and therefore reinforces the
image of women as victims, hindering them from developing
positive self esteem. They are working to urge the media to
urge the media to purge the sensationalism and to cover
women's issues in an objective and educational manner. Arin
believes that, "with help from the media, societal stigma
related to discussing domestic violence will grow and a
campaign to combat domestic violence will see success."


13. (SBU) The legislative changes enacted by the GOT in
2003-2004 to address Turkey's failures on combating domestic
violence were groundbreaking. But the hope that this effort
gave to Turkey's human rights defenders has faded in recent
years as the government failed to follow through with
rigorous implementation. Fully complying with EU standards
and reaching the goal of becoming a truly democratic country
requires Turkey recommit itself to an all-out effort --
legislative, judicial, and educational -- to combat domestic
violence and strengthen the rights of Turkey's women.

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