Sunday, March 21, 2010

Barriers to Protecting a Woman's Right to Life

Following the European Court of Human Rights' June 2009 decision that states have an obligation to protect a woman's right to life, and that failing to do so amounts to gender-based discrimination, Turkey is still struggling to meet its legal responsibilities. A recent law mandated that cities with populations of more than 50,000 provide a women's shelter, but there are no sanctions in force to give the law teeth. March has seen four women who had applied to state institutions under the auspices of new procedures designed to empower women in cases of domestic violence subjected to extreme forms of violence. Minister for Women and Family Selma Aliye Kavaf said the police in these cases did not inform her ministry, and so proper procedures were not followed. Kavaf also cited bureacratic difficulties in sorting through applications from women with the same name. From Bianet:
Gökçe Kartaler, volunteer of the women's shelter Mor Çatı ('Purple Roof'), recalled a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) given in June 2009. The court sentenced Turkey to a compensation fine in the case of Nahide Opuz because "she had not been protected by the state" when she applied for help by reason of her violent husband.

Kartaler indicated that subsequent to this decision, the Ministries of the Interior and of Women and Families signed a joint protocol. However, difficulty was experienced for the implementation of the protocol.

"According to the protocol, records must be drawn up instantly if a woman comes to the police to document the exposure to violence. If the woman does not want to go back home, she shall be directed to a shelter. Yet, the statement made by Kavaf shows that the police do not fulfil this responsibility", Kartaler argued. Selma Aliye Kavaf is the Minister for Women and Families.

In Kartaler's opinion, not only police forces are responsible for women murders but also the lack of capacities regarding Social Services and Child Protection Agencies.

Kartaler calls for increasing these capacities since even if the police directs the women to a shelter, there is no social service unit available 24 hours a day seven days a week. The police cannot reach social service officials off-time. Another deficiency is the education within the service.

"Many police officers do not know where they are supposed to look for help and that the prosecutor has to be informed in case of an application related to violence", Kartaler said.

What needs to be done? Kartaler replies, "First of all, a service has to be established that works 24 hours a day seven days a week. The police must be able to contact experts on domestic violence at any time, they could provide a more sensitive and effective approach. Additionally, social service experts are needed at police stations".

Kartaler also touches upon the importance of vocational training for police officers for the prevention of violence against women. "Education is insufficient. When a police officer changes his/her position, it is not checked whether s/he received training accordingly. The presence of a trained police officer in every police station for every shift is not being monitored."

"Considering European standards, one save place for a women and her child is allotted in 7,500 people. In Turkey, we struggle to open shelters for municipalities of a population exceeding 50,000 people", Kartaler explains and expresses her hopes: "There are positive developments. Now we are struggling for their implementations".
Questions: What procedures must a woman go through when seeking protection from the police, and are these in any way cumbersome? What is the application process for entering state-run women's shelter, and what protections are afforded upon entry? What specific trainig, if any, have local police undertaken to ensure that procedures are properly followed, and just how do local authorities coordinate efforts with the Ministry for Women and Families? And, to date, how many shelters have been opened in cities with populations of over 50,000 people, and just what is the Ministry and the government doing to ensure compliance with the law?

UPDATE I (3/22) -- Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Van deputy Fatma Kurtulan submitted a question motion demanding a response from the justice minister on why so many women who are victims of domestic violence are killed by their husbands or abusive lovers despite having applied to the police and prosecutors for protection several times. From Today's Zaman:
Kartaler says that following Turkey’s conviction at the ECHR, a protocol was signed between the Interior Ministry and the Ministry for Women and Family Affairs. However, there have been problems executing it. “According to the protocol, when a woman goes to a police station, the officers have to file records without demanding proof of violence. If the woman doesn’t want to go home, she should be referred to a women’s shelter. However, the police rarely fulfill their responsibility.”

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