Turkey marks Women’s Day amid increasing domestic violence, political imprisonment of women

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Thousands of women from all walks of life who were jailed on politically motivated charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in Turkey marked International Women’s Day in jail at a time when the country is shaken every day by news of the death of a woman at the hands of a man.

According to a report from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu, there are currently 17,000 women in Turkey’s jails, 11,000 of whom are believed to have been arrested in mass detentions following the failed coup. Some 3,000 children, 800 of them aged 3 or below, are accompanying their mothers in prison.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government, which accuses the faith-based Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup, launched a massive crackdown on the movement’s alleged followers under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Thousands of women including pregnant women and women who had just given birth were sent to jail on trumped-up terrorism charges as part of the ongoing crackdown.

Dozens of Kurdish female politicians such as former co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Figen Yüksekdağ and former Diyarbakır co-mayor Gültan Kışanak also marked Women’s Day in jail as they were arrested as part of a crackdown on the Kurdish political movement.

Tanrıkulu’s report showed an upward trend in cases of domestic violence in Turkey during the 18-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has witnessed the killing of 6,732 women by men so far.

The latest example of domestic violence, which became public thanks to a video on social media, showing a man beating his ex-wife, led to outrage in Turkey over the weekend.

The video, which went viral, shows the man violently punching and kicking his 24-year-old ex-wife in front of their 5-year-old child as neighbors called on him to stop.

The assault — which came shortly before International Women’s Day — sparked condemnation on social media, with users calling on the authorities not to let him go unpunished. The man was subsequently detained.

Angry over the rising number of women killed by men, women often take to the streets in İstanbul and other cities to demand that the government adhere to a landmark treaty on preventing domestic violence.

The so-called İstanbul Convention is the world’s first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation.

A ruling AKP official said last year that the convention was “wrong” and speculated about a possible withdrawal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who frequently attracts criticism from women’s rights groups due to controversial statements about gender roles and gender equality, said on Sunday he considered violence against women a “crime against humanity.”

“I condemn once more in the strongest terms any kind of physical or mental violence against women as well as discrimination,” he said in a message for Women’s Day on Monday.

However, Erdoğan and his statements targeting women are believed by many to be responsible for the increasing violence against women in the country.  During his 18 years in power, Erdoğan as well as some members of his AKP government has been criticized for using rhetoric considered discriminatory against women.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, “We grieve because of what we see instead of celebrating March 8,” in a video message on Twitter where he appeared alongside his wife.

“You have my word. We will end the violence,” he promised.

Women were expected to gather in İstanbul on Monday for the annual “Feminist Night March.”

At last year’s event, police blocked all roads to the city’s central Taksim Square and fired tear gas at the protesters.

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