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Women’s violence in Turkey: an example of a global epidemic

November 25, 2021

Julie Harb oversees and manages SCSC’s Common Threads program. She graduated with a Master’s in International Studies with a specialization in conflicts, cultures and peace from the University of Montréal in 2020. During her studies, she undertook a field research in Turkey, and developed a passion for the question of identity, belonging and nation building.

Estimates suggest that one in three women above the age of 15 have been subjected to violence. (WHO,2018). Violence against women is defined as ‘‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.’’(UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993). Most violence against women is perpetrated through intimate relations (family or partner). In fact, more than 640 million women have been subjected to intimate partner violence (WHO,2018). These numbers do not include economic violence or social isolation, but they indicate that violence against women is a global epidemic, affecting millions of women around the world. 

Turkey and the Istanbul Convention

In an effort to limit violence against women, some countries have worked to implement international harmonised legal standards. One such standard is the Istanbul Convention, signed in 2011 in Istanbul by 39 countries. This convention aims to prevent, protect against, and prosecute all forms of gender-based violence. While the Turkish government was the first signatory of this convention, on March 20, 2021, it became the first country to withdraw. Although the government has not shared any official data, Bianet’s reports showed that more than 200 femicides occurred since then. (Al-Monitor, November 2021).

Elif, volunteer for the Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation noted that the Istanbul Convention was crucial for the fight against women’s violence, as it was used on a daily basis within their interactions with women. The Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation is an independent organization that provides shelter for women who suffered from violence, as well as social, psychological and legal support through their Solidarity Center. Aslı, the advocacy officer of Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR)- New Ways, a local association working on promoting women’s rights and fighting gender-based violence, mentioned that the Convention presented a “concrete map to eliminate the violence against women.” This Convention recognized that this act is a structural problem and  therefore pushed signatory countries to protect women and most importantly to change their structure by creating an environment where violence cannot happen and by implementing gender equality in every policy and every institution. 

The national law (Law 6284) emanating from the Istanbul Convention is still in force in Turkey and is still protecting women from violence. Local organizations are however suspicious and anxious since the government who withdrew from the convention is the one supposed to implement this law.


In 2020, The Mor Çatı Annual Report disclosed that 3355 meetings with women were conducted, including with 1687 women who have applied to the foundation for the first time. These meetings aim to share with women relevant information about her rights, as well as monitoring their applications to specific institutions to get the needed support. 

In 2020, women who applied to Mor Çatı experienced diverse forms of violence, often perpetrated initially by their husbands (82%) . Psychological violence “where emotional integrity and needs are exploited to control, humiliate, and exert power over women and when these needs are not addressed” (Mor Çatı Report, 2020, p.12). Psychological violence by men consist of threatening, threatening to harm, cheating, systematically isolating women, etc. Physical violence was the other common form of violence exerted on these women including beating, breaking objects,stabbing, attempts at strangling… Women also reported that they were subjected to economic violence “depriving them of their right to education both as a child and as an adult, by forced labor or by having them quit their jobs, by not leaving money for the house, by confiscating their earnings, by not taking responsibility for the house and children, and by having women both undertake care work and try to find economic resources.” (Ibid., p.12). 

In addition, women were subjected to sexual violence, marital rape, stalking as well as digital violence. Social isolation was also used by men as another form of violence. One of the survivors mentioned that she “was subjected to room confinement with her child for years and that she had to relearn even walking when she got out.” 14 other women also mentioned that social isolation was  used systematically by their families, husbands, or partners to physically restrict them from their environment by confiscating their phones and by forbidding them to go outside the home. 

The Mor Çatı is one example of many;however, it’s important to mention that the rest of Turkish shelters are operated by the government known as ŞÖNİM (Prevention and Monitoring Center). Elif mentioned that in addition to the violence, women are having difficulties trusting the government and therefore seek the protection of the shelters, in fact “when they [women] go to the station, they are given wrong information, false information, they are told to go back, it is the rhetoric they usually use ‘You shouldn’t leave him alone and go to a shelter, it’s your father or it’s your husband. Sometimes they give false information about shelters, it’s very crowded, you can’t be comfortable…” The main problem for Aslı is that the government is siding with anti-gender equality groups, and cutting all the support for women. 

COVID-19 impacts

Numerous recent studies are showing the correlation between the rise of domestic violence due to COVID-19. Based on the 2020 WWHR report on the impact of COVID-19 on women, 97% of the 1201 women interviewed who had a spouse/partner, reported having experienced at least one type of violence in the year prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. This number remained largely unchanged, with 96% reporting that they experienced at least one type of violence from their spouses/partners in the first two-and- a-half months following March 2020. Elif explained that the increase in women’s violence in Turkey is a problem that began since 2010 with the growing official rhetoric about the impossible equality between men and women, as well as the implementation of family oriented policies that prioritize family over women’s security. However, the pandemic complicated the problem, in fact, before COVID-19 women had the opportunity to go out to seek refuge or to apply to certain mechanisms to protect themselves. But during the pandemic and the partial lockdown, women were trapped at home with their husbands and the main support mechanisms like the Turkish Bar Associations were almost shut, preventing any legal support to women. 

“I am hopeful but I am anxious too, we are on the defensive nowadays and this is hard for us” , indicated Aslı. However, despite all the difficulties, WWHR is still reaching out to municipalities as well as other local authorities to put pressure on the government to provide better protection for women. Elif is hopeful too, for her “Turkey is seeing a growth in violence but also a growing resistance at the same time […] Despite the radical rhetoric from the government and the pushback against women’s rights, young women are talking about violence and this was unacceptable in the past, but right now women are having the courage to denounce it because they are more aware of their rights.” 

Maya Angelou once said “Each time a woman stands for herself… she stands up for all women.” Turkish women are resisting for women across the world, and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is a reminder for us all that in 2021, millions of women are still fighting for their lives, safety and basic rights. 


Damla Eroğlu and  Hilal Gençay. Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR)- New Ways. Being a Woman in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Research Study. Summary Report. Turkey, October 2020. 

Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation. 2020 Activity Report. Turkey, 2020

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Declaration on the elimination of violence against women. Proceedings of the 85th plenary meeting, Geneva, 20 Dec, 1993.

World Health Organization, on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data (2021).