It Takes a Country: Türkiye's Concerted Efforts to Stop Violence Against Women

It Takes a Country: Türkiye's Concerted Efforts to Stop Violence Against Women
  • 26 February 2007

Violence against women is difficult to eradicate: It is fueled and perpetuated by unequal power relationships and deeply entrenched ideas about gender relations. Ending such violence requires a persistent, strategic and multi-pronged effort that engages a many sectors of society, as Türkiye has discovered.

Violence against women cuts through all segments of Turkish society. As in many other countries, it thrives in silence and shame. But in Türkiye, thanks to a major, multi-pronged campaign, the issue has come out from behind closed doors and is now squarely in the public arena.

“If you want to change the mentality of a country, you need to involve many social actors,” said Meltem A?duk, the UNFPA gender and advocacy programme coordinator in Türkiye. “Most research has showed that you need the government to enact and implement legislation, you need NGOs and other civil society and social actors, and you need the support of the private sector.” The Turkish campaign involved all three sectors.

The campaign let men know that violence against women is a crime that reveals weakness, not strength. It told women who have been abused, 'the shame is not yours'.

The country has been working on the issue for decades. Since 1985, when it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence (CEDAW), the Government of Türkiye enacted a number of legal reforms to end discrimination against women and expand their human rights. However the reforms had little impact, even coupled with years of advocacy by women’s organizations.

A 2004 study revealing the persistence of 'honour' killings served as a wake-up call to government officials and others to do something about the broader issue: the widespread acceptance of, or indifference to, gender-based violence in its many forms. An advocacy campaign, initiated by UNFPA and involving government decision-makers, NGOs, the private sector and Turkish celebrities – even the State Polyphonic Choir – has proved remarkably successful in focusing public attention, shaping a national dialogue on the subject and changing attitudes.

The active participation of Turkish men – especially sports heroes – was key to its success. Among the superstars who embraced the campaign were the country's major league football players. They spread the message – 'Stop violence against women!' during half-time and in film spots on television and in cinemas across the country. During the height of the football season, players donned t-shirts and paraded with banners protesting violence against women while men all across Türkiye watched on their televisions.

Men were also targeted by a complementary campaign launched by Hürriyet, a large media company and the publisher of Türkiye's major daily newspaper. The Hürriyet campaign also helped initiate social transformation through mobile counselling and community-based trainings, and the company also enlisted additional support by setting up a corporate alliance.

The campaign goes beyond advocacy: Training of personnel directly involved with survivors or perpetrators of violence against women forms is crucial for actually changing behaviour and ensuring that survivors are treated with dignity. With UNFPA support, the government has developed trainings for key audiences, including military recruits, social workers, health personnel and the police. The advocacy campaign has also given new life to government efforts to create shelters for women who have been abused.

While it may take some time to get solid results showing declines in gender-based violence, the country has clearly mobilized at many levels around the idea that such violence is no longer acceptable.

As the celebrities in the campaign’s public service announcement affirm:

All violence against women is a breach of human rights and a crime.

Let’s stop it.

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