The Parliamentary Commission on Divorce celebrated the completion of their Commission Report at the General Assembly on Monday, May 16, while activist groups are claiming that the new report seeks to completely erase the rights of women and children in Turkey.
The Parliamentary Commission was formed in January this year, with their official task being “to investigate factors which threaten the unity of families and divorce incidents, as well as make recommendations concerning the strengthening of the institution of marriage.”
The Commission marked the completion of the report with a ceremony at the General Assembly and presented the report to the Speaker of the Parliament. Speaking at the ceremony regarding the work of the commission, AK Party Düzce MP Ayşe Keşir stated:
“According to results from the research on the Turkish family, Turkish families struggle the most as a result of inadequate communication. Individuals in families tend to stay silent and refuse to speak to one another in the event of a problem, rather than communicate…It is apparent that the current law code on violence against women needs some reforming in light of the unity of families. The process of the legal proceedings for divorce are also in need of reform.”
Keşir also noted that the report takes a social and cultural approach to the unity of families: “Self-control is needed in the media, when there are bad role models in TV and films giving families negative messages. On the other hand, broadcasters who make family-friendly media and stay true to values with great care should be encouraged.”
Ultimately, Keşir argued that “Supporting the unity of marriage and supporting the rights of women and children should not be seen as mutually exclusive goals.”
However, the watchdog activist group Equality Watch Women’s Group (EŞİTİZ) issued their own report claiming that the Parliamentary Commission Report seeks to eliminate the rights of women and children, detailing the provisions of the report which are problematic for women and children’s rights.
The report recommends that a child rapist should be granted parole if they agree to enter into a “problem-free” and “successful” marriage with their victim for at least 5 years. The report recommended that “consent” should be an operable concept in cases involving child abuse. According to EŞİTİZ however, the commission report will force the child victims of sexual abuse to marry their abusers.
The report also recommended that in cases of violence against women, “treating the man unjustly” could be used as a defence, and that in the case of domestic violence and divorce cases, methods of reconciliation should be used to resolve the “dispute.”
The report also states that “being mistreated by the woman” can be used in defence to shorten the cautionary protection period to 15 days. In these cases, the women would also have to provide “documentation and proof” of abuse in order to be granted cautionary protection.
Concerning divorce, the report recommends that alimony payments be restricted to within one to two years of the divorce, after which alimony payments would be non-binding. The EŞİTİZ Group argues this provision would pressure women into staying in abusive marriages as result of financial pressures.
The report further recommends that family court proceedings should occur privately as a matter of “family affairs”, which EŞİTİZ members fear will further alienate victims of abuse from the emotional and legal support of women’s groups, resulting in a forced reconciliation.
Finally, the commission also recommends that religious officials should be included among those qualified to give therapy and guidance in family, divorce, and abuse issues.
Commenting on the commission report the EŞİTİZ group claimed: “This report is trying to remove government from cases of divorce and violence against women, viewing these as issues related to the ‘private’ sphere…We will not sit idly by as the Commission celebrates the erasure of our rights under the roof of the Turkish Parliament.”
The Parliamentary Commission on Divorce Report comes at a tumultuous time for the rights of women and children in Turkey. Last month, a shocking child abuse scandal related to the Ensar Foundation – which has ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – rocked the central Anatolian town of Karaman. The government’s response was heavily criticized for essentially dismissing the incident as an outlier instead of pushing for reform.
Similarly, violence against women has notably increased under the ruling AKP. Reports have noted a 1400 percent increase in the rate of women murdered between 2003 and 2010, which corresponds to the period of AKPs rise to power.
Turkey currently ranks at 125 in global gender gap index, just between Bahrain and Algeria. Critics of the AKP argue that the conservative administration is trying to impose their traditional and domesticated vision for the role of women in society. Comments made by the Turkish President Erdoğan concerning the inherent inequality of men and women, further arguing that “Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood,” seemingly back up these claims.