Prominent women's rights association, the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), held a press conference yesterday amid what it called a disinformation campaign on social media against it. KADEM found itself a target of the campaign for its work for gender justice and prevention of violence, being pointed to by critics claiming it was "undermining" families by promoting women's rights regarding domestic violence and other issues.
At the center of the criticism was the Istanbul Convention, which KADEM endorsed and at times presented suggestions for amendment. Turkey is one of the signatory countries of the Istanbul Convention, which demands countries penalize psychological violence toward women, female genital mutilation and those acting as an accomplice to the perpetrators of violence. The convention also orders countries to begin campaigns to raise awareness of gender equality, such as educating students on the issue. Signatory countries are also required to implement effective laws against domestic violence and protect victims as well as offer them therapy.
The Istanbul Convention is not something to be implemented without alternatives; rather, it is an international framework agreement working toward the freedom to create alternatives to raise awareness for the "struggle of violence against women," Saliha Okur Gümrükçüoğlu, chairwoman of KADEM, said at the press conference. Gümrükçüoğlu stressed that violence targeting women is one of the foundation's fields of work, adding: "It is usual to report the positive and negative aspects of the regulation in practice ... Our aim is to determine the difficulties on the implementation of the convention and to present our suggestions," Gümrükçüoğlu noted.
KADEM's efforts to raise awareness for women suffering from domestic violence drew the ire of social media users who claim that the association was the driving force behind laws that give women more rights in filing complaints against abusive husbands, including prioritizing the account of victims, not the suspected abusing party, and a lengthy period for alimony payments for divorced women. Critics of the law claim men are forced to pay lifelong alimony over "trivial issues" leading to divorce. Gümrükçüoğlu said the laws were enacted long before KADEM was established, and they too criticized some sections and offered amendment suggestions for the laws.
Saying inequality between men and women and the problems the two genders face can change depending on countries thus should be addressed in accordance with different needs, Gümrükçüoğlu stressed: "But the problems we face today are the problems of the globalizing modern world. Therefore, it is a fact that we have to benefit from the experiences of women who have been dealing with these problems before us."
Gümrükçüoğlu said the principle that people are equal according to the law is a matter to which everyone agrees. "However, since equality alone cannot respond to the differences and richness of women and men, we preferred to define gender justice and make this concept visible in the literature," she said, adding that violence is a problem in every part of the world, for every age group and that they have been working to fight all forms of violence against everyone from the very beginning of the foundation's establishment.
"In the last 16 years, significant legal gains have been made for women in terms of combating violence. However, a number of problems in practice and the lack of social awareness still create a responsibility for us to work in this field," Gümrükçüoğlu added.