In 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced the home to be the most dangerous place for women as femicides are mostly committed by their closest family, or partners. However, in strange times of 2020 social distancing, self-isolation and staying at home are taken to be most effective preventive measures against the spread of coronavirus pandemic. Relatedly, Turkey started to implement curfews on 20-year-olds and below, 65-year-olds and above, with general 2-day curfews on weekends apart from repeated calls for staying at home unless it is an emergency. So, apparently the world is stuck at their homes, consequences of which directly relates to women. While the crisis hits many aspects of life, it also led to an increase in violence against women, apart from the silent increase in the unpaid domestic work falling on them. Therefore, herein, I will focus on how the Turkish government takes advantage of the Covid19 outbreak in terms of violence against women and contributes to the polarization in Turkey as a tool of democratic backsliding.
Health Minister announced the first positive case of Turkey on March 11, and from that day daily life has been halted as education and office jobs turning online, along with some businesses closing down temporarily. While uncertainties of the situation and other aspects occupies the public debates the most, 21 women have been killed in the first 20 days of the quarantine in Turkey. Furthermore, now that women are together with their abusers at their home, they cannot easily reach out for help or to the police to file a complaint. When they do, they are not well-informed of their rights and the procedures or taken care of by the officials due to overload on the police, the health centers, and shelter houses. As a result, they are sent back home without a suspension or an assault report.
This is mostly because of the two highly significant and controversial events regarding women’s rights. First and the most crucial one is the decree from Board of Judges and Prosecutors regarding Law No. 6284 to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women, which basically allows victims to file restraining orders against their abusers and gives them rights to find place in shelters in case of violence. However, the novel decree from the Board states that any preventive measure against the abuser to be examined in a way that does not pose a health threat to. Consequently, Mor Çatı Foundation, one of the most prominent member of the civil society organizations working on the issue, remarks that while women are not accepted to shelters due to lack of physical violence marks, their abusers are allowed to stay at home with no preventive measure. Such attitude ignores the psychological and verbal dimensions of violence against women as well as prioritizing protection of the abuser which endangers women’s rights and lives fundamentally.
Second aspect is the execution bill proposed by the government and passed in the parliament that foresees alterations in the execution for several crimes in order to prevent major spread of the coronavirus in the prisons that already operate overcapacity. What is important here is that initially the bill included the execution of sexual assault and child abuse punishments to be altered in a way that benefits the assaulters. Even though they are later excluded from the scope of the bill due to the objections from the opposition, it demonstrated the government’s protective stance of the women’s rights violators once again.
In this case, it is apparent that government takes advantage of the extraordinary conditions necessitated by the outbreak of pandemic to contribute to the polarization in the society over the question of gender equality and women’s rights. Government conducts such sexist stance over the formulation of laws, embedding it into the rule of law then covers such stance that protects the abuser first with the extreme conditions of the outbreak, also gaining the allegiance from the benefiters of the law. On the other hand, protecting women, children and their rights and lives is left and attached to the opposition parties. Therefore, as the stances get affiliated with certain parties, any though on the issue would enable one to be associated with either sides regardless of their actual party preferences, adding to the fragmentation of the society along gender rights. Eventually, such polarization contributes to the democratic backsliding in Turkey in the sense that it decreases the democratic qualities of governance as argued by David Waldner and Ellen Lust. This is according to their categorization that quality of democracy decreases in democratic regimes, however since we can take Turkey as an example of competitive authoritarianism democratic qualities of governance decrease. In this context, it happens through elected government violating the rights and liberties of designated groups of the society as well as neglecting the equality principle, leading to their underrepresentation and government’s favoring one group over the other.
Overall, AKP government utilize the particular conditions of the pandemic to deepen the already existing polarization in the country over the issue of women rights by neglecting the violence against women and their protection during quarantine times but rather favoring the abuser through implementation of laws and manipulative acts. Consequently, democratic qualities of governance in the country erodes gradually, especially when covered with overarching major events.
 Waldner, D. & Lust, E. (2018). Unwelcome Change: Coming to Terms with Democratic Backsliding. Annual Review of Political Science, 21(1), 93-113.
 Esen, B. & Gumuscu, S. (2018). Building a Competitive Authoritarian Regime: State–Business Relations in the AKP’s Turkey. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 20(4), 349-372.