“Violence against women is the reflection of a male dominated society.”

“Violence is increasing either because men have an issue seeing more and more women escaping their control or because men continue to treat them as objects.”

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

Despite high levels of women empowerment in many countries in Europe, violence against women is on the rise, says Maud de Boer Buquicchio. The deputy secretary-general of the Council of Europe says last year’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights that found the Turkish government guilty of failing to protect women victims of domestic violence is of historic importance since it might serve as an example to all other European countries.
Buquicchio said Europe would have a new international legal document to fight violence against women since the Council of Europe has mandated a group of expert to draft a new convention. “It [the new document] will be binding. Member states will have to sign and ratify it,” she said. The convention will also take specific measures to fight domestic violence. One such measure will enable state prosecutors to file complaints independent of the women subjected to violence, since women are often afraid to come forward due to reprisal. The convention is part of efforts to take the issue from private domain to public domain. “We want to overcome the belief that domestic violence is, for instance, a family issue and thus a private matter,” she said.

One of the difficulties at the earlier stages of drafting the convention was to get the mandate cleared, according to Buquicchio. “Especially the Anglo Saxon countries were against singling out a particular group of people,” she said. “‘If one talks about domestic violence, women are not the only one, how about the children or the elderly,’ Anglo Saxon countries would argue.” At the end of the day there was a compromise and the drafting process continues.

In Turkey, despite progress on women’s rights, Buquicchio said gender equality is one of the largest human rights issues. “As is the case with other issues, there is significant progress, especially in terms of legislation. Yet gender equality is not a reality in turkey.”

She said the first thing to do is to enable better political representation of women in Turkey. “This is a signal that emanates from authorities and then reflects on society.” She said the representation of women in the cabinet is extremely low, and recalled that the Council of Europe recommended having a 40 percent parity threshold in public life. She said that most members of state in the Council of Europe fail to reach this threshold or are even reducing the number of women.

Buquiccio said she is in favor of quotas for women but only for a transitional period. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or the AKP is against for women quotas.

Buquiccio was not optimistic about violence against women in Turkey. “Honor crimes are still taking place today,” she said. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights found the Turkish government guilty of failing to protect a women and her mother from domestic violence. Buquiccio said this was a historic judgment not only for Turkey but also for Europe.

The historical Opuz case

Below is an excerpt from the deputy secretary general’s speech delivered on June 18, 2009, where she explains the importance of the notorious Opuz decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

On 11 March 2002, Nahide Opuz was on the run to save her life. She was running from her husband who, for more than a decade, had made her life and that of her mother living hell. For years, the two women from Diyarbakir, Turkey, had been threatened, beaten and attacked with a knife. They had gone to doctors, who certified that they had suffered life-threatening injuries. They had gone to the police and started several court cases, but they had all been discontinued because Nahide and her mother had withdrawn their complaints.

I think that there is no doubt about the circumstances that led to these withdrawals.

In 2001, Nahide was stabbed seven times and her husband was prosecuted. He was sentenced to pay the equivalent of 385 euros, which he could pay in eight installments.

I believe it was at this point that Nahide and her mother decided the only way to save their lives was to run away. Nahide survived, but her mother did not. The van with which she had been moving her daughter’s possessions was forced to stop on the road to Izmir. Her son-in-law opened the door and shot her dead.

Nahide lost her mother but it was not the end of her ordeal. Her husband was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, but he was released pending appeal. The threats resumed. This is when Nahide applied to the European court.

Last week the court ruled the Turkish authorities had violated articles 2, 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by failing to protect Nahide and her mother from domestic violence.

Article 2, because it guarantees the right to life, yet Nahide’s mother was killed, in spite of repeated calls for protection and help.

Article 3, because it prohibits torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, yet this is exactly what the two victims had been subjected to for years.

Finally, article 14, because it prohibits discrimination, and the court found the violence that they have suffered was gender-based.

This is a historic judgment, and I use the word advisedly. It has the potential to make a difference for hundreds of thousands of women victims of domestic violence in Europe. But I repeat the word potential because the effect will not be automatic. It is now for the whole of the Council of Europe to make full use of the judgment and step up its work on the protection of women against domestic violence – and this applies to all our member States, not just Turkey.

Long career in Council of Europe

Buquiccio joined the Council of Europe in 1969 and began her carrier at the human rights commission. She was elected in June 2002 as deputy secretary-general of the Council of Europe by the organization’s parliamentary assembly. It was the first time a woman was elected to this post. She is now in her second term.

“I was brought up by parents who facilitated my education,” she said. “I did not study law for fun. I always had in mind to practice human rights law and made a career out of it,” she said. As a mother of two, she also gave credit to her husband, whom she described as being supportive.

The Council of Europe was male-dominated when she entered it, and still is today, according to her. “It is very exceptional to have a woman in such a high position in the Council of Europe,” she said. “I am happy to be a role model for women. But everyday I question myself and I have to prove that I am the right person for this job. This is something men are not tempted to do.”

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