Turkey came under fire in a report published this week by Human Rights Watch on its failure to protect women from domestic violence. The report flies in the face of the Turkish government's claim that it has introduced the most wide-ranging legal reforms to protect women.
The report reveals a depressing picture of life for many women living in Turkey.
Entitled "He Loves You, He Beats You: Family Violence in Turkey and Access to Protection," it blames the government for systematically failing to protect women. The author of the report, Gauri van Gulik, said despite the fact that Turkey has introduced major legal reforms designed to protect women, little has changed.
"There is a credibility gap. On one hand, you have this amazing progress in terms of legislation, so you have the penal code reform, the civil code reform," said Gulik. "They have set this system of protection in principle in law. On the other hand, none of that is implemented properly. So women cannot count on getting the protection they need even in the most horrific circumstances. We have cases, the police just turned them away. 'Go back to your husband.'"
The report cites a 2009 Turkish survey, which found that 42 percent of women over the age of 15 had suffered either physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their husband or partner.
The report strongly criticizes the failure of the police to take domestic violence seriously. It calls for better training, as well as legal consequences for officers who fail to offer proper protection to abused women. The report's findings are based on 40 case studies, and Gulik describes one of the most disturbing.
"She showed me her scars on her skull, broken skull, broken leg. She has been raped regularly. She has even been pimped by her husband. And when she was pregnant, she was kicked in the stomach over and over again, so she has two mentally handicapped children because of that. And her children also are being abused," said Gulik. "She went to the police a total of three times and was sent back every single time."
According to Gulik, the woman in question still remains with her husband.
The ruling AK party, which currently is seeking re-election in June's general election, has not commented on the report. In the past, it strongly rejected criticism of its record on women rights, pointing to the legal reforms its has introduced to meet European Union membership requirements.
But critics say because of the party's Islamic roots, it remains reluctant to fully implement them for fear of upsetting its conservative grass-root supporters.
Pinar Ilkaracan of the Turkish nongovernmental organization, Women for Women's Human Rights, said all recent governments are to blame for the current situation.
"At least now there is no question anymore if there is any domestic violence or not. But very unfortunately, in these 25 years, very little is done to work against domestic violence," said Ilkaracan. "When I compare it with European countries, it shows how Turkey is very behind in developing a program to stop, to eliminate violence against women."
Women's rights remain one of the EU's major concerns regarding Turkey's membership bid.
Next week, the ruling party is seeking to underline its commitment to women's rights by hosting the Council of Europe signing ceremony for a new convention on the prevention of domestic abuse.