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Turkey's Roma Women Come Out İn Support Of Istanbul Convention

Women from Turkey's Roma community came out in support of the Istanbul Convention amid ongoing controversies surrounding the government's interest in withdrawing from the treaty that was signed to combat violence against women. 

Roma women in Turkey have united under the Roma Dialogue Network (RODA) in order to support the Istanbul Convention and inform other women about the situation. 

Turkey became the first signatory of the convention in 2011 under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), followed by 45 countries and the European Union.

Islamist and pro-government circles have called for the country to withdraw from the convention in 2020, prompting outrage nationwide during a period when the brutal murder of 27-year-old Pınar Gültekin had taken over the national agenda. 

“Roma women, like all women who live with social gender inequality, are also faced with the inequality of being the 'other',” said Zero Discrimination Association President Elmas Arus. 

Roma women in Turkey number as many as 5-6 million, but are not recognized as an official minority.

This doesn't prevent them from facing discrimination, which often prevents them from getting jobs and perpetuates cycles of poverty.

Traditional lifestyles also result in Roma women getting married when they are teenagers.

“Unfortunately, the Roma are the 'other' of society! It is a known reality that they face bias and discrimination in every area of life. In public spaces, apart from gender they face violence and discrimination as a result of their ethnic and cultural identity,” Arus said. 

According to Nevin Topar, a Roma woman from the southern city of Adana, most Roma women in the area are not aware of the Istanbul Convention because of illiteracy and limited access to the Internet. 

“Girls are taken and married off at an early age. They think they will achieve a better life but nothing changes. On top of that they become mothers at a young age. They face violence but where should they go? A women gets beaten but cannot seek shelter at her father's home,” Topar said.alıkçı

Ceren Pekbalıkçı, a 20-year-old Roma woman from İzmir, noted that young marriage is a major problem in the Roma community.

“Families are poor and have many children, and they do not have the luxury of sending all of their kids to school. The oldest girl in the house is forced to look after her siblings and cannot go to school. When a girl is 14-15 she is married off! A girl who is not married by the time she is 17 is seen as ugly or problematic,” Pekbalıkçı said. 

Sema Poyraz, a Roma woman from Edirne, got a divorce after a 25-year marriage where she was being subjected to domestic violence.

Poyraz said that divorce is not common in the Roma community.

“I experienced physical violence and insults. I found a way to deal with it because I have children but I realized it couldn't happen and I split. I work as a market seller to earn my living,” Poyraz said.

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