* New ministry signals reduced emphasis on women's rights
* HRW urges Turkey to take steps against violence
ISTANBUL, June 10 (Reuters) - Turkey's plan to merge the ministry that covers women's affairs into one on family and social issues would harm efforts to combat gender inequality and violence against women, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday proposals to replace some ministries, merge some and introduce new ones, in anticipation that his AK Party will, as widely expected, win a parliamentary election on Sunday to form a government for a third consecutive term.
The proposals envisage replacing the "Ministry for Women and Family" with a "Ministry of Family and Social Policies," ending a much-needed explicit focus on women's rights, HRW said.
"The Turkish government's decision to scrap the Ministry for Women flies in the face of research showing major shortcomings on women's rights and horrendous violence against women," said Gauri van Gulik, women's rights advocate and researcher at HRW.
"Women in Turkey need more determined action by the government, not less, to protect women's rights in practice."
The new ministry will deal with issues relating to children, the aged, the disabled, and the families of soldiers who die during active service, as well as family and women's rights.
Although women in predominantly Muslim Turkey have had the vote since 1934, their participation in politics remains "scandalously low", an International Crisis Group report released on Friday said.
Turkish women have been left vulnerable to repeated abuse because of poor enforcement of domestic violence laws, HRW said.
A 2009 survey by Turkey's Hacettepe university found about 42 percent of women aged over 15, and 47 percent of rural women, had experienced violence at the hands of a husband or partner at some point in their lives. Only 8 percent of them sought help.
The World Economic Forum's 2010 Gender Gap Report ranked Turkey 126th out of 131 countries. (Writing by Ece Toksabay, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)