″Don′t prevent divorce, prevent murder!″

The past few years have seen a huge increase in the number of women murdered in Turkey. There are also increasing reports of domestic violence. Those victims who report violence to the authorities, however, are often treated badly. By Ceyda Nurtsch

By Ceyda Nurtsch

Recently there has been a huge increase in the number of women murdered. The platform ″Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz″ (We will stop the murder of women) is one of the independent women′s organisations documenting murders perpetrated against women. According to its statistics, 303 women were killed in 2015; more than in previous years.

Over the past five years, more than a thousand women have lost their lives to male violence. In most cases, the killers were their husbands or ex-husbands, partners or male relatives.

At the end of February, a tragic suicide shocked Turkey: the 17-year-old school student Cansel K. shot herself in the head with her father′s work gun at her parents′ home in Anatolian Kayseri. The apparent reason: she had been raped by her maths teacher, 40-year-old Bayram O. The state prosecution service is investigating the case. Under the hashtag #canselicinsusma (Raise your voice for Cansel), hundreds of people have expressed their shock and outrage, condemned her death as murder and demanded the teacher be prosecuted for rape.

Using social media to fight for women′s rights

Social media are increasingly being used as an instrument in the struggle for women′s rights. For instance, women are using the hashtag #sendeanlat (Tell your story too) to encourage others to break their silence and make their experiences of sexualised violence public.

Online petition #ozgecanyasasi (source: private)
The #ozgecanyasasi petition demanding legislation to protect the rights of women in Turkey: the largest online campaign to date with over one million signatories was initiated by the student Gozde Salur and is addressed to the ministry for family and social affairs

The largest online campaign to date, with over a million signatures, is the petition initiated by the student Gozde Salur #ozgecanyasasi (Ozgecan law), addressed to the ministry of family and social affairs. The signatories demand the implementation of official legislation.

They want to put a stop to sentence reductions for ″provocation″ or ″good behaviour″, for example, which significantly lower inhibitions against violence and exploitation. They are also demanding the full application of law number 6284, for the protection of the family and the prevention of violence to women.

In February 2015, a bus driver in Mersin, southeast Anatolia, attempted to rape the psychology student Ozgecan Aslan and then murdered her. Ozgecan became a symbol of resistance against male violence, with some demanding a life sentence for her murderer, or even the reintroduction of the death sentence for sex offenders.

Turkey was the first country to sign the Istanbul Convention, which came into force in August 2014. The signatories undertake to protect women and take action against forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called ″honour crimes″.

Different types of violence against women

The country still has a long way to go on the issue, with the documented murders only the tip of the iceberg of mainly domestic violence against women – as the social workers and lawyers at the NGO Mor Cati (Purple Roof) in Istanbul know only too well. Since the 1990s, the organisation has provided psychological, legal and social aid to women who have experienced violence within the family. It also runs a women′s refuge.

Selime Buyukgoze works at the refuge. ″Contrary to expectations, it′s not just women from poor and less educated families who turn to us,″ she says. ″The type of violence varies according to social class. The higher the status, the more complex and ′cultivated′ the violence, making it more difficult to report,″ she sums up.

Hazal Gunel is a social worker. ″Women often have to take a very difficult path before they come to us,″ she says. ″They have to report violence against them to be admitted to the refuge, but the police often discourage them from doing so.″ They are told to go back to their husbands, or they risk losing their children. If a woman does take her case to court despite all the hurdles, the verdict depends on the judge′s goodwill.

Dealing with judges and public prosecutors is the daily bread of the lawyer Perihan Meseli. She and her colleagues are still fighting against an attitude that regards sex as a duty for wives. The women are often viewed as the guilty party until proven otherwise. ″You shouldn′t have provoked him,″ is a frequent comment. The problem, says Meseli, is not the laws but their inconsistent application.

Protests against the anti-abortion law in Istanbul (photo: AP)
Turkish women celebrate a partial success in the fight for women′s rights: following mass demonstrations by Turkish women′s associations, criticism from Europe and objections from within its own ranks, the ruling AKP party dropped its plans to tighten up Turkey′s abortion law in 2012

The prevalent sexism manifests itself in rulings on sentence reductions in particular, she explains. For instance, sentences can be reduced for ″wrongful arousal″ – if the man states his wife had dressed in a provocative manner. Sex offenders can also obtain reduced sentences through ″good behaviour″ in court, such as wearing a suit or displaying regret. Regulations designed to protect women, however, such as injunctions or anonymity, often fail to be implemented.

Heightened atmosphere of gender inequality

The atmosphere of gender inequality has become even more pronounced over the 14 years of AKP rule, these women are convinced. Statements such as that of President Tayyip Erdogan that a woman should have three if not five children, or that of the former deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc that a woman should not laugh out loud in public, reinforce patriarchal dominance in a society that often imposes only mild punishments for male crimes. ″The AKP is trying to strengthen the family,″ says the lawyer Perihan Meseli, ″but what it overlooks is that in 90 percent of cases, the family is the stronghold of violence. That′s why we say: don′t prevent divorce, prevent murder.″

The NGO Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz (We will stop the murders of women) sees the state and the ruling party′s policies as responsible for the situation, but it also blames the current civil war-like situation in Turkey. Peace, says the organisation, is necessary for the fight for women′s rights.

The women from Mor Cati reject the radical punishments demanded by some women′s organisations. Instead, they are convinced that applying the existing laws without exception would be enough of a deterrent. There is no way to tell whether violence against women has actually increased or has become more apparent to the public eye due to social media. The fact is, however, that the women′s movement also uses social media to reach audiences and is gaining strength as more and more women reject traditional roles and take their lives into their own hands. Increasingly, the movement is also receiving support from men, who are increasingly willing to reconsider their own role in society.

Ceyda Nurtsch

© Qantara.de 2016

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire