What Lurks Beneath: Violence Against Women in Turkey

When walking the streets of Istanbul and seeing Turkish couples and families, I often wonder: How is life at home for you? Seeing some of the women, shuffling behind their husbands, sad faced, and deflated, I am curious what lurks beneath.

Violence against women is a global problem, granted, but I was shocked to find out just how big of a problem it is in Turkey. And it’s not just a mere slap around the face—the rate of femicide is consistently growing. Just last month it was reported in Today’s Zaman that on a single day—July 2—three women were murdered by their husbands. One of these was an 81-year-old man who killed his 74-year-old wife with an axe in Yakutiye, in Turkey’s eastern province, Erzurum. Immediately following the crime, he went to the authorities to report himself. And, the following day, a young woman was killed by her 16-year-old brother.

According to a United Nations 2011–12 report, 39% of Turkish women suffer physical violence and 22% of Turkish men think it is justifiable to beat their wives. A recent report by Bianet showed that out of the 214 women murdered in 2013 in Turkey, 66% were slain by their husbands, ex-husbands, or lovers, and the rest by close male relatives such as fathers, brothers, or uncles. In the first six months of 2014, there have been at least 139 women murdered. Today’s Zaman also reported that in 54% of cases, a mere quarrel ends with the husband killing his wife with a gun.


A woman holds a photo of Guldunya Toren, an unmarried mother allegedly killed by her brothers for having a child out of wedlock, outside parliament in Ankara, Turkey, in 2004 (source: Burhan Ozbilici/AP, www.wunrn.com)

Gülsüm Kav, the founder of the We Will Stop the Murders of Women Platform believes that the number of murders of women is increasing because Turkey is going through a transitional phase: “Turkey is going through a period of economic modernization, and this allows women to be more independent. They are making their own decisions, they are becoming more educated, they are earning their own money, they are choosing how they dress. But most importantly, this independence allows them to choose to divorce their husbands.”

Whatever the reason, there is never an excuse for violence against a woman, a man, your partner, or a stranger. And whereas it is great to see organizations and movements fighting for women’s right, the question that begs answering is what the Turkish government is doing about this. Movements like We Will Stop the Murders of Women Platform, Stop Violence Against Women, and Women for Women’s Human Rights are campaigning against and educating women about domestic violence, but isn’t it a government’s responsibility to protect their own? Not this government, it seems.

Earlier this year, rights activists spoke out about the Turkish government’s failure to protect women against domestic violence—and used March 8 (Women’s Day) to hold a massive protest to show their dissatisfaction. In 2012, Turkey passed the Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women, which seeks to protect victims of domestic violence by providing services such as shelters, financial aid, and psychological and legal guidance services. The law also called for the design and implementation of programs on violence prevention, and the collection and analysis of data on preventive cautionary imprisonment and sentences. But Al-Monitor reported in February this year that activists say the law has not fulfilled expectations. “Unfortunately, we don’t see an improvement, but a deterioration,” Zelal Ayman, coordinator at Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways, a rights group in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor. “It is a problem that threatens half the population. It is a horrible thing.”

Violence against women

Source: brighteningglance.org

Esen Özdemir, from the Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation, enlightened Sunday’s Zaman about how the state shelters really operate: “What the government understands as protecting women is actually jailing them, controlling their phones, recording the times they come and go. They are imprisoning women instead of punishing men. The government also reports whether a woman is being given shelter or not. It does not say which shelters the women are in, but it is nevertheless very easy for husbands to find their wives.” Googling ‘jailed offenders for violence against women in Turkey’ did not yield a single article or statistic about how many domestic violence offenders have actually been jailed. As well as that, Turkey currently offers no prison rehabilitation programs for its domestic violence offenders.

Last year, a brilliant film, The Impeccables, was released in Turkey. A quiet, subtle drama, it tackles violence against women in an innovative, intelligent way. Social media also does its bit to educate people but what we really need is the government to take the matter seriously and put the men who beat their wives behind bars. Until that happens, Turkey’s ‘battered women syndrome’ will keep rising.

Title image source: turkey.setimes.com


1 Comment

  • Melissa says:

    I feel like whilst attacking the problem of domestic violence, we should also be working towards understanding the deeper routed cause. Why men thinks its ok to control their women and why women often accept or even expect this behaviour. I speculate it starts from birth within the family with lack of equality, aspirations and independence for women.

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