Turkey’s Femicide Problem

The minibus ride home alone from the shopping center was normally safe for 20-year-old Özgecan Aslan, a Turkish student studying psychology at Çağ University in the province of Mersin. On February 11, however, the journey took a dangerous turn. Özgecan was forced to fight for survival as driver Ahmet Suphi Altındöke attacked and attempted to rape her. That night, Aslan lost the fight and her life. Her murder, however, gave new life to the feminist movement in Turkey. It directed the national spotlight at the country’s endemic problem of femicide and violence against women.
According to Turkish foreign correspondent Christina Asquith, who spoke with the HPR, Aslan’s case has gained particular traction in the public eye because “she was innocent in every way. There was no way the conservative politicians could accuse her of acting immorally or inappropriately…as they have in the past.” Activists throughout Turkey now are calling for legal and social reform. In the weeks that followed Aslan’s murder, thousands of men and women protested in the streets of various Turkish cities. The protests were matched by an online Twitter campaign calling for awareness of the issue. Her tragedy made clear the existence of a violent, antifeminist culture in Turkey. This social reality is only reinforced by government inaction.
A Culture of Femicide
Unfortunately Aslan’s murder was not a novel occurrence in Turkey. The high profile rape and murder cases of Yasemin Çetiner and Mekkiye Özdemir also briefly highlighted the issue of femicide in recent years. Such violence has been a consistent theme in Turkish culture. Nevertheless, while cases of domestic violence and femicide often go unreported, it is clear that the problem is escalating. The 2014 Human Rights Abuse Report, released by the Human Rights Association, unveiled startling statistics that reflected the alarming regularity of violent acts against women. From 2002 to 2009, the majority Justice and Development Party (AKP) saw the rate of femicide increase by 1.4 percent. Over the last year, the report says, 335 women died and 789 women suffered injuries from episodes of domestic violence and abuse. Two hundred ninety-six women died during the year as a result of domestic violence, rape, or sexual assault.
The trend of violence towards women is also echoed in Turkish media. Asquith notes that “a lot of the television shows that you see have characters that act in a way that’s really aggressive or abusive towards women but is portrayed in a romantic or heroic light.” These portrayals create “a condition or a sense that this kind of behavior is admirable or acceptable.” Seda Sayan, a popular soap opera on Turkish networks, featured an episode in which a man who had just killed two women was warmly welcomed into someone’s home as a guest. This is just one example of a media culture that justifies violently sexist behavior.
The second-class role of women in Turkish society is only upheld by the country’s government.
An Apathetic Government
There is a clear division between what the law states in Turkey and what the government carries out in practice. Euromed Feminist Initiative leader Lilian Halls-French discussed this discrepancy with the HPR. She noted that Turkey “is exemplary of what is happening in many European countries: the huge gap existing between existing laws and what is happening in reality.” This, according to her, “is especially true on the topic of violence against women.” In 2005 the Turkish government passed a law requiring municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants to open at least one shelter for women. The shelters were meant to support victims of domestic violence by offering them an established location to seek asylum from violent partners. The law was a major step towards a safer environment for at-risk women. However, Amnesty International discovered that only 90 out of the 3,000 shelters that should have been established had been built as of 2014. In addition, those shelters that were constructed had been built shoddily and were run under incompetent management. The inadequate quality of the shelters resulted in several cases of abusive husbands removing their wives from them, rendering the law ineffective in practice.
The Turkish government, made up of only 14 percent women, has made it clear that women’s issues will take a backseat in its agenda. Data of femicide rates under the current government are unavailable to the public, making it difficult for citizens to get a sense of the severity of the issue of violence against women. Many blame the AKP’s policies for the growing number of murders and assaults against women, claiming the AKP disregards the role of women in society. The government has done little to fight this reputation. On one occasion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went so far as to say “you cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different,” explicitly stressing the extent of the entrenched anti-female sentiment within the government.
Beyond the fact that the Turkish political leadership has largely failed to identify and combat violence against women, the country’s justice system also treats the perpetrators of such offenses leniently. The murder of a Turkish woman who had been abused by her husband for nearly a decade failed to result in a just case, prompting the European Court of Human Rights to investigate. In 2009 the Court found that Turkey had failed to properly investigate the woman’s suicide and concluded that “discriminatory judicial passivity in Turkey created a climate that was conducive to domestic violence.” The government’s leniency in punishing offenders incentivizes males to commit these murders with the too-often-accurate belief that they’ll be let off the hook.
Turkey sits at a critical point in the fight for feminism in Europe and the Middle East. As French describes, “it is a special country in the way that it is a pure mix of European trends and very conservative [traditions].” The Turkish government’s long-term response to the backlash following Aslan’s murder will prove a critical junction in the global battle for women’s rights. Turkey’s position can verify that western feminist ideals can be practiced in more conservative cultures, encouraging even more traditionalist states to take similar steps.
The government has taken a few steps to cooperate with the mass protests. On February 14, President Erdogan’s two daughters visited the family of Özgecan Aslan to express their condolences. Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced he would be “starting an extensive campaign against violence against women.” That cooperation, at the very least, reflects government capitulation to public discontent. Hopefully, it also indicates the beginning of permanent change.
Image source: Wikimedia // Voice of America

Leave a Comment

Solve : *
6 × 14 =