Turkey struggles with femicide as domestic violence mounts

Today's Zaman

On a single day -- July 2 -- three women were murdered by their husband in Turkey. The following day, a young woman was killed by her 16-year-old brother. Since then, there have been several murders of women by their husband or a close male relative. The Turkish government continuously fails to tackle the issue, and instead tries to defend itself from any responsibility or blame. This week, Sunday's Zaman spoke with several representatives from women's organizations in İstanbul and discussed the many facets of the nationwide femicide (killing of women).

File 2668

Women chanted slogans in protest of violence against women. Domestic violence is a major concern in Turkey, where on July 2 three women were murdered by their husbands.(Photo: DHA)

The rate of murders of women in Turkey is increasing. There have been several murders in the recent weeks; on July 2, there were three in one day. All show one pattern: Women are being killed by the men who are closest to them. According to Bianet's 2013 report of murders of women, out of the 214 women that were murdered that year, 66 percent were slain by husbands, ex-husbands and lovers, and the rest by close male relatives: fathers, brothers, uncles, etc. Looking at the first six months of this year, there have been at least 139 murders of women.

Incidents that often start as a simple quarrel end up with the husband killing his wife, 54 percent of the time by gunshot. Other cases involve other weapons such as the recent incident on July 2, when an 81-year-old man identified as Ali Kahraman killed his 74-year-old wife, Adalet Kahraman, with an axe in the Yakutiye district of the eastern province of Erzurum. Afterwards, he went straight to the authorities to report himself.

Sunday's Zaman spoke with Gülsüm Kav, a representative and founding member of the We Will Stop the Murders of Women Platform. When asked why the number of murders of women is increasing in Turkey, she replied: “Turkey is going through a period of economic modernization, and this allows women to be more independent. They are making decisions for themselves; they are receiving more education, therefore earning their own financial stability. They are choosing how they would live to dress, for example. But most important, this independence allows them to choose to divorce.

She added: “The problem stems from women taking hold of their modern rights in a culture of male dominance. Right now, Turkey is going through a transition period; actually, I believe this is happening throughout the world, but what Turkey is experiencing is a very bloody transition. I believe the root of this is that men are finding courage at how easy this [killing women] is for them to do with the current government.”

According to Kav, the general Turkish female population does not have the support of the government. Instead, she said, men believe that what they are doing is accepted rather than reprimanded by the government.

A major concern for many representatives of women's organizations is the way the government is treating the issue. Family and Social Policies Minister Ayşenur İslam made statements last week concerning the murders of women last week after the killings of three women in one day. She said women who had received protection from government shelters were not killed.

Yet, the fact is that13 women killed this year were under government protection. In many cases, the husbands of women in shelters have been able to track them down.

In response to İslam's statement, Kav said: “How can she not count these deaths? Is she trying to say to the families that have lost their daughters that they do not count? This is a lie.”

Rather than suggest solutions to better protect women in danger, İslam in her press statement sought to absolve the government of its responsibility in the matter. Although she condemned the men for murdering their wives, İslam stated that the punishments for crimes against women are sufficiently harsh.

Sunday's Zaman also spoke with Gönül Karahanoğlu, chairwoman of the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER), an organization that defends equal representation of women and men in all fields of life with a focus on political representation. When asked about her thoughts on the minister's statements last week, she responded: “It's not about someone saying, ‘Someone please save me,' and then the government goes and protects them. … The issue is not that superficial. We are not saying the government isn't trying to provide for the women who are looking for safety, but [the government is] not hitting the mark.”

According to her, the problem is more fundamental and the measures taken by the government are not preventative ones. Instead, the government is more concerned about sustaining families, while women are looking for ways out of being repressed by their husbands.

Women's shelters

Mor Çatı Women's Shelter Foundation representative Esen Özdemir talked to Sunday's Zaman about state shelter protection for women, saying: “What the government understands as protection of women is actually to jail them, to take control of their phones, to record the times they come and go. They are imprisoning the women instead of punishing the men. So, of course, it is very easy to kill these women. Second, the government works with such a mechanism that they actually report whether a woman is being given shelter or not. They do not say which shelter the wives are in, but it is very easy for the men to find their wives.”

Şehnaz Kıymaz Bahçeci, from nongovernmental organization Women for Women's Human Rights, told Sunday's Zaman that “women's murders are the epitome of what the patriarchal social structure brings. But, unfortunately, it's not the only reflection of how women's rights are being violated in Turkey. Of course, the right to live is the most basic right, but there are other rights we have that are as inalienable, and we have to take this in a more holistic perspective in that sense."

Violence against women is a very deep problem in Turkey, according to her, but there is a lack of data. "It is the role of the state to provide the data for us. The most recent data we have by the state is from 2009. They should repeat this to see if the actions they are taking, the legislations they are amending are making any difference. Yes, there is a lot of legislation in place dealing with violence against women, there has been a new law since 2011 right after Turkey signed the İstanbul Convention of the European Council, but unfortunately the crimes [of violence] go unpunished. And this causes grave problems in the sense that people are not afraid to commit these violations of women's human rights,” she said.

The conclusion one draws after listening to these experts on women's issues in Turkey is that all of them are unsatisfied by the measures taken by the government for the protection of women in the country and outraged at how the government allows the repressive patriarchy to continue in society. All of them believe that if the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) stays in power, the trajectory for women will not go in a positive direction. They also agree that the issue of femicide is not a matter of basic politics, it is a deeply entrenched pattern of male behavior to try to keep dominance over women in Turkey's patriarchal society.