Women in Turkey enjoy far better legal protections than many of their Middle East neighbors. But reports of violence against women have become increasingly common in the country.
In Turkey women got right to vote in 1934, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, a right that they garnered ahead of their counterparts in many European countries.
But in the country with about 80 million people, women, who have become more and more active in the public sphere, are constricted to fulfill their ambitions because of traditional patriarchal and gender roles.
All kinds of sexual assault and domestic violence are punishable by law. The legal arsenal is there but domestic violence is common that there are often gruesome reports on newspapers and television channels on a woman being harmed or killed by an abusive partner or ex-husband.
Turkey’s Family and Social Policies Ministry reported that a massive proportion of women in the country (86%) has encountered some kind of physical or psychological violence from a family member.
In 2016 alone, 367 women have been murdered and 109 others injured by violence from a husband, an ex-husband or a boyfriend or honor killings, a practice seen in mostly rural regions, according to macabre statistics.
There are literally dozens of NGOs working around the clock and they are very active on social networks to increase their visibility and of the severe problem they are dealing with.
One of the pioneers in this field is the Ankara-based Federation of Turkish Women’s Association (TKFD). The president of this influential and active organization, Canan Gullu, has recently announced that a nationwide hotline for women in distress will be launched on July 1st.
“If violence is involved, security forces can intervene in a matter of 5 minutes because of our network and will be operational 24 hours a day, everyday, with experts and legal adviser on the other side of the line,” said Gullu.
The sensitive topic stirred entire Turkey for weeks in February 2015 when a 20-year-old college student named Ozgecan Aslan was brutally murdered when she fought back against an attempted rape by pepper-spraying the bus driver who ultimately killed her.
Women but also men in uproar demonstrated for several days across towns of Turkey, demanding justice for the young girl who was brutally murdered on her way home before having her hands cut off to prevent DNA testing and ultimately burned.
The case was emblematic and international news outlets covered the protests that swept across Turkey, a watershed moment in the country’s fight for women rights. Three suspects were arrested amid the outrage.
“In May 2017 alone, 39 women have been murdered in Turkey, some of them tortured before being killed. The number is rising,” said to Xinhua Aysen Ece Kavas, Ankara representative of Stop Women Homicides Platform, a national advocacy organization.
“We have to make sure that if a man is found guilty of murdering it’s partner or wife, he will not get any leniency form judges and should be convicted to serve the full term, otherwise the laws loose their deterrence,” said Kavas.
“In Turkey, a woman insisting on having a divorce or simply wearing clothes that are not approved by his husband can be a cause for homicide,” while loopholes exist in legislation that allow sentence reductions for murderers of women, indicated the activist.
Activism for women rights is robust in Turkey. Since the beginning of 1990s, a strong effort to raise awareness about domestic violence led to some of the most progressive legislation among Middle Eastern nations, where there is no law in this field.
“We maintain hope that this vicious circle in Turkey will be at one breaking-point,” said Aysen Ece Kavas, pointing out that women rights is encountering global threats.
In Turkey, women who escape violent homes have few options for refuge. Turkey runs approximately 100 official shelters that accommodate fewer than 3,000 women, with overburdened non-profit organizations struggling to care for the remaining 20,000 women who seek shelter each year.
Police protection for women having been subjected to domestic violence is also limited, creating the perception among women that the state cannot protect women, according to experts.
The problem facing women in Turkey is surely not only domestic violence. Their participation in the labour force, their representation in politics (79 female MPs in 550-seat Parliament, and one in the cabinet) and their visibility in the public sphere in general remain hot topics in a country which will celebrate in 2023 the centenary of the proclamation of the republic.
For the moment statistics reflect the wide gap between genders. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 global gender gap report, Turkey ranks 130th out of 144 countries. Enditem