Turkish women face constant threat of violence
Istanbul - Women in Turkey are under a constant threat of sexual abuse and violence, often committed by family members or people in positions of authority, with an average of one woman killed in the country every day, activists say.
As Turkey prepared for International Women’s Day on March 8th, the focus of women’s rights groups has been on the plight of an 18-year-old high school student from the central Anatolian city of Kayseri who committed suicide on February 17th after being raped by her maths teacher in school.
Cansel Kinali’s case triggered accusations that the school, described as one of the most prestigious in Kayseri, covered up the incident to protect its image. The teacher has been arrested and several school officials are under investigation. A 12-year-old boy from the same school committed suicide days later. It was not clear if the deaths were related.
An aunt of the girl told Turkish media that Cansel revealed the incident to the school’s administration but that officials even turned away an ambulance when she fainted. Shortly afterward, Cansel shot herself with a gun belonging to her father, a police officer.
Activists say behind Cansel’s death is a failure of government and society to treat violence against women as a serious problem. “Turkey is being ruled by a political system that discounts women’s rights and freedoms and breeds male violence,” the group We Will Stop Violence Against Women said.
The group, which tracks violence against women and sends representatives to follow trials across the country, said 303 women were killed in Turkey in 2015, up from 294 in 2014 and 237 in 2013. Most were killed by family members, estranged husbands or partners.
Domestic violence is widespread in all parts of Turkish society.
It was reported that a court in Istanbul issued a restraining order against Ibrahim Toraman, a well-known football star with 46 international caps, who is accused of having severely beaten his pregnant wife, Eylem Toraman. “My client is seriously concerned about danger to her life,” Eylem Toraman’s lawyer was quoted as saying.
Activists say the Islamic-conservative government in Ankara is partly to blame for the trend because leaders have advocated a traditional role for women instead of encouraging them to launch careers and become independent of male breadwinners.
Turkish Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu caused an uproar in 2015 by declaring that “mothers should not contemplate other careers besides motherhood”. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has called on Turkish families to produce at least three children to keep society from ageing, drew criticism by suggesting in a speech that men and women were not equal.
A study by the Hazar Education Culture and Solidarity Association, a non-governmental organisation specialising in women’s education, showed that 44% of women in Turkey suffer violence at least once in their lives but only 33% are aware of their rights, the Hurriyet daily reported.
Rights groups planned rallies for March 8th to draw attention to the problem. KESK, a federation of public workers’ unions, is calling on the government to declare International Women’s Day an official holiday and says its members will stage a one-day protest strike on March 8th.
Turkey has strengthened its laws to protect women as part of its bid to join the European Union but activists say women still face threats. Dr Gulsum Kav, chairwoman of We Will Stop Violence Against Women, said efforts to rein in domestic violence had failed. “Our aim is to make our own organisation redundant one day but the number of cases keeps rising,” she said. “Unfortunately, there has been an increase in violence recently.”
Her group sends lawyers to trials involving violence against women, becoming a co-plaintiff in many cases. In court, the group’s lawyers press for stiff sentences against men guilty of assault or murder of women.
Recent cases showed a positive trend, Kav said. “Instances in which men get lighter sentences are decreasing,” she said, adding that the next step would be to press parliament to pass laws to make it much more difficult for courts to reduce sentences in cases of domestic violence.
Other activists offer more radical solutions. One group, Sefkat-Der, advises women to receive weapons training to be able to defend themselves. “So far, 150 women have gone through arms train ing under our auspices,” Sefkat-Der President Hayrettin Bulan said. “But there are many more women who learn how to use a gun on their own.”
Bulan said media and society as a whole had become more sensitive to domestic violence. The problem, he said, was that the government was not introducing new measures to fight the crimes. “Politicians condemn the violence but do not follow up with concrete action,” he said.
One example, critics say, is that there are not enough shelters for women seeking protection after suffering violence, even though laws calling for the creation of the shelters are in place.
The opposition newspaper Sozcu reported that 31 out of 201 municipalities required by law to offer shelters for women had actually provided them. Capacity in shelters in Istanbul, a city of 15 million people, was limited to 367 beds, the newspaper said.