Turkey's official policies fail to stop murders of women
Barçın Yinanç - email@example.comTurkey needs unequivocal political and administrative approaches to stop women murders, yet the government not only fails in endorsing such an unambiguous stance; on the contrary its rhetoric even amounts to acquitting the killers, according to a representative of a women’s NGO. The perpetrators should not benefit from reductions, warns Gülsüm Kav, from “We Will Stop Women Murders” platform, as the brutal murder of Özgecan Aslan served to underline the fact that perpetrators often get away with reduced sentences.
Tell us about the platform.
It was established in 2010 as a reaction to the way Münevver Karabulut’s murder was being handled. The truth about a young women’s brutal killing was being blurred, and in fact, there were official statements [including from then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] putting the blame on the family.
There were already a lot of cases of women murders and since we were expecting an increasing trend on violence against women, we decided to form the platform and to name it after women murders. The tendency was to name them as ‘honor killings,’ murders of passion; we wanted to name it directly with what it really is to avoid this tendency of diluting the act. We are helping families in their search for justice, thus following the court cases. We are also trying to raise awareness in the public and act as a pressure group for the necessary legal and administrative changes.
Some claim violence against women is not increasing; it is becoming more visible.
Yes it has become more visible, but they have also increased. In 2010, the then-justice minister said women murders increased by 1400 percent in the course of the past seven years. Then, as they regretted having said that, we were no longer able get any official figures from the ministry, despite our inquiries each year based on the law to get information.
How do you explain the increase?
We are at a specific stage of modernization. Urbanization is on the rise, society is advancing and there are consequences similar to those which passed from the same experience in the world. Women are increasingly becoming part of the public sphere; they are demanding their rights: to get a proper education and work, to get a divorce if they are not happy, to reject violence and form a new life. In the past, only part of the women, rather, the educated ones fought for their rights; now this demand is coming from all segments of society. Today, for the first time, a woman in a rural village, who until recently would not even dare to think of having a divorce, can take action. Male dominance is dragging its feet and, unfortunately, as the tradition in our lands is to oppress all sorts of fights for rights with blind violence; men are using violence in order not to lose their supremacy. No matter how painful the reality is about women murders, at the end of the day, we are actually talking about a positive dynamic. If we had a political understanding that drove back the attackers and supports this positive dynamic about fights for rights, a political approach that would encourage women, while intimidating violent men, Turkey would have turned into a beautiful country. So this is a fight for democracy, too, as we are talking about the other half of the society. It is highly unfortunate that women’s fight for their rights have coincided with the rule of this current government.
Can you elaborate?
The government cannot even tolerate seeing the name of a woman in the name of a ministry. It has an approach that makes women invisible within the family and even this symbolic act [the name of the ministry was changed to Family and Social Policies Ministry] has had its effect on women murders. This is a mentality that does not recognize a woman as a separate entity.
In the past we used to focus on violence in the private sphere, because violence against women was less present in the public sphere. Currently there is an official approach and rhetoric that denies that women have the right to determine her life and make decisions about her life. Each day, we hear the president, prime minister and parliamentarians reflect an understanding that gives the right to men to decide about about women’s lives – what she should do, starting from birth to death, which even tells how she should give birth and how many children she should have. Each day, we are facing a rhetoric that attacks women’s equal rights. The most recent was ‘Women are entrusted to men’ [said by Erdoğan]. This means men are supposed to decide about women’s lives.
Do you mean to say that this approach contributes to the rise in women murders or it prevents stopping women murders?
I say both. The rhetoric and policies encourages men who consider using violence; this is an indirect influence, but it directly obstructs the solution to the problem.
But the government says they introduced important reforms and the top leaders condemn women murders.
Indeed; as a result of our efforts there has been a change in the protection law; the signing of the Istanbul convention [on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence].
But then they are not implemented. There is no political will to implement the laws; in fact, I can even say there is a political will to not implement it. Teacher Gülşah [Aktürk] in Van requested protection and what she heard from deputy mayor was ‘at worse, you will not be killed.’ She was killed and nothing was done to the deputy mayor. Some 23 women died under protection; there is no sign that action was taken against the officials who failed to protect the women.
I just don’t understand this passive attitude about the right to life?
I’d prefer a passive attitude; there is a policy present that prepares the ground [for murders]. If officials’ statements result in the acquittal of men, then they should stop talking. Even in the case of Özgecan [Aslan], the president succeeded in targeting women [criticizing feminists]. Instead of providing solutions, he talked about praying.
Turkey has succeeded in its effort to eradicate torture by saying ‘zero tolerance for torture.’ There was a clear political will; police officers that used torture were punished, there were trainings etc. We need both political and administrative clear cut approaches.
Tell us about the shortcomings at the administrative side of the issue.
If there is failure in protection, action is not taken against those responsible. Afterward when a murder takes place, all sorts of baseless claims are voiced against a dead woman who cannot even defend herself in order to benefit from reductions. The smear campaigns against women aggravate the family’s pain. As a result of our efforts, they resort less to reducing sentences for provocation. But now they resort to reduction for good behavior and reduction for repentance.
What are your demands?
Our priority is to have women murders included in the category of crimes that are punishable by aggravated life sentences and that cannot benefit from reductions. The protection law should be implemented; from the moment a woman applies for protection. The necessary personnel should be employed for that purpose. A women’s ministry should be established and we also want a new constitution based on gender equality. Finally, in the past, we used to ask for an open rhetoric that should condemn women murders. I think we need to revise that. It’s is better if they say nothing. They should not have any say over women. Perhaps that would be better.
In one of your articles you mention secularism as a must.
In a secular country, the state has a role of being an equal, distant referee. In a society without secularism, the state takes a side and this is never the side of women. In a state without secularism, discrimination against women is easily legitimized.
Who is Gülsüm Kav?
Gülsüm Kav is a founding member and the spokesperson of the We Will Stop Women’s Murders Platform.
Born in 1971, she graduated in medicine in 1996. In 2002, she started working as a specialist in medical ethics. Between 2003 and 2012, she worked as the coordinator for patients’ rights at the Istanbul Health Directorate. Since 2012, she has been working on the ethics board of Istanbul’s Şişli Etfal Hospital.
She has also worked on the human rights commissions of the Ankara and Istanbul medical chambers and a publication of the Istanbul Medical Chamber. She is currently the Istanbul representative of the Turkish Medical Association’s (TTB) female physicians’ branch.
Kav is also a member of the Bioethical Association of Turkey and the Association of Medical Law and Ethics.