The one sentence that could save women’s lives in Turkey
A lawyer who has been threatened in the past by angry partners for providing legal support to women suffering from domestic violence, İdil Elveriş from Bilgi University, started the “sendeanlat” (“Tell Your Story”) hashtag on Twitter. As of yesterday afternoon, the hashtag ranked second in Twitter’s trending topics, after #ÖzgecanAslan - the name of the brutally murdered young woman who resisted a rape attempt. Ironically, after reading various anecdotes of harassment and abuse, several men tweeted that they were ashamed by them.
With all due respect to the strength of the virtual world, I must admit that none of the tweeted anecdotes could have the same effect as watching a young woman in Kayseri crying out to protesting crowds about how her rape case had ended in court. “The judge said there was consent and the man walked out free,” she said in tears.
Özgecan Aslan’s cold blooded murder has triggered a debate about the sentences issued in cases of murders of women and sexual-physical-psychological abuse/harassment cases. Unfortunately, the debate is going in the wrong direction. Many, including women (and even, pathetically, the female minister of family and social policies affairs), have called for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Elveriş has strongly criticized this. “I am against the death penalty. The death penalty has never solved anything. If it had ever been useful Iran or Saudi Arabia, those countries would be a haven in terms of women rights. So many innocent people are released while others wait for the death penalty,” she said.
We are all humans and we can all make mistakes. The judicial system is made of humans and even the best functioning judicial system can make mistakes. However, there is no place for the return of the death penalty.
Instead, the discussion should center on including women murders, (which are defined as a person killed because she is a woman), as crimes that cannot benefit from any reduction in sentences.
“We have been calling to have the necessary amendment in the law,” Fidan Ataşehir from the “We Will Stop Women Murders” platform said yesterday during a TV interview. “We only need to add one sentence to the law. One sentence can perhaps save lives in Turkey.”
This would not only serve as a deterrent, but it could also have an impact on changing the mentality of (mostly male) judges, who are inclined to use reductions in such cases. These sentence reductions come as a new slap in the face to the victims and their families.
Obviously, we should not only concentrate on punishment mechanisms as the sole deterrent. Women’s movements have achieved great successes by introducing into the law the protection of women who are threatened by their partners. As voiced by Ataşehir, the effective implementation of the law is now necessary.
I am sure that security officials will cite the lack of necessary resources to provide protection to every woman seeking help from the police. I am also sure that a degree of indifference and underestimation also plays a role, since we need a mentality change in Turkey: Domestic violence is an issue to be solved within families and behind closed doors, therefore needing no outside interference.
We need a mentality change on the part of law enforcement officials and members of the judicial system, but the gist of the matter lies with the perpetrators of those crimes. There, we need a mentality change on a social level.
Messages coming from the political leadership are critical to breaking the patriarchal system that dominates Turkish society. However, the rhetoric of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not geared toward breaking the patriarchal system. On the contrary, the president and prime minister see women as vulnerable people whose primary mission is to contribute to human reproduction. This macho understanding of the roles of men and women only serves to strengthen patriarchal codes in society.
Just look at what Volkan Bozkır, the minister in charge of EU affairs, said about calls for the death penalty in the case of Özgecan Aslan. “If this was done to my daughter, I would take up a gun and give the punishment myself, and I would bear the consequences,” he said, while then adding that states should not act as individuals. I don’t know which is worse: Does he genuinely believe in what he says and is therefore suggesting he does not trust Turkey’s legal system, so Özgecan’s father should take up a gun and go kill the perpetrators? Or is he simply trying to appeal to the AKP’s macho constituency and thus cash in from the pain of a family?
Unfortunately, with such a mentality prevailing within the AKP, we will continue to see painful statistics rising, instead of going down, on murders of women.