Have you heard Özgecan’s cry?

Have you heard Özgecan’s cry?

Özgecan Aslan was a 20-year-old university student. She was killed in a private bus after an attempted rape in Tarsus, between Mersin and Adana on the southern coast of Turkey. The perpetrators of the monstrous crime disfigured and burned her body. They have all been arrested. Yet the slogan “Have you heard Özgecan’s cry?” is still echoing across massive protests all over the country. Being a woman in Turkey is not easy. In that regard, we are like India, where a 23-year old physiotherapy intern was gang-raped and killed in a private bus in Southern Delhi. Just like that. I have to confess that we in Turkey have not heard the Özgecan’s cry on time.

A few years ago, I was talking to a Russian in Poti, Georgia. Just out of the blue, the guy shared an observation with me. He had come to Poti from Istanbul by car, he said, which meant that he drove through all of the Black Sea coast of Turkey. “You know,” he told me, “I only started seeing women on the streets when I passed the Sarpi border gate and entered Batumi.” He did not see any women along the Turkish coast. “Why is the visibility of women in Turkey so low?” he asked me. It was an embarrassing question to have to answer, but I knew it was true. When I entered Batumi early that morning, I saw women on the streets, presumably going to work. It turns out that the female labor force participation ratio is around 75 percent in Georgia. The same number is a face-reddening 30 percent in Turkey, the lowest in the OECD. How about India, you may ask? They’re just below 30 percent. Is it a coincidence that women are subjected to terrible crimes in both countries? I wish it were so.

I now consider the visibility of women on the streets as an indicator of how civilized the city is that I am in. Let’s not talk about New York or Paris. I was recently in Beijing, where single women walking around late at night unafraid. I felt safe, too. In Yemen, Aden in the south was alright, but the streets of Hudeideh on the Red Sea coast were full of men. Sanaa is a different story. If women are visible on the street, I feel safe walking around freely. Otherwise, I prefer to have a more secluded travel itinerary. The more secluded the women are, the more secluded you have to be on the streets as a traveler.

A 2011 Gallup Survey actually asks the question up front: “In the city that you are living, do you feel safe walking alone at night?”  Only 44 percent of Turkish female participants said “Yes.” That is lower than the 60-something percent of German and American women, but similar to the 47 percent of Greek and 43 percent Bulgarian women. Qatar’s 83 percent and the Yemen’s 53 percent “Yes” made me think that there was a sampling error. 

While our MPs were fighting like kindergarteners in parliament yesterday, there was another female body found dead somewhere in Turkey. The day before, a small shop owner killed a journalist who was in a snowball fight outside of his shop. Turkey is discussing a new draconian national security law. Our country needs therapy, if you ask me. Our minds are stressed beyond their limits, unable to hear the cries for help across the country.