Turkey’s family minister vows zero tolerance for violence against women

Turkey’s family minister vows zero tolerance for violence against women

The recent assault on a woman traveling on a public bus in Istanbul has triggered political and legal steps to bring stricter measures to target violence against women.

The incident took place last week on a public bus in Maslak, a posh business district in Istanbul, after 23-year-old nurse Ayşegül Terzi completed her shift on Sept. 12 and took the bus home. Abdullah Çakıroğlu, a 35-year-old private security employee, then started shouting at her, saying her shorts were “inappropriate” and then kicking her in the face. Injured and humiliated, Ayşegül was removed from the bus and taken to hospital with the help of two other passengers. Çakıroğlu was detained by police on Sept. 17 after being identified from the bus’s security camera footage.

Çakıroğlu was unapologetic. As he was leaving the police station he said everything he did was in line with Islamic law. In the prosecutor’s office he said he kicked the uncovered body parts that he thinks are “inappropriate” to show, adding that the state should punish people who dress in such a way. The prosecutor on shift on Sept. 18, Mahmut Nedim Uygur, released Çakıroğlu on the grounds that there is no necessity for an arrest over minor wounds. 

Social media in Turkey reacted very strongly to the story. On the evening of the same day the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office issued another detention order against Çakıroğlu for “spreading hatred and enmity among people” and he was again detained within an hour.

“When I heard about the incident,” said Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, “I felt very sorry as a human being, as a woman and as a minister of the cabinet.” 

I spoke to Kaya on the telephone before she took off for New York on the morning of Sept. 19, together with President Tayyip Erdoğan, for the U.N. General Assembly meetings. In answer to questions she made the following points:

* “I can never accept such violence. I immediately called up Ayşegül after hearing the news. I told her that I stood by her and was ready to give every kind of support both personally and through my ministry. I also asked her whether she had any demand from us. Her only demand was ‘I want him to be arrested, I don’t want anything else.’ A nurse completed her shift – during Eid al-Adha when most other people are on holiday - gets on the bus for home, and is attacked. I was outraged and saddened.”

* “The fact that she was attacked because of her choice of outfit saddened me even more. I also suffered because of my choice of outfit during my university years. I managed to get into the Electronic Engineering department of Istanbul’s Bosporus University. But because state universities did not accept students wearing headscarves, I had to register at Bilkent University in Ankara. To be obstructed because of my choice of clothing is still a scar in my memory. That’s why the violence against Ayşegül made me doubly sorry.” 

* “There is another dimension to this incident. We are currently going through troubled times as a country. At a time when we’re trying to maintain the social unity that emerged after the July 15 coup attempt, to face such a case was very disappointing. [Kaya was implicitly referring to Turkey’s religion-secular debate, mostly symbolized through the “covered” or “uncovered” clothing of women.]”

* “We are keen to act further on this issue of violence against women and violence against those who are not able to protect themselves. In a recent Decree Law our government reduced the necessary time in jail before possible release on probation, but we exempted this possibility for cases of violence against women and the unprotected. My ministry will intervene in the case on Ayşegül Terzi’s behalf when the trial begins.”

Meanwhile, as Çakıroğlu was being taken to court with an arrest demand later on Sept. 19, the Justice Ministry issued an amendment to the penal code, recommending the arrest of attackers in cases of intentional wounding, whether light or heavy. This move may be intended as an answer to the debate that there was a loop in the current law giving such attackers the opportunity to get away with their crimes.