Women’s fight against femicide in Turkey

September 8, 2022

Istanbul Convention Protest Photo – “Not to be indebted to you, not to hide, all we want is to live equally” by Emir Eğricesu on Unsplash

Sevil Aytac discusses the recent rise in honour-based violence against women

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 1 in 3 women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. As a young woman of Turkish Cypriot heritage, hearing stories about violence against women and girls is nothing new to me.

Recently, Turkey took a monumental step backwards, devastating to me and most of all for women and girls living in the country right now.

In March 2021 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s President, announced the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty that aims to combat violence against women and domestic violence.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the treaty has inevitably caused outrage amongst women in Turkey and across the globe. The ‘We Will Stop Femicide’ platform reports 40% of Turkish women are victims of domestic violence, with over 300 being murdered last year, and a further 171 found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Femicide is defined as ‘the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female’, and the murders are mostly committed by male partners or ex-partners according to the WHO. It is indisputable that the Turkish state not only enables but encourages femicide in actively withdrawing from a treaty that seeks to fight it.

Following Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, the country’s communication directorate released a statement claiming that Turkey withdrew from the treaty due to it ‘normalising homosexuality’ and being ‘incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.’

As women, we are all too familiar with the ‘social and family values’ that the Turkish state seeks to protect

Honour-based violence is the term for the abuse and murder of women and girls, who are deemed to violate social and family values. For centuries, such violence has been employed as a tool for preserving patriarchal values. The Turkish state has essentially declared that violence against women and girls is acceptable; that women and girls can be beaten and killed to uphold Turkey’s ‘social and family values.’

As women, we are all too familiar with these ‘social and family values’ that the Turkish state seeks to protect. Whether this includes sexual purity, marriage, conformity to religion, heterosexuality, motherhood, or embodying the role of the housewife, we have been intimidated into abiding by such roles for as long as can be remembered.

When a woman acts in a way that threatens the state or family’s honour, she is at best ostracised and at worst abused and murdered. The violence inflicted upon a woman who abstains or violates these values is believed to endanger the family’s patriarchal image and honour. The violent and often fatal punishment also serves as a threat towards other women, warning them of their imminent fate, if they dare to act in a similar way that is deemed dishonourable.

Virginity before marriage is one of the most non-negotiable moral values. It is considered disastrous for a girl’s family honour if crossed. For marriage to take place, grooms may require supposed proof of the young woman’s virginity through forced virginity tests done by a male physician who will check if the hymen is intact. Proof may also entail the presence of bloody sheets on the couple’s wedding night. Brides who fail the virginity test are replaced and are often beaten and murdered.

Honour-based femicide falls at the far end of the spectrum of the misogynistic honour culture. What at first may seem casual and non-physical, such as ‘slut-shaming’ or forced marriage are also damaging to women, causing chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. Whether emotional or physical, state and societal misogyny intends to disempower and control women and girls.

To tackle honour-based violence, we must create solidarity, shattering expected allegiances to abusers, and extending emotional and practical aid to women and girls

Honour-based violence also functions as a test of allegiance within the domestic sphere that sees whether other family members and the wider community choose to support the perpetrator as expected or protect his victim.

To tackle honour-based violence, we must create solidarity, shattering expected allegiances to abusers, and extending emotional and practical aid to women and girls.

In addition, we must also work to dismantle misogyny and honour culture that places a woman or girl’s worthiness on whether she is pious and chaste, or fits the perfect patriarchal mould of what it means to be a ‘good girl’.

It is hurtful to know that, as women and girls, we are frequently not given the same unconditional love and safety as our male counterparts. Our safety is habitually determined by the extent to which we passively embrace patriarchal values.

A woman who opposes the norm and is considered to bring ‘dishonour’ onto her family, usually doesn’t act with malice against them, or with recklessness regarding her safety. Rather, she seeks liberation from the restrictive and dangerous patriarchal roles and values that have been imposed on her since birth.

She is devastatingly punished for attempting to escape the shackles of the entrapping, patriarchal domestic sphere, and for not fitting into the misogynistic mould. She is punished for not being a prop that will gain her family social capital. She is punished for being human, an individual with her own needs, desires and ambitions.

You can see the extent of tragic issues I’ve discussed here in this memorial to commemorate women who lost their lives, as well as building awareness of the domestic violence within our society. It’s continually updated. Share it with someone you love today.

Sevil is passionate about issues concerning women. She demonstrates this through volunteer work and by writing about women's empowerment and liberation on her blog, at sevilaytac.com.

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