Anybody who thinks the increase in the killings of women will vanish as soon as the AKP is no longer governing Turkey, should really very quickly wake up. One, because that’s not going to happen any time soon (they will probably win the coming elections). Two, because it is a dangerous form of denial of the complexity and seriousness of the problem. If only it were that simple.
What’s the problem exactly? The number of women murdered in Turkey has seen a shocking increase. In the first seven months of 2009 (the most recent statistics) a total of 953 women were killed. In the whole of 2002, that number was 66, an increase of 1,400% since the AKP came to power. This is according to figures from the Ministry of Justice (which I haven’t seen myself, I must say, and I am curious about the development over a longer period of time, and to be honest about whether these stats are reliable).
Many Turks, especially those intensely against governing party AKP, immediately see the increase as the ultimate proof of the AKP’s lack of respect for women’s rights. These fundamentalist Muslims don’t care that women are being killed! See how they endanger secular principles, that have always included women’s rights?
Nowhere to go
How blind can you be, really? Of course, it is the government’s responsibility to do everything in its power to fight this horrible practice of killing women for (allegedly) being unfaithful, for staining the family honor, or for whatever reason you can think of for men becoming violent. And the AKP doesn’t do that.
To name just one example: according to the law, every city with at least 50,000 inhabitants should have a women’s shelter. In 2005 there were 9 of these shelters, now there are 26, and there are around 166 cities with a population bigger than 50,000. Women who need urgent protection have nowhere to go: they are either put on a waiting list, or have to find refuge via a local women’s organization, which do great work but lack money and resources. Most of them go back home, and a rising percentage of them end up on page 3 of the national papers as a deadly victim of domestic violence.
Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, there was a call for the AKP government to, for example, increase the penalty for killing a woman and for violence against women. Interestingly enough, the punishments have gone up significantly in 2005. Before that, a man being ‘provoked’ into killing a woman (for example because she broke the family honor) would be an extenuating circumstance. Now the highest sentence is life imprisonment. The law isn’t enforced well enough, many men do get away with low sentences and that problem needs to be addressed. But still, the punishments have gone up, although it hasn’t helped. That must tell us something.
It tells us that laws are not enough to fight a problem that is deeply rooted in Turkish society. Since the law was changed in 2005, the number of female suicides has dramatically risen: men didn’t want to risk going to jail for life, so they pressured their wives and daughters to kill themselves. Besides that, the murders have gone up. At least, I wonder if the suicides went down again and the killings up one or two years after 2005, when it became clear that the risk of being locked up for life wasn’t all that high in practice. (Anybody having statistics on that, please let me know).
The real problem is the very patriarchal society. Laws don’t change the fact that men rule society and women should just obey men, whether they are brothers, husbands or fathers. Think that’s a Muslim thing that the AKP introduced? Get real. Even Turks who are not pious Muslims suffer from these traditional beliefs. Even stronger: strict secularism and kemalism might confuse men even more.
According to their ideology, they should support women’s rights. Atatürk gave women an active and passive right to vote, Atatürk made school obligatory for girls, but these ideals never really made it to the heart of Turkish society. You can even wonder if they made it to the heart of Atatürk himself: he truly advanced women’s rights in laws, but, so it’s said, couldn’t deal very well with the (strong) women in his personal life. Turkish men who want to be modern suffer from the same thing: their constrained modernism just doesn’t match the traditional role they have and want to keep in society. Women are servants of their brothers, housekeepers to their fathers and husbands, cooks of their husbands and kids. Men have the physical, political and economic power. Don’t challenge that balance. Since talking about problems is another thing that’s not very much rooted here, breaking the balance easily leads to violence. And death.
So if it’s not the AKP that is solely responsible for the raise in murders on women, what is? Turkey didn’t become patriarchal overnight. I see a few changes that might shed a light on the issue, so let me elaborate on them a bit.
Scratching the foundations
Economy. The Turkish economy is growing, and it has been since it recovered from the deep economic crisis in 2001, so basically since the AKP came to power and further liberalised the economy. Poverty is one of the factors that increase the risk of domestic violence, so you would think that when the economy grows, domestic violence would go down. But economic growth doesn’t immediately lead to a decrease in unemployment, and unemployment is still high (just how high is hard to define.Officially it’s below 10% but official figures don’t mean much when it comes to employment in Turkey). Turkey’s economy continued to grow during the crisis, but still, many people lost their jobs or their wages were lowered.
Another factor is that the growth of the economy might have liberated women, especially in very traditional areas, like cities in the Anatolian hinterland that had a rapid economic growth over the last decade. Anatolian businessmen started to play an important economic role, and that might have changed the perspectives of their wives and daughters. They found themselves in a (slightly or much) better financial situation, more of them got the opportunity to get a better education, so in short they started strengthening, liberating themselves. Scratching the very foundations of patriarchal society. Breaking the balance, and by doing that, endangering their own lives.
Cry, scream or behave helplessly
Media. The number of dizi’s (soap operas) is exploding on Turkish TV. They attract mass audiences, nowadays reaching every corner of the country. The values in these series are, let me say it mildly, not very feminist. Women either cry, scream or behave helplessly (mostly all three), men lead the family or business with a strong and often violent hand. Nobody protests. Even the Minister of Family Affairs doesn’t reject the violence – she did publicly speak out against a passionate kiss in a soap opera though.
Besides that, there is the infamous Page 3 in most of the national newspapers. That’s where you find the family tragedies. That’s where papers nowadays have to choose which murder to publish stories about, and of course the most spectacular wins. Often, the way of reporting blames the victim, keeps the murderer anonymous and makes it seem totally normal to kill your wife for wanting a divorce, speaking to another man or even more harmless things. Some research was done on that, which you can read about here. Of course, I don’t recommend that no more stories be published on the murder of women. But a radical change in the way the problem is reported is essential. Media do have a responsibility here.
The AKP is not responsible for the increase in the killings of women. Rather, Turkey’s changing, rapidly developing and at the same time still so traditional society is. And that’s where the AKP comes in again. They have been governing the country since 2002 now and it looks like that’s not going to change soon, and it’s their responsibility to lead all these changes in the right channels.
A signal to society
The problem of violence against women has been neglected. The AKP makes a law, and then sits back. It’s the same with torture: the AKP changed some anti-torture laws for the better, and then thought the problem was solved. What happened? Torture increased again. Changing the law is only the beginning. Laws are a signal to society: this is accepted, this is not, these are the legal borders of behavior. After that, the implementation of laws should start.
Make sure the promised shelters are actually built, opened, equipped and financed. Educate boys and girls, men and women thoroughly about human rights. Create an atmosphere where violence is rejected and verbal problem-solving is promoted. Address people’s fears and needs in a rapidly changing society, set up employment projects, lessen the gap between rich and poor. Give the judiciary the means to enforce the law, order them to give the prosecution of (deadly) violence against women a high priority.
No government can change the traditional roles of men and women in society in a decade. Especially not in a country that is in such transition as Turkey is and that has so many urgent matters to deal with. But the AKP didn’t even begin to implement anything, and that attaches a heavy blame to them. There are lives at stake here. About four women’s lives per day.