By Beril Dedeoglu
February 17, 2015
As in many other parts of the world, women in Turkey face a number of very serious problems. One should maybe say that there is a "man problem" instead of "women's problems" in Turkey, as in most cases it is men who kill, rape or harass, while women are the victims.
The number of crimes committed against women is very important, but two incidents in particular drew much attention last week. The first was the case of a woman stabbed in the neck by her husband in the middle of a street. She called for help, but nobody dared to come to her aid. The street was full of passersby and there were also people watching from their windows, but no one intervened except a young man. The latter managed to apprehend the husband and save the woman's life, becoming a "hero.” What he did was indeed heroic, but what was shocking was the presence of so many people who witnessed the horrendous scene but did literally nothing.
Maybe these careless people were simply afraid of being attacked by that man. But maybe, and most probably, they thought it was a quarrel between a husband and a wife, so they mustn't intervene. There is a deep-rooted culture in the country that indoctrinates women with the idea that their husbands have limitless power over them. By the way, I'm pretty sure there were also people there who have thought slyly about what the woman had done to "deserve" this, but chose to remain silent.
It is very rare in Turkey for people to consider women as independent individuals. A woman is always described in connection with a man: She is a daughter, a sister, a wife or a mother. She is rarely accepted as a "complete" person. She is not supposed to live alone, to travel alone, to go out and have fun at night, to run her own business or to have a successful life all on her own merit. Every time she tries to prove her independence, there are people who harass her to remind her of her true place in society. When women decide to divorce or get close to a promotion, they are promptly attacked because of their womanhood.
The gruesome murder of a young student was the second incident that traumatized the entire country last week. It is perhaps good news that this time, people have strongly expressed their reaction and protests were held in a number of cities spontaneously. However, the protesters were mostly women, and unfortunately there are still people who have questioned the victim's "errors" on social media -- for example, by asking what she was doing alone at that time in the streets.
Violence against women will not disappear as a result of only women's reactions. Men also have to question themselves and start discussing it in order to make progress. Some people suggest that cases of violence against women are growing in number, even though it is not certain. The figures are higher compared to previous years, maybe because women report these incidents more than in the past. What remains unchanged compared to the past is that society doesn't believe the criminals are being punished correctly.
Every single woman in Turkey is at risk. Some of them are being harassed or threatened daily, sometimes by the very people they know or work with. It is of course impossible to hire bodyguards for every woman, so the best solution is to increase social pressure so that men don't dare to harass women. Political decisions are needed as well to weaken patriarchal social relationships. NGOs have to develop common projects on this, too.
Truthfully, there is not much reason to hope for a positive change in the near future, because the collective conscience about violence against women is still not satisfactory and the state has only very recently started to work on that.