By Mili Chizhik, News Editor
The other day as I was doomsday scrolling on social media, a normal daily — or dare I say, hourly — activity during quarantine, I came upon a series of black and white photos of women along with the hashtags of “#womensupportingwomen,” “#challengeaccepted,” and others of the same sort. Initially, I thought it was in response to the lack of equal representation of women in Jewish publications, event flyers and invites, and social media. Little did I know the seemingly trivial social media challenge’s dark origin.
On July 16 in the southwestern Turkish Muğla region, 27-year-old economics student, Pınar Gültekin, disappeared. Five days later, her beaten, strangled, torched body was found in a garbage bin with concrete poured over her. Her 32-year-old ex-boyfriend led the police to her body and was arrested for her murder. However, the horrible and tragic murder of Gültekin was just one of the thousands of women who were victims of femicide in Turkey.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), femicide can be defined as the “intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls.” At least 35% of the female victims in the world were killed by their partner, while only five percent of male homicides are committed by their partners. “Honour”-related murders are typically done to protect the family’s reputation after a possible bad deed done by the victim, whether it was “adultery, sexual intercourse or pregnancy outside marriage – or even for being raped.” The WHO suggests that strengthening surveillance and screening of femicide and intimate partner violence, training and sensitizing health staff and police, increasing prevention and intervention research, reducing gun ownership and strengthening gun laws, and, lastly, strengthening surveillance, research, laws, and awareness of murder in the name of ‘honour’ to reduce or even end femicide.
In July 2020 alone, over 40 women were murdered. Approximately 474 women were killed last year, the highest femicide rate in a decade, while 120 women and counting were killed this year. In the past decade the rates of femicide have been increasing each year, and due to the pandemic and lockdown, the rates are predicted to rise even further.
Following Gültekin’s murder, protesters flooded the streets demanding that the Turkish government take a stronger stance against the violence against women and protection of women and families that suffered domestic abuse. Protests and vigils were held in many cities throughout the country where women waved purple flags and repeated: “We are here Pınar. We will hold them accountable.” Despite Turkey’s infamously conservative policies and leadership, Turkish women are demanding equal rights and legal protection. Protesters are met with rubber bullets and tear gas.
In early 2011, Turkey adopted a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe, an international human rights organization, against gender-based violence and domestic violence known as the Istanbul Convention. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative Turkish government, is currently trying to repeal the treaty entirely.
The families of murdered women, female politicians, lawyers, and many other civil organizations have banded together to create a platform to fight violence against women. The “We Will Stop Femicide” Platform, otherwise know as Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu, provides legal assistance for women and victims and demands that the authorities carry out Law No. 6284 (Law To Protect Family And Prevent Violence Against Women), which provides protection for families and women against violence, and that was passed on March 8, 2012. They also help spread awareness and educate women of their rights and try to get local and global support for this important issue.
When the government said that it does not keep records of these crimes, the platform began keeping records and tracking cases of murders and violence against women. The platform also made it more difficult for tie reductions to occur and makes it easier to to support victims and their families. “Tie reduction” refers to the decision of a judge to reduce an offender’s sentence and charge for domestic violence and murder based on how the male presents himself at court (i.e. if he wears a neck-tie to court).
The We Will Stop Femicide platform tries to help prevent these cases from being deemed “suicides,” as is often done in order to close the case. Additionally, activists are trying to pressure the authorities to accept the platform’s five demands for preventing femicide rates from worsening, to pass a legislative proposal that demands an additional clause be added to have the “aggravated life imprisonment” in the Turkish Penal Code that gives the term “femicide” a legal status, to discontinue the practice of penalty and tie reductions, as well as to create a Ministry of Women and “a new constitution that prioritizes gender and sexual orientation equality,” where “the president, the prime minister and the leaders of all political parties condemn [the] violence against women.”
One woman who participated in the social media challenge wrote that “in Turkey, everyday we wake up to the news of women who are murdered either by a spouse, boyfriend, stalker or complete stranger, [and] a black and white photo is followed by details of horrific news. Any of us could be that woman. That’s why we accept the challenge until the Turkish government takes the required steps.”
This challenge was taken on by millions of women all over the world on all forms of social media, but most are unaware of the origins of the challenge. The purpose of this challenge is to increase awareness among global citizens of the atrocities that are happening to Turkish women. We should also understand that violence against women is a brutal reality just about everywhere, including right here in the U.S., and right here in our very own communities. Patriarchal societies that place men as the heads of the families are more vulnerable to emotional and physical violence that put women and children at risk.
There are many ways one can get involved and help with these issues. One way is to use not just the hashtags written earlier, but also #İstanbulSözleşmesiYaşatır, which translates to “enforce the Istanbul Convention,” and #kadınaşiddetehayır, which translates to “no to violence against women.” Another way is to reach out to organizations that help with these issues, like the “We Will Stop Femicide” platform or other international human rights and women rights organizations. Also, one can sign a petition to help release 17,000 women who were imprisoned due to Erdoğan’s conservative legislation, and demands that he take legislative steps to help abuse victims, mainly women.
According to the “We Will Stop Femicide” platform, they believe that “women will certainly gain their rights through struggle. However, they are not supposed to pay such a price. Patriarchy is the reason behind the loss of so many lives,” lives like Suheyla Yilmaz, Derya Aslan, Şule Bilgin, Sümeyye Ateş, Seher Fak, Pınar Gültekin, Nadira Kadirova, to name just a few of the victims that were tragically killed. We can never get these women back, but we can try and help prevent other women from becoming yet another black and white picture amongst the thousands of women murdered while their government did nothing to try and protect them and their fellow female citizens.
According to the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Justice, the femicide rates increased by 1,400% from 2002 to 2009. 42% of Turkish women from 15 to 60 years old were physically or sexually abused by their significant others, while 18% and 14% of women in rural and urban areas, respectively, were sexually abused. Around 34% of Turkish women were physically abused by their husbands, while that number rose to 40% while focusing on just females from the Eastern regions of Turkey. Once the Turkish government admitted to not maintaining records for those who were murdered or abused, non-government organizations (NGOs), such as news networks and websites, collected as much data as they could. They found that, in 2016 in Turkey, at least 261 women were murdered, 75 raped, 119 harassed, 348 injured, and 417 girls were sexually abused, all by men. These estimates are expected to be much lower than the actual number due to the lack of emotional and psychological support for abuse victims and the fear of the victim’s and her family’s reputation being ruined (Kerman & Betrus, 2018).
Many women are married at a young age, either through arranged or forced marriages, for various reasons, some of which can be to release the family’s burden (the woman/girl) or even to improve the family of the bride’s financial situation. Many women and girls are sold to help their families, despite the illegality of doing so. “Turkish women in arranged or forced marriages in Turkey are 1.6 times more likely to experience violence during the marriage” (Kerman & Betrus, 2018). Traditionally, husbands pay a price for a young bride, and after the marriage ceremony, she must leave her family to join her husband’s family. Thus, “living in a hierarchical and patriarchal family pattern makes women [much] more vulnerable to violence” (Kerman & Betrus, 2018).
As in many societies, female behavior deemed ‘improper,’ like ‘immodest’ dress, is thought to warrant violence. Furthermore, if women and men both witnessed their fathers abusing their mothers, their chances of them being abused or abusing others increase by 1.59 and 1.71 times, respectively (Kerman & Betrus, 2018).
The only ways to change these issues dramatically is to improve educational and social policies (Krug & et al., 2002) and to have societies to look down upon and disgrace the men who are abusive. According to Kerman and Betrus, “societal acceptance of VAW [violence against women] must change primarily among men.” Another way is to actually implement all of these laws that were put into place to protect women, rather than have them there simply as a suggestion.
FOR ENGLISH, www.kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/for-english.
Elsewhere…, News from. “’Black and White’ Campaign Highlights Femicide in Turkey.” BBC News, BBC, 30 July 2020, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-53596483.
Kerman, Kader Tekkas, and Patricia Betrus. “Violence Against Women in Turkey: A Social Ecological Framework of Determinants and Prevention Strategies.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, vol. 21, no. 3, 2018, pp. 510–526., doi:10.1177/1524838018781104.
Krug, E.G., et al. “The World Report on Violence and Health.” The Lancet, vol. 360, no. 9339, 2002, pp. 1083–1088., doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11133-0.
McKernan, Bethan. “Challenge Accepted: Turkish Feminists Spell out Real Meaning of Hashtag.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 31 July 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/31/challenge-accepted-turkish-feminists-spell-out-real-meaning-of-hashtag.
McKernan, Bethan. “Murder in Turkey Sparks Outrage over Rising Violence against Women.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 July 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/23/turkey-outrage-rising-violence-against-women.
Schollenberger, Katrina. “What Is Happening to Women in Turkey?” The Sun, The Sun, 29 July 2020, www.thesun.co.uk/news/12258366/domestic-violence-women-in-turkey-instagram-challenge/.