Constructing Gender Equality through Fighting with Violence

Constructing Gender Equality through Fighting with Violence


Domestic violence is a tangible manifestation of male domination on women and uncontrolled power use, considered by many of people in society as natural, cultural or unchanging. This means that men’s superiority with his gender identity is a part of Turkish culture, which has not shown any difference despite modernity. Herein, violence becomes a serious and critical social problem in the country. There are different types, causes, reasons and forms of violence women are suffering from. Violence is a crime against human rights by all itself. When the violence against women and femicide are scrutinised in contact with human rights, women’s struggles can take place in many different levels and platforms. This study tries to tackle violence against women from existing problems, reasons and dynamics. Studies on domestic violence in the past ten years show that gender inequality in relation with power and dominance which particularly restrict, deny and ignore women’s life choices, beliefs and values has been increased. The aim of this paper is to scrutinise the reasons of femicide and its forms of violence to find out whether changing rules have resolved the current problem. In present Turkey, it is difficult to indicate that violence against women occurs throughout the nation, regions and even public places. All in all, increasing number of murder of women is directly related to women’s modernity, their changing status as well as the role undertaken in the society.

The Extent of Violence against Women

The murder of Özgecan Aslan in Mersin, Turkey that was allegedly committed by the mini-bus driver on February 12, 2015 has become a turning point for femicide in Turkey. After the kidnapped and murder of Aslan, –femicide– that has been on rise for the last 10 years, has started to receive more media and news attention. There were also multiple other women who were killed in their homes and on the streets in Istanbul and in Antalya just a few days after. Just as many other women will be raped or killed in Bursa, Izmir, Gaziantep, Van or Trabzon tomorrow or the day after. Therefore, the high-pressure approaches to stop this violence and murder against women has taken the attention of many men and women that induced them to boycott the murder on the streets either by wearing skirts or by forcing government to make disincentive regulations against murders of women.

Nonetheless, women who are stabbed, burned, assaulted and even hanged have been against hidden from the society for the last few years. Sexual assault, rape, harassment and violence are enduring problems in Turkey, and Turkish women have been silently suffering in today’s society. Violence against women has been in front of us for many years and nothing has changed.  But nothing can change until men and women come together and start to realise how deep this problem runs. According to statistics that were collected by women’s organisations, women who were killed by their family, husbands, ex-husbands and partners coupled with kidnapping increasing in the last few years. Statistics show that demanding separation, not doing homework or care work, doing make-up or any other unessential reasons is one of the highest reasons for femicide in Turkey. This article starts from this point and claims that current events we came across have become inadequate to explain the reason for violence against women and thus the need for a new concept. Hereby, in this article, femicide is examined in the sense of discrepancy within the conflict of patriarchy and modernity. Since the traditional status of men has started to increase in the last decade, the gain in the status of women in the society in terms of both equality and freedom has collapsed. By analysing the recent murders in Turkey, it will provide new insights of why femicide becomes a widespread social problem.

Violence against Women

Violence against women is subjected, mostly by men, engenders their freedom to participate in social, economic and political life of communities and also marginalises them from every process throughout their life in Turkey. This violence not only terrorises the life of women but also damages their social status either in their family or in society. While this violence only treats women, the fear of this experience affects all aspects of their life in all activities.

Violence against women is not unusual in Turkey, as it has been predominantly the most pervasive form of harassment in all divisions of age, class, geographical region and education. However, coercive sexual abuse is perhaps the most common violence against women. Cultural norms and the beliefs have increased over time to justify and sustain the men’s sexual abuse as well as other forms of violence to women. But the problem in Turkey is that violence against women is still unknown or hidden by statistics. The real data about violence against women can be obtained particularly from “The Platform of We Will Stop Femicide” which is an organisation that works for women’s rights in Turkey and some women organisations.[1] The national statistics mostly focus on general issues, such as a women’s status, political or social and micro-economic trends. Even most of the statistics are not segregated by gender, and violence against women is concealed as a result of under-recording and/or under-reporting by women involved in this case. According to UN (1995a), the main reason of under-reporting is that violence is especially occurred in the home and they want to remain silent as a result of fear of the attacker, the lack of supportive issues by government or family members and threat of the social norms.

There is usually a lack of consensus within the society that all forms of violence against women are wrong (Lackey and Williams, 1995). Although the community is not disaggregated homogenously, the gender identity limits the strength of winning the debates on equality because of an intrinsic predisposition towards viewing women differently than men. The most reasonable argument behind this is women’s modernity, which is perceived as a humiliating attitude in regards to a men’s honour. From the perspective of economic and social change of the country, there is often a real risk for women to be at the targets of men. The unequal power relations between men and women ensure men’s dominance over women, especially in the times of economic instability and crisis. The statistics show that economic hardship, the conflict in social relations and cultural alterations make the situation worse for women. The fluidity and depressions may bolster men’s dominance in the family/society and let them use that power over women in many ways. Statistically speaking, the majority of women in Turkey are most likely to experience a form of violence from their parents, husbands, partners, and sons, rather than a complete stranger. Even though they are aware of the challenges against violence, they are targeted because of their identity as well as aiming to subordinate on women and consolidate their power over them.

Femicide with numbers in Turkey

Much of the researches, commentary, interferences, policies and reforms to date have emerged in relation to specific forms of violence rather than ensuring the connections of today’s social structure. While the basic definitions are fragile, the regional and national conflicts are wide scale, institutions as well as the community are not engaged enough to stop the forms of violence; therefore it is unlikely possible to sort out the problem. In Turkish society, there is a considerable variation that cultural norms legitimise physical and sexual violence. Abuse, rape and murder of women have finally emerged on the agenda particularly during the last two years. On the other hand, defining violence within marriage is the most difficult manifestation of all forms of violence against women in Turkey. Cultural norms have developed several different arguments, where jealousy and violence may be considered as a commitment of her husband to that marriage in some cases. However, marriage in general seems to provide a husband with the authority to hit and abuse his wife, and with strong cultural norms that constrain a woman to challenge it.  In a country where women have been denigrated both verbally and physically, beaten and murdered in many cases by their marital partners (Kandiyoti, 1995) there are normative constraints surrounding how to assess violence against married women. According to Adu-Kofi (1997), 45 per cent of men in Turkey believe that disobedient women deserve a beating and psychological pressure. However, domestic violence is not characterised as an act of violence, instead it is categorised in the context of family. In this case, this assault is seen as an activity, which involves two people who share the home and considered as ‘private’ and legal actions can be performed only if women shows her disapproval of her husband’s behaviour and attitudes. Furthermore, cultural sensitivity generally legitimatise the concerns and when women are brave enough to report this violence to the police, sometimes police refuses to under-report the complains and instead advise them to go home and do not feel ‘shamed’ of being punished with the violence. In many cases, women see the family as an important part of their identity and crucial for their life, paradoxically they accept the violence and do not see it as a barrier to their freedom.

The Directorate General on the Status and the Problems of Women research shows that 18 per cent of married women are physically exposed to sexual harassment and the major reason of this violence is the moral standards (Directorate General on the Status of Women, 1990). When women go beyond ordinary moral norms, women’s husbands assault them (CEDAW, 1996). Yet femicide has more than doubled in the past ten years; almost every day, news is pertained with murder of at least one woman.  Even some of them are hidden and are not reported. From January 2015 till now, in three months’ time, 64 women are murdered and it does not slow down (Anıt Sayaç, 2015).


Table 1: Statistics on domestic violence and femicide between 2008 and 2015.
Source: Directorate General on the Status of Women; Directorate General of Security; Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Forces, Association for Support of Women Candidates

According to data obtained from the Ministry of Justice, the murder rate of women has increased by 1.400 per cent in between 2002-2009. Whilst 66 women were murdered in 2002, this number rose dramatically to 1,126 in 2009.  Evidently, violence against women’s body, gender and rights has reached an unprecedented level over recent years. In addition to that, Turkey has showed a critical drop on the Global Gender inequality Index[2] since 2009. While Turkey ranked 106 in 2009, it fell down 19 places compared to other years and it is at 125th place proving that despite the legislation of gender equality in every aspect of life and the strengthening of the legal framework to protect women from violence, women are still struggling with inequality.


Table 2: Reasons for Murder of Women in Turkey between 2009 and 2014
Source: Stop Women Homicide, Platform of We Will Stop Femicide, Mor Çatı.

Mostly reasons for femicide in Turkey stem from the husband or partner’s jealousy, and not willing to divorce, women’s decision about their life and unknown reasons. These murders are reflective of feeling the ownership of the men over women and gender-biased understanding of equality between men and women. Thereby, men cannot stand the idea of being deceived, left or humiliated as well as losing control over women depending upon the patriarchal values, which is the ultimate weapon available to men. Therefore, the discrimination and unequal power that woman feel or face as well as the threat of violence in every walk of life will increase male domination in women.

Forms of Violence against Women in Turkey

Violence against women in Turkey includes physical violence against wife or partner which is often accepted as wife-beating, sexual abuse or rape; sexual violence against girls and women that are unknown; violence against children as child marriage; honour killings because of moral laws and customs and violence as torture. Cultural norms and beliefs adapt to coordinate with new values of the society and perceptions towards women change over time. Although violence against women are not defined as a crime in some cultural beliefs, depending on the violence inflicted on women, it is difficult for victims to live with this shame which causes psychological, behavioural, social and even mental problems that persists for years.

During social and economic upheaval, the gender roles are redesigned again depending on the new circumstances. Especially when the economic conditions worsen, poverty and unemployment become a serious problem; the security of the family is under threat and men realise their identity within the family breaking down as a breadwinner, violence and domination over women starts.  Also, unhappiness and uneasiness within the family and societal relations, which are the source of chaos and socio-economic depressions, adversely affects the individual’s mood and social relationships. Consequently, the communication problems within family relations can cause domestic violence. This violence can be physical, sexual, psychological, oral or economic. Violence against women reflects the sex discrimination against women just because of their gender or all kinds of attitudes and behaviours defined as violence against women for their rights in Turkish Law. Violence is a social problem as much as it is an issue of human rights. It should not be only considered as family matter and explained using a family-centric perspective. How the violence is presented and accepted in the society is another important point. The violence is not seen as a problem if it is adopted as a lifestyle and accepted as a means of problem solving. In this context, violence has a connection with the social and cultural life of a society. There are many types of violence against women and below are some:

The first one is “physical violence.” From minor injuries to murder a wide range of actions can be classified in this category (Heise et al., 1999). Fist-slap, punching, kicking, shoving, preventing women to benefit from the health services to cause injury in body and sharp object injuries can all be given as examples of physical violence.

Another type of violence is “psychological violence.” Frightening, threatening, preventing women from communicating with relatives or friends, swearing, damaging household furniture, belittling and teasing are just some of examples (Logar, 2006). Psychological violence is the most common type and affects the integrity of women’s psychology. Since it is normalised, it is not accepted as crime or a violation of people’s rights. This type of violence will lead to depression and the loss of personal identity (Desjarlais et al., 1995).

It is not surprising to have “sexual violence” in a male-dominated society where sexuality is defined within the framework of the limits of gender stereotypes and women commonly have no voice or control over their own bodies, but rather their sexual identity is kept under control of their family or their husband (Walker and McNicol, 1994). To give an example, being forced to have sexual intercourse, sexually explicit conversation, forced birth or abortion, forced prostitution and injury to sexual organs are all included within the category of sexual violence. Controlling the sexuality of women is a powerful tool to enforce male domination over women.

Roles and responsibilities that are attributed to women and men by society, for example, giving the responsibility of breadwinning to men result in an “economic violence” against women (Moser, 1993). In order to control the income of women and avoid women’s economic independence, women are commonly not allowed to get access to resources and working life, are forced to work in an undesirable work or are prevented from joining in activities which would develop their professional skills and are sometimes prevented from owning property.

One of causes of violence against women is the arguably the existence of a traditional patriarchal social value system in society. Therefore, “patriarchal structure” can be accepted as a form of violence (Sev’er, 2013). The general attitude of people towards the violence and women’s sexual identity reflects not only the perspectives of individuals and groups, but also the community. The mentality of he loves me so he can beat me is belief system which legitimises violence against women. Unfortunately, over centuries, beating the wife or daughter is seen as a right of men, even ‘duty’ in some cases and supported with a proverb of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’

The scale of violence that women experience is directly linked to their unequal status in the society. Many women are exposed to psychological, physical and biological violence from the opposite sex. Of course, there are many reasons behind this shame. First of all, women have only held 9 per cent of the seats in parliament and just 27 per cent of 2,948 in Turkey are female. From 110 ambassadors representing Turkey abroad, only 11 per cent are women (Directorate General on the Status of Women, 2014). Although female academics are very well represented with 39 per cent, men predominantly hold the higher-level positions at universities. Only 5 per cent of all rectors and 15 per cent of all deans are women. In other respects, the new illiteracy figures released by the government show that there are great disparities between men and women: 2.2 million of the 2.7 million people who are illiterate are women in Turkey. Of girls who go to school, the schooling rate is 87 per cent, which is still lower than expected. Therefore, ending violence against women starts with women’s strategic and practical gender interests –that tackle social, economic and political change (Moore, 1994).

Practical interests are the ones shared by all women in the society and their roles in the gender division of labour. On the contrary, the strategic gender interests are those that give opportunities to women to challenge inequality as well as modify the gender relations in that society (March et al., 1999). At the outset, advising women to change their behaviour in order to avoid violence, because the most appropriate way to do this is to support women empowerment and to overcome the economic, social, cultural and political barriers to equality with men. Since the issue of strategic and practical interests is correlated to each other, equal power with equal human rights is needed to create equality in all levels of society.

Women’s Rights as Human Rights

Violence against women is another form of discrimination. So what government must do is to ensure anti-discrimination policies and address the gender-based inequalities between sexes in all areas. Human rights are very difficult to enforce and it is still a significant determinant of access to gender identity.  In Turkey, human rights is in a very controversial topic that political, social, cultural and legal forms and norms conflict which are the consequences of a failure of laws to deal with women’s concerns, lack of legal support, lack of education and financial access. Therefore, the full participation of women in the economic, social and politic life will increase their role on every areas of life. The existing violence against women not only minimise the women’s desire and energy to resist what they face, but also undermine their confidence to themselves and decrease their willingness to participate in both economy and society as an individual (Heise et al., 1994). As stated by World Bank (1993), women who are exposed to violence and suffer from the outcome of physical and psychological violence of any form cannot give consistent and rational decisions.  To break the widespread silence of women in the society and remove the hazards, awareness-rising policies, rules, laws and projects must be held out by government, institutions, organisations, associations and people themselves.

1. Strengthening Legal Interventions to Violence against Women

Unless criminal laws in Turkey protect women from violence and punish the perpetrator on paper, it is unlikely to provide effective and preventive solutions for the reduction of violence against women.  Such as, passing laws and policies to tackle with violence against women cannot be the solution to avoid that violence’s if government does not combat with women’s associations, organisations and NGOs. The Turkish government started to introduce legal reforms that deserve changes in laws.  In protection of women from domestic violence, Turkey was one of the vanguard countries with the adoption of Law 4320 (Directorate General on the Status of Women, 2014).

In 1999, there had not been any law on protection of women against violence. However, there was no law regarding the protection of women against violence. It was not until the middle of 2002 that family courts were established to enforce the laws. The Turkish Civil Code was reformed in 2001 and the reform of the Turkish Penal Code was reformed between 2004 and 2005 (Ministry of Justice, 2004). With the re-designed civil code, women’s equality in the family becomes the current issue to be obtained. The marriage age is taken up to 17 and the new Code entitles women to equal share of the assets accumulated throughout the marriage. To do those effectively, government action about the laws and how they practice them are critical. However, the new Turkish Penal Code, Law 5237, stated that the main aim of the law as to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals bring progressive definitions of sexual crimes and criminalises marital rape. It also eliminated all references to patriarchal concepts like chastity, honour, morality, shame or indecent behaviour and criminalised sexual harassment at the workplace (Ministry of Justice, 2004). Many of those reforms constitute gains for women’s rights. Not only that, but in the beginning of 2007, with the help of protection order system that a person whom is subject to abuse, rape or violence by family member(s) can apply to the family court either by herself or through a prosecutor. But those reforms and major changes in Civil and Panel Codes are just on paper. Violence against women has in actually continued to increase from day to day and femicide has risen dramatically over years. To prevent this femicide and strengthening the women’s rights against violence, the efforts of NGOs including Women for Women’s Human Rights, Kadın Adayları Destekleme Derneği (Association for Support of Women Candidates) (KA.DER), Mor Çatı (Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation), Kadın Merkezi Vakfı (Women Centre Foundation) (KAMER), the Women’s Coordination Group and many other civil society organisations do not have enough power to change the situation. Every four in ten women in Turkey are subject to violence regardless of her age, education, economic freedom or class.

2. The Effect of Media on Violence against Women

The media identifies the gender and sex-role stereotypes very harmful to women, which induces the attitudes and ideas of men over women negatively. Yet already traditional and cultural values have great impact on male dominance and the image of society (men, indeed) over women, media including newspaper, magazines, books, TVs, radios, film and advertisement adversely encourage violence if they use their power in gender stereotype and unbalanced portrayals of women.  Therefore, editors, writers and publishers should be a part of ‘how to report gender violence and change the public attitude towards the problem.

3. Educational Campaign

Increasing the awareness of people to the gender stereotypes and adaptation of changed policies and rules could be a turning point to mitigate violence against women. Culture is highly changeable depending on the political circumstances, but however it becomes very difficult to persuade people by saying ‘you love her, but that does not mean you can beat her or have dominance on her’ since they are tied blindly to those cultural beliefs and norms. One way to address this is to organise training, seminars, courses and meetings for both men and women to identify the gender equality, human rights and gender power relations. Directorate General on the Status of Women can do these organisations in connection with Women’s Associations and Institutions by providing adequate resources from the government budget to eliminate the violence against women.

Equal Rights, Equal Life

When the reasons of murders are examined, it seems that a lack of social sensitivity with regards to femicide as well as a lack of deterrence or precautions that are enforced by the government. This has played a major role in the rise of femicide in the last decade. Of violations against women’s human rights, psychical violence ranks first in affecting them culturally, politically, legally, economic, socially, sexually and emotionally. Empirical and social research has shown that women are frequently subject to violence from their family or close social environment. Although improvements have been referred to in comparison to the past, today it is still impossible to assert the existence of gender equality. Dependency of women on men and conventional wisdom of staying behind men will not ensure a solution to the violence against women, even if the equality is provided legally. Therefore, implementing the legislations in an effective and equal way and increasing public awareness must be synchronised together to find a just solution. The laws should be regulated on the basis of social justice with acceptance of violence as a prime threat to human rights as well cause of humiliation for women. Of course, it is important to regulate the laws but how can a legal change be effective in enabling social change? Regrettably, the gender roles are innate. First of all, women are classified as honourable and dishonest in the society; after becoming a mother, they are sacred due to their child/children. The perception of having different identities must be clearly understood and prejudices must be eliminated in order to enhance gender equality. Hence, the socio-economic status of women should be readdressed and equal opportunities in education should be adopted as a social policy to avoid discrimination and violence against women. Otherwise, the status of underprivileged women will always leave them unprotected against all types of violence, abuse, sexual harassment and rape.

Associate Professor Meltem İnce Yenilmez, Visiting Scholar, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Please cite this publication as follows:

Yenilmez, M. (May, 2015), “Constructing Gender Equality through Fighting with Violence”, Vol. IV, Issue 5, pp.64-79, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (


Adu-Kofi, L. (1997). Domestic Violence in Turkey: Making a Case for Political Asylum for Turkish Women. Turkish Psychology Journal, 12 (39):39-56.

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CEDAW (1996).  Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Second and Third Periodic Reports of State Parties: Turkey:31.

Desjarlais, R.; Eisenberg, L. Good, B. and Kleinman, A. (1995). World Mental Health: Problems and Priorities in Low-Income Countries, New York: Oxford University Press.

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Directorate General on the Status of Women, 2015. Law 4320 on the Protection of the Family (Law 4320), [Accessed 22 February 2015], Available at:

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Heise, L.; Ellsberg, M. and Gottemoeller, M. (1999). Ending Violence Against Women, Population Reports Series L, No:11, Baltimore: John Hopkins University School of Public Health, December.

Kandiyoti, D, (1995). Patterns of patriarchy: Notes for an Analysis of Male Dominance in Turkish Society. In S. Tekeli (ed.) Women in Modern Turkish Society, London: Zed Books Ltd.

Lackey, B. and Williams, K. (1995). Social Bonding and the Cessation of Partner Violence across Generations, Journal of marriage and the Family, 57:295-305.

Logar, R. (2006). Boşlukların Giderilmesi – İyi Niyetten İşbirliğine: Aile Içi Şiddetle Mücadelede Etkili Çok Kurumlu İşbirliği El Kitabı.  Viyana: Avrupa Komisyonu Daphne Programı.

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[1]Some of these publications are as follows: Dayağa Karşı Dayanışma Kampanyası (Campaign Against Battering) 1988; Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2003; Şahmaran, 2003; KAMER, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2007c; Women’s Solidarity Foundation, 2005; Amargi, 2005;  EPİDEM, 2006;  DİKASUM, 2007; Kırk Örük, 2007.

[2]The index is based on a range of factors that influence the status of women in a society like maternal mortality rates, adolescent fertility rates, and percentage of seats in parliament, population with at least secondary education, labour force participation rate and births attended by skilled health personnel.



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One thought on “Constructing Gender Equality through Fighting with Violence

  1. Zeynep

    Thanks for this article. I, however, have one remark to correct a reference on the current legislation. The author states that the “The Turkish government started to introduce legal reforms that deserve changes in laws. In protection of women from domestic violence, Turkey was one of the vanguard countries with the adoption of Law 4320 (Directorate General on the Status of Women, 2014).” The Law 4320 was indeed the first legislation (adopted in 1998) relevant to the problem but its scope was limited to the protection of women within the family-i.e. the women who were in a valid marriage. It is no longer in force now as it was abolished with the introduction of Law no. 6284 which was adopted in 2012. The current legislation fortunately widened the scope of protection and it no longer requires the existence of marriage between partners. It can well be among non-married couples. Against this background, it might be better to indicate the current, applicable legislation in Turkey- i.e. Law no. 6284 (available at


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