Violence against Women in Turkey: Reflections of the Increasing Conservative Political Climate
Violence against Women in Turkey:
Reflections of the Increasing Conservative Political Climate
This article focuses on the social and political conditions behind violence against women in Turkey. It shows that despite social developments towards modernisation and women’s struggle for freedom, the conflict that the discriminatory discourse and policies of conservative politics created -which aims to pull women back to their traditional domestic sphere- breeds violence against women.
Gender Inequality and Political Conservatism
Because of its contentious relation with modernisation, Turkey suffers from difficulties in its transformation process. Within ten years, the conflict that ‘counter-modernization project’ imposed by the conservative government has become quite tangible in social and political realms. The prevalence of violence against women, especially the rise of female homicides, or femicides, as one of the consequences of this conflict, and also the rising societal sensibility for women’s struggle make it necessary to analyse violence against women as a social and political issue.
At the very heart of violence against women, there is gender inequality that stems from patriarchy, but lives on global capitalism, militarism, neo-conservatism and several dynamics of oppressive state mechanism. Gender roles that treat men and women unequally are based on discrimination against women in health, education, employment, participation in politics and decision-making and property ownership. The biggest problem in sexual healthcare is related to limitations on family planning and restrictions on abortion. Although there is no significant change in the legal framework concerning abortion, most public hospitals do not perform it in the last two years. Lack of privacy of the healthcare database has prevented single women from resorting to hospitals for pregnancy tests, birth control and abortion. Despite the recent progress in terms of gender equality in education, child brides and difficulties in accessing to school, particularly in rural areas, are important indications of inequality.
In higher education, 45 per cent of students are women, while 55 per cent are men. Another problem is the contradiction related to the debates on separation of female and male pupils to abandon mixed classrooms, following the increase in religious teachings at the elementary and high schools and the introduction of prayer rooms at public schools.
Inequality in employment is overwhelming too. In cities, approximately 20 per cent of women are employed. One out of five women is not allowed to work by her family or husband who believes that she would lose her honour. Another obstacle preventing women from taking part in professional life is high costs of private sector controlled childcare services.
There is a huge gap between men and women in terms of participation in politics. The percentage of women representatives in parliament is just 14 per cent, the number of women mayors is 3 per cent, and female rectors consist of 7.5 per cent. Finally, women own only 8 per cent of total property. These statistics clearly demonstrates that relations between men and women point to a power inequality in numerous aspects of the social domain and patriarchy is constantly re-constructed as women’s social position is impaired.
Besides this unequal status attributed to women, their labour in and outside home as well as their social and political activities outside the family life are rendered worthless. Women’s say on their own body and reproductive rights are under attack. As a result, the impact of the sexist discourse on women’s social life is also increasing. As the government officials declare that women are not equal to men and they have to give birth to more children, others state that it is improper for women to walk around the streets while they are pregnant and they should not laugh out loud too. While the perception that the rising rape and harassment cases are due to women’s public activities such as walking outside, dressing up daringly and working is intentionally dispersed, it is obvious that the principal goal is to repress and imprison women in domestic life and inhibit their struggle for emancipation.
Violence against Women: By the Numbers
Along violence against women is a public issue, in recent years, every kind of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is very common. According to the yearly survey ‘Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey’ (KSGM, 2014), the percentage of women who were violated sexually or physically by their spouses or partners is 38. 11 per cent of women were subject to violence in the last 12 months. 75 per cent of divorced women suffered violence during their marriage. Approximately a quarter of women who experienced violence were injured. Compared to the previous survey, these rates decreased by 2-3 per cent. This minor decrease could be explained by legal regulations concerning violation against women, increase in the amount of women’s shelters and the growing impact of women’s organizations thanks to the European Union (EU) endorsed projects.
The number of increasing female homicides over the last years that have ostensibly covered by the media demonstrates that violence took a turn for the worse. According to the data published by the Ministry of Justice, female homicides increased by up to 1400 per cent between 2002 and 2009. While female homicides were around 100 in 2002 and 2003, this number reached to 1000 in 2009. The Ministry did not announce these controversial statistics until then; but the data gathered from the press by the independent feminist association ‘We Will Stop Women Homicides’ show that on average, 250 women is being killed every year by their husbands, ex-husbands, partners or fathers. Close to one third of these murders are due to women’s attempt to divorce or break up.
Conflicting Dynamics of Violence against Women
Thousands of years of power struggle between man and woman is ongoing in the form of patriarchy as a way to govern the society, which exists in basic administrative structures as well as in modern states. While patriarchy -the background of modern male dominance- maintains its validity for men, it started to seem anachronistic. With the impetus of global capitalism, changing division of labour between men and women, demand for qualified workforce, expansion of service sector, evolving opportunities for education and widespread access to birth control methods, gender relations have started to be transformed. This transformation enhanced the role of women. The struggle for equality and emancipation further gained a momentum with the feminist movement means empowerment for women, while it means a breakdown of men dominance on women’s life and society.
Male dominance expects women to continue playing their traditional role perfectly. Violence becomes a means to obtain this dominance when this expectation is not completely fulfilled. Violence as an instrument to subjugate women, to make them accept male dominance and to revenge for the broken male ego, is used to punish women to demonstrate ‘male power’. As Can Dündar argued, men in crisis “leave their throne fighting and getting fought back”. It is not easy to say if this is a real withdrawal but the legitimacy of violence is more and more questioned. Men’s power loss functionalises the violence as the mechanism of compensation. Thus, violence as a means to demand dominance, but in reality indicates a loss of dominance exists through reconstructing dominance.
The crisis of men points out a crisis of marriage at the same time. The transition from an understanding of life-long marriage that stands on the duties and the unconditional obedience of woman towards an understanding of modern marriage that is based upon mutual understanding where the power of man is more fragile, transformed the marriage into a zone of conflict. Empowerment of women in domestic negotiations changes the traditional roles of women as wives and the increased societal acceptance of divorce challenge the household dominance of men and create counter-reactions.
The emancipation women from the limitations of static rural society became harder under the risks and ambiguities of the global post-industrial capitalism. Due to the increasing migration from rural to urban areas in the last 15 years, the urban population is now consists 77 per cent of the total population. As a result, the conflict between traditional and modern values has become more visible. While the increasing use of communication technologies reduces the distance between centre and periphery on the one hand; it reveals this conflict more clearly, on the other. This conflict is quite visible in the relationship between man and woman as well as in the political sphere.
My research on men who engaged in violence against their wives shows that the social transformation towards gender equality is still hard to accept. A convict in prison because of seriously injuring his wife explains the situation as:
“Today’s man-woman marriage is not good. The house is used as a hotel room. The man should leave the house in the morning and come back in the evening. The woman should cook and wait for the man. I am against equality. Woman and man cannot be equal. Man should dominate and woman should obey. If woman and man become equal, the woman would be faithless and dishonourable. Man should say “sit down” to the woman. If you give a car to the woman, this is the point where the honour is over. After cell phones, the honour is already gone. There is no honour anymore. The marriage existed back then, now it has ended.”
The Resistance to Changing Laws
Although the international agreements signed by Turkey as well as the EU accession process are important, feminist struggle has played a crucial role in the development of legal regulations concerning violence against women and the development of social work institutions. The Law on Protecting Family and Preventing Violence against Woman that was last amended in 2012 provided important progress to protect woman from domestic violence. The number of women’s shelters has dramatically increased: while in 2008 there were 51 shelters in total, in 2015 the number increased to 122.
On the other hand, at the political and social front, the discourse and policies far from the EU norms and principles resulted in a contradictory stance. Indeed, the conservative rhetoric that prioritises family protection contributes to the existing patriarchy together with the development of legal frames and institutions to provide gender equality and fight against violence, together with the modernising social dynamics, generated an unclear and contradictory social sphere.
As my research illustrated, men who engage in violence are quite resentful about the law that orders punishments like suspension from house, psychological treatment, expropriation of guns, the lack of limitations to divorce and the increase in the number of women shelters. The reaction against the state for ‘not protecting the honour of women’, on the contrary, for tearing the family apart by giving more rights to women, demonstrates the effects of this contradiction concerning violence against women.
“It is caused by the media that depicts women always right. I agree that violence against woman is wrong. However, man slaps the woman for example, the state exaggerates it. It orders suspension from home and provides a security guard to woman. How am I supposed to trust that security guard? Eventually, he is a man. It is not appropriate for woman to walk around with a guard. The violence against woman would not decrease this way; it would increase instead. The law changed after 2005. Did the violence increase or decrease? There should be another way…”
What to do?
As the societal legitimacy of violence against woman is increasingly questioned today, the resentment of men towards the state that is identified with patriarchy actually proves that the violence against woman is a political problem. The role of the legal and institutional framework on transforming the patriarchy-based social ideology is highly important. However, the solution relies on the realisation of gender equality in every sphere of social life through sincerely embracing the issue by both political discourse and actions. Identifying woman as an individual and eliminating the obstacles that limit their individual and social freedom depend mostly on ensuring the basic rights, such as equality in health, education, professional life and political participation. The role of preventing violence against woman through providing gender equality should be better assessed as a part of the democratisation process and social and economic development of Turkey. In this sense, supporting women empowerment and emancipation in a violence-free society should be perceived as a political goal.
The prevalence of violence against women and the increase in the number of female homicides in Turkey is essentially related to the inequality between men and women. There is a conflict generated by the anti-modernisation discourse and policies that promotes fertility and domestic role of women as a counter-reaction to the apparent modernisation that prioritises empowerment of women in all spheres of social life. On the one hand, there are legal and institutional developments to prevent violence against woman; on the other hand, there is a dilemma generated by policies aiming to suppress women within family. It would not be wrong to claim that this contradiction engenders the reaction of men against the emancipation of women and legal regulations.
To end the violence against women, gender equality in all spheres of social life should be ensured. Accepting woman as an individual, while emancipating her from the restraints of the patriarchal social structure ought to be prioritised. For this transformation as one of the main features of the modernisation to be accepted by men, gender equality discourse and policies should be carried out in a consistent and sustainable way. The women’s emancipation should be supported as an important factor of development and democratisation of Turkey.
Dr. Aslıhan B. Öztürk, IIBF Social Work Department, Hacettepe University, Ankara & The Foundation for Women’s Solidarity
Please cite this publication as follows:
Öztürk, A. (July, 2015), “Violence against Women in Turkey: Reflections of the Increasing Conservative Political Climate ”, Vol. IV, Issue 7, pp.32-40, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=9413)
 KSGM (2012). Türkiye’de Kadının Durumu [The Situation of Women in Turkey]. Ankara
 TÜİK- Türkiye İstatistik Kurumu [Turkish Statistical Institute] (2013), Newsletter, No.13439
 The Directorate General of Women’s Status (KSGM) (2014)- Summary Report on the Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey.
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