Turkish women decry state inaction in the face of femicide

Women’s rights activists protesting against gender violence during a march near Taksim Square in Istanbul on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 16 December 2019

Turkish women decry state inaction in the face of femicide

  • A women's advocacy group says more than 2,600 women have been killed in Turkey in the past decade
  • The Council of Europe has called for removal of traditions that lead to gender inequality and violence against women

LONDON: Late on Tuesday last week, 20-year-old art student Ceren Ozdemir left her ballet class in the Black Sea province of Ordu to start her walk home.

She was followed. The man keeping up with her went undetected. When Ozdemir reached her front door, he stabbed her several times. Left to die in the street, she later succumbed to her injuries in hospital.

The next day, her killer — who has a dozen previous convictions, including robbery and assault — was arrested at a bus stop. He is now facing state prosecution.

Women’s rights organization We Will Stop Femicide said that Ozdemir’s death was the 430th registered murder of a woman in Turkey this year.

The group — widely considered to be a trusted source on violence against women in the country — claims that 440 women were killed last year, with 2019 set to beat that unwelcome record.

In this decade, the group says that more than 2,600 women have been killed, most of them at the hands of their partners.

Turkish women and rights activists are furious. Their anger is directed not only at male murderers and their accomplices, but also at the authorities, which they accuse of inaction and of fostering a culture that ignores the plight of women.

On Nov. 25, a week before Ozdemir’s murder, 2,000 women gathered in Istanbul on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

They were forced away by the police, who used plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

On Dec. 8, hundreds assembled again in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district to protest violence against women.

They gathered to join a coordinated international movement performing a dance and song called “A rapist in your path.”

The event, first created by Chilean group Las Tesis, set social media ablaze after its debut performance in Santiago, Chile, went viral.

The Istanbul police once again used tear gas to disrupt the rally and deny women the opportunity to deliver their performance.

The EFE news agency reported that after demonstrators started to perform the Spanish- language song in Turkish, police snatched their megaphones.




Fidan Ataselim, below, the leader of We Will Stop Femicide: “The law should be applied properly in order to keep women alive.” (Supplied)

Among those arrested was the leader of We Will Stop Femicide, Fidan Ataselim. One protester told EFE: “We came to scream against patriarchal violence and they have attacked us.”

The group, which has branches across the country and around the world, released a statement demanding that a “minister of women” be established.

“The president, the prime minister and the leaders of all political parties should condemn violence against women,” the statement added.

Clearly, Turkish women are disappointed with the political response to the spate of killings.

In August, after a woman’s murder was captured on video — sparking nationwide outrage — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would support any parliamentary act that would restore the death penalty.

But We Will Stop Femicide said: “Practices such as ‘capital punishment’ ... are human rights violations and (this group) rejects them as possible solutions.”

The filmed murder of Emine Bulut, 38, whose throat was slit by her ex-husband in front of her daughter, led more than just Erdogan to wake up to the problem. 

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu promptly blamed “male violence” for her death. Major football club Besiktas held a minute’s silence in memory of Bulut.

And despite Erdogan’s death-penalty propositions not being received positively by campaigners, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said in September that his ministry would do anything to halt the violence.

“If it will save just one person, if it prevents one child, one woman from dying or facing violence, we will change not just a law but even the constitution,” he said.

Ankara drove forward the ratification of a 2011 Council of Europe accord, the Istanbul Convention, which prioritizes gender equality. Turkey also passed laws in 2012 designed to protect women from violence.

“Men cannot accept that Turkey is a modern country where women have rights. Some of these men don’t even think we have the right to live.”

Fidan Ataselim, general secretary of We Will Stop Femicide

But in a 2018 report, the Council of Europe said that the cause of violence against women in Turkey was gender inequality, and called on the country to remove traditions that lead to their practice.

Many Turkish Islamist commentators and public figures who support socially conservative laws have opposed the Istanbul Convention, arguing that equality is a corrosive influence in society.

In an interview with Reuters, Islamist writer Abdurrahman Dilipak said that restraining orders and laws for the protection of women fuel divorces and violence.

“Wandering among us is a devil with an angel’s face which is organizing conflict, not peace, within the family,” he added.

“The family is collapsing. With an international agreement (the Istanbul Convention), a trap is being set up against women, men, children and the family.”

But campaigners believe that the devils are not the laws designed to protect them, but the men killing their mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins and friends.

Fidan Ataselim, We Will Stop Femicide’s general secretary, said: “Men cannot accept that Turkey is a modern country where women have rights. Some of these men don’t even think we have the right to live.”

But hope is not lost. Ataselim believes that with the right legal campaigns, Turkish society can successfully fight back against the scourge of domestic violence and sexist killings.

“It’s possible to stop femicide. The Istanbul Convention has to be applied effectively to strengthen and protect women. When it was signed in 2011, we saw a decrease in femicide figures,” she said.

“We have to take this path. The law should be applied properly in order to keep women alive.”


Catholic bishops call on West to recognize Palestine

Updated 18 January 2020

Catholic bishops call on West to recognize Palestine

  • The plea by 34 bishops of the Holy Land Coordination, followed their five-day visit to the region this week

AMMAN: A group of Catholic bishops from throughout Europe, North America and South Africa have called on their governments to insist on the application of international law in Israel and Palestine.

The plea by 34 bishops of the Holy Land Coordination, followed their five-day visit to the region this week. Based in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, the religious leaders toured key locations in Jerusalem and expressed support for the local church in promoting dialogue and peace.

They added that they had also been inspired by the enduring resilience of the people they met in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Ramallah despite the worsening situation.

Jamal Khader, pastor of the host Latin Church in Ramallah, told Arab News that the choice of Ramallah for their residency was excellent because they had the chance to meet the local community.

“The bishops were extremely moved by their visit to the Comboni Missionary Sisters outside of Jerusalem. The convent was divided in half as the Israeli-built wall divided their community and made it impossible for many to reach the school and nursery that is part of their mission.”

The bishops also met with PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amer in addition to the visit to Jerusalem with the leader of the Catholic church.

Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, secretary of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Arab News that the visit and the final communique had been well received. “We welcome the visit of the Catholic bishops and we applaud their statement that calls on their governments to follow the position of the Holy See and recognize Palestine.”

However, Shomali feared many governments would not listen. “While the visit is very positive and we hope that the church’s voice will be heard, we are not sure that this will happen because many of the Western governments are not listening to the voice of peace and justice.”

Kamal Shamshoom, a member of the Ramallah Latin, said the bishops, many of whom had visited the area before, had “a good idea of the situation” and made a strong communique. “While we welcome such visits, it is important to note that we don’t want just sympathy, we need action that is effective.”

Shamshoom, who is also an elected member of the Ramallah city council, added that the church leaders must use their moral authority with their political leaders. “They are bishops and it means something if they decide to do something concrete. What I would like is for them to talk to their leaders like bishops and make a strong intervention for peace and justice.”

The final communique of the bishops spoke about the importance “of the application of international law” and the need to “follow the Holy See’s lead in recognizing the state of Palestine; addressing the security concerns of Israel and the right of all to live in safety; rejecting political or economic support for settlements and resolutely opposing acts of violence or abuses of human rights by any side.”

The local bishops also warned that people were facing further “evaporation of hope for a durable solution. We have witnessed this reality first

hand, particularly how the construction of settlements and the separation wall is destroying any prospect of two states existing in peace.”

In the same message, the local bishops sounded the alarm about living conditions becoming “more and more unbearable. This is painfully clear in the West Bank where our sisters and brothers are denied even basic rights including freedom of movement.”

In Gaza, the bishops noted that the “political decisions of all sides have resulted in the creation of an open-air prison, human rights abuses, and a profound humanitarian crisis.”

They said they were welcomed by families “whose focus is now day-to-day survival and whose aspirations have been reduced to bare essentials such as electricity and clean water.”

The bishops added that they “encourage Christians in our own countries to pray for and support this mission. The increase in people making pilgrimages to the Holy Land is encouraging and we call for those who come to ensure they encounter the local communities.”

In their conclusion, the bishops said that they would continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.