Being a woman in Turkey: “No justice, no equality, no safety!”

March 8 is International Women’s Day, which marks the economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and draws attention to the challenges of harassment, inequality, and discrimination that women face across the world.

According to data from the Turkish women’s platform We Will Stop Femicide, 474 women died as a result of male violence in Turkey in 2019. The platform’s February 2020 report found that 22 women died in Turkey as a result of male violence, and 12 women were found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Writing in Ahval Türkçe, Leyla Akın spoke to several Turkish women involved in the fight for women’s rights to hear their perspective on being a woman in Turkey.

“Being a woman in Turkey is really very difficult, but this difficulty increased in recent years due to various pressures,” said Canan Güllü, the head of Federation of Women Associations of Turkey. 

“Many women were killed in this country, and the main reason for this is that the existing laws were not implemented.”

As well as the rising numbers of killings and abuse, Güllü criticised a proposed law that would allow men accused of having sex with girls who are under 18 to avoid punishment if they marry their victims, problems with alimony payments of divorced women, and a pervasive and oppressive traditional, masculine mindset. She said that Turkish women have had to fight for their rights since Ottoman times. “I want to say this; the struggle always wins!''

“Being a woman in today's world is really difficult because there is an extremely male-dominated mentality in our geography,” said the lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin. 

She said that this is a period where violence is legitimised by the state and in popular culture such as TV series and football. 

“Naturally, violence against women is increasing. That is why we say 'violence against women is political violence'!” she said. 

But she also spoke about some of the gains women have made, such as Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The actress Nazan Kesal said that women in Turkey face difficulties at home, in the street, and in the workplace, and that women need to fight for their rights rather than expecting men to change.

"Women are the oldest oppressed group in the world since antiquity. But women have been resisting the masculine mentality for centuries," said Leyla Güven, a pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) member of parliament for the eastern province of Hakkari. 

She said that, while women face problems all over the world, women in Turkey face a ruling class and society that has a very traditional mindset towards gender and that violence often operates under the mask of religion.

“As Kurdish women, we consider ourselves luckier than women all over the world because we have a democratic, ecological, and liberal ideology,” she said.

Actress Lale Mansur criticised the Turkish justice system: "Here we are living in a women's slaughterhouse,” she said. “How can we hope in a place where there is no justice, where there is no action? Therefore, I am extremely hopeless. We are in a terrible situation.”


© Ahval English