It is an understatement to say that violence against women is a serious issue today, as I wrote in a previous article titled, Rampant Sexual Harassment of Women…in the West, “women are mistreated across the globe, across cultures, races, and religions at unfortunately high and gross levels.” This was proven with empirical evidence and scholarly analysis from various studies.
In the intro of the article I reminded readers that Islamphobes,
love to trot out the talking point that Muslims (due to Islam of course) are unique in harassing and oppressing women. According to them, anytime a Muslim man harasses or otherwise assaults a woman it is considered a result of Islam or somehow encouraged by “Islamic behavior.”It is within that context that we review another recent manifestation of this “anti-Muslim talking point” creeping into the mainstream. As many of those who watched the recent South Carolina GOP Presidential Primary debate are aware, Fox News’s Brett Baier asked Gov. Rick Perry about Turkey’s “Islamist oriented” government, and what our relationship should be towards them (Turkey is one of our oldest allies). He set up the question this way,
This belief, however, is not limited to anti-Muslim bigots but has also crept into the popular imagination and perception of the mainstream.
“Since the Islamist oriented party took over in Turkey the murder rate of women has increased 1400% there…”My jaw dropped when I heard that, what an astronomical and frankly unbelievable number! The clear implication was that the “increase in violence” was related to the rule of the so-called “Islamist oriented” AKP party. Once again something “Islam” or “Islam” related was being cast as the source and cause of violence.
Imagine the effect this had on those watching the debate? It either reinforced or created the perception that Islam and Muslims are incredibly violent towards women, and that any “Islam” oriented political party will result in a degradation of women’s rights.
Brett Baier’s question was extremely misleading to say the least. It provided no context or evidence linking the AKP party to the “increase” in murders. To say that the AKP is “Islamist oriented” is misleading as well, a more appropriate analogy may have been to the “Christian Democratic” parties in Europe.
I have found conflicting origins on the source of the “1400% increase” statistic. On some news outlets we learn that the figures were released by Women’s Rights lawyer Aydeniz Alisbah Tuskan,
The figures are based on data issued by lawyer Aydeniz Alisbah Tuskan, Co-ordinator of the Istanbul Bar Association Centre for Women’s Rights.while others claim it was the Ministry of Justice,
According to the data of the Ministry of Justice, the number of women murders increased by factor 14 between 2002 and 2009. While 66 women were killed in 2002, this figure raised to 953 women murders in 2009. The development of the increase was documented as follows: 83 women murders in 2003; 128 in 2004; this figure more than doubled in 2005 with 317 women killings; again a sharp increase with 663 in 2006; a peak of 1011 women murders in 2007 and a small decrease in numbers in 2008 with 806 women murders.Regardless of the source there seems to be agreement on the numbers. Tuskan in her report also added another startling fact regarding violence towards women,
The data revealed an additional startling dimension of the problem: 85 percent of about 2000 annually registered divorce applications in Istanbul are based on violence.According to Tuskan the reason for this explosion in the number of divorce applications stemming from violence is, “based on the fact that women do not endure violence as they used to do in the past.”
This however does not address the increase in the number of murders. As Elif Shafak asks in her Guardian article, Turkey Opens it’s Eyes to Domestic Violence,
Are violent incidents against women on the rise in Turkey? Or is it just that we are finally getting a clearer picture of something that has been happening at the heart of Turkish society for some time?If one were to listen to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it has been his government that has started compiling these statistics, whereas before his administration statistics on the issue were not even “calculated,”
While numerous sources argued over the last week that violence against women increased by 1,400 percent in the past seven years, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said earlier this week that the issue was presented as if violence against women was on the rise. Highlighting that they would not ignore a single act of violence, Erdoğan said: “Before we started keeping track of this, statistics on the issue were not even calculated and no one was aware of these incidents. … I expect a responsible approach from both the opposition and the media over the matter and I say that, with solidarity and responsibility, we can decrease violence to the lowest level.”I don’t see any reason to doubt Erdoğan’s assertion, however it would be vital to verify.
Either way, the statement from Erdoğan clearly contradicts Brett Baier’s misleading assertion that the so-called “Islamist-oriented” AKP which Erdoğan heads is the cause or root of the violence.
Erdoğan also went on to say,
“Violence against women is remorselessness, ruthlessness and, I say this without hesitation, contemptible”Not really the evil, misogynist Islamic terrorist that Baier and Rick Perry thought ruled Turkey, aye?
Since the stats came out on the number of murders and incidences of violence directed against women there has been an intense debate on the subject in Turkey. It is no longer a taboo subject locked behind closed doors. There have also been massive grassroots campaigns and new legislation countering the violent trend,
In recent months, both print and visual media in Turkey have been running story after story about domestic violence: ex-husbands who shoot their ex-wives in front of their children, abusive husbands who come back to kill, boyfriends or fiancés who cannot forgive being dumped and seek revenge.Lastly, it should be highlighted that Brett Baier’s misleading question is damaging most of all because it obfuscates the true issue of violence directed at women. It deflects from the root causes (cultural norms, cultural traditions, patriarchy) in exchange for the easy Orientalist scapegoat–Islam.
As disheartening as the situation is, there is also a growing reaction and a grassroots movement to stop it. Nowadays it is widely acknowledged that violence against women is not only confined to a few uneducated families in remote undeveloped regions. More importantly, until today, it was mainly assumed that such cases were a “family affair”. If a husband was beating his wife, this was their problem. Now this assumption is fully debunked. More and more public figures are coming out to say that domestic violence is everyone’s business and we should, as a society, interfere.
Family and social policies minister Fatma Sahin has announced that abusive husbands will be kept away from their homes with the help of electronic handcuffs. A group of men in the eastern province of Van have organised a significant march to protest at male violence. The group’s speaker proclaimed: “We are ashamed of men who attack women and do so in the name of manhood.”
University students are marching on the streets, women’s organisations are collecting signatures. Through blogs, websites, magazines, fanzines, panels and conferences activists are raising their voices, singers give concerts to honour women who have been victims of killings, writers and poets condemn the violence openly and contest it with their words. And yet, all this is not enough. Unless we change the way we raise our sons and discard our belief that they are superior to our daughters, unless we mothers stop treating our sons as the sultans in the house, nothing will be enough.
As Ilisha pointed out in her article on Honor Killing, by focusing on Islam, anti-Muslim Islamophobes are actually doing a disservice to those who are truly challenging violence towards women. Brett Baier’s question had the added effect of dehumanizing a whole nation, and I echo Ilisha’s call that Islamophobes, “give up their vicious campaign against Islam and join us in the struggle to end violence against women from all cultural and religious backgrounds.”
For further information on this topic I suggest reading The Journal of Turkish Weekly, which conducted an exclusive interview with Dilek Karal, a specialist at USAK Center for Social Studies regarding violence against women. According to Karal, there is no way to solidly identify whether murders against women have increased or decreased,
How should we read violence against women in Turkey? How accurate is it to say that violence has drastically increased in recent years?UPDATE II:
D. Karal: There are a lot of factors which can trigger violence such as sociocultural factors, economic factors, and psychological factors in the environment where people grow up. We need to look at what conditions they become prominent under. The efforts shall target eliminating the roots of these factors. However this is not limited to the motto which is liberally used in Turkey—“education is a must”. Educated people also beat their spouses or commit different kinds of violence against them. Education is just one dimension. The issue should be tackled with integrated multi-agency policies. It is compulsory to operate family and child services efficiently, and formalize different environments where boys and girls grow up to not normalize the violence. All in all, violence as a phenomenon needs to leave our lives altogether.
For instance, Turkish Ministry of Justice 2010 data shows violence against women has increased 1400% during the last seven years. This is a very big number. According to some other data during the first seven months of 2010; 226 women were murdered while 478 women were raped and 722 women sexually abused. There are a lot of similar cases. Over 100,000 women suffered from sexual attacks. Although the numbers are as such, they cannot present us solid data regarding whether the violence has increased or decreased. This is because there are certain problems in evaluating statistical data in Turkey. The fact that they are being presented in a systematic fashion in recent years can be interpreted as the invisible tip of the iceberg slowly surfacing.
In other words, violence against women existed before as well but can now be better measured with in-depth research, which has made the issue more apparent. Without longitudinal studies it is very difficult to understand if the violence has increased or not. However, we need to underline that the existing circumstances in the context of this issue are already too tragic. According to Hacettepe University’s research, 39% of the women in this country (more than a third) are victims of physical violence and 15% are victims of sexual violence. 42% of women say that they have experienced a form of one or the other. The interesting part is the women who experienced violence did not make appeals to official units or to non-governmental organizations. More than half of them shared the situation with just close relatives. Only 8% of the women requested help from official units. This rate is very low. In a society where violence is skyrocketing, this low rate points to ignorance. Women either do not see themselves sufficient socioeconomically or they normalize violence in a sociocultural sense.
I also came across figures on murders of women since 2009 in the article, “This is a Civil War…” There is a large discrepancy between 2009 (1,126 murders) and 2010 (217 murders). If one were to be disingenuous regarding the issue, one could claim a massive decrease in murders!:
Here is the number of women murdered by year:
2002 – 66
2003 – 83
2004 – 164
2005 – 317
2006 – 663
2007 – 1,011
2008 – 806
2009 – 1,126
2010 – 217