Women's Day Spurs Femicide Protests Across Turkey

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2019-03-08

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ISTANBUL —In Turkey, International Women's Day saw nationwide protests, with many focusing on the growing scourge of violence against women. According to rights groups, hundreds of women are slain yearly in Turkey.

In Istanbul's Kadikoy district, the heart of the Asian side of the city, hundreds of women gathered, holding placards condemning violence against women.

"We are here to demand the police and judiciary take these endless murders of women seriously. I have had enough of these killings," said Sibel, who wanted to give only her first name.

Police presence

Despite a heavy police presence, the Kadikoy demonstration passed without incident. But thousands of women gathered in Istanbul's main Istiklal Street area, where hundreds of riot police, backed by armored cars, used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a procession.

In Izmir, on Turkey's western Aegean coast, police using clubs broke up a Women's Day demonstration, arresting seven. However, most commemorations and protests, held in many towns and cities across Turkey, ended without incident.

The scale and extent of the protests, in the face of strict laws controlling demonstrations, reflect a growing assertiveness regarding women's rights and violence against women. Last month saw nationwide outrage through social media and protests over the death of Sule Cet, 23.

Police initially treated Cet's death as a suicide after she fell from the 20th floor of an office building, where she worked overnight. After intense pressure from an attorney representing Cet's family, police finally treated her case as a homicide, with her boss and another man now standing trial for rape and murder.

Anger about the case was exacerbated when the defense attorney said Cet was not a virgin and that she should not have been drinking with her boss late at night. The case, which has engrossed millions, has become a focal point for women's rights groups across Turkey and the source of growing anger about an increasing number of killings. Cet's name has become a leading hashtag, while talk shows and social media have become platforms for people's outrage about the way the case has been handled.

"Cet's case raises so many issues that are wrong about the way cases of murdered women are handled," said law professor Istar Gozaydin, who is also a presenter of a women's rights television program.

"In the judicial process, we see the private lives of the victims being routinely mentioned or the character of the victim being impugned, like raising whether the victim is a virgin or not. Also, the figures of murdered women given by authorities are not very reliable. They are designated as accidents or considered as suicides, which we saw in Sule Cet's case," added Gozaydin, who is doing research on violence against women for the European Union.

This week, the Umut, a prominent nongovernmental organization, said that 477 women were slain and 232 were injured by men in 2018, and that Turkish media reported 1,760 femicide cases over the past four years.

In 2012, Turkey's AK political party made the country the first signatory of the Council of Europe's convention to protect women. The document is intended to prevent violence against women, provide victim protection and "end the impunity of perpetrators."

"On paper, the legal regulations and structures are very sufficient [in Turkey] to stop violence and murders against women," said Gozaydin. "But the way the judiciary and police enforce these procedures and laws is very, very problematic. That's why the judicial process should be monitored very closely to achieve a fair trial."

Seen as major problem

Experts suggest there is a growing awareness within Turkish society about the scale of violence against women. A survey released this month by Istanbul's Kadir Has University found that 60 percent of the participants viewed violence as "the biggest problem that women face in society."

The issue appears to be crossing the deep political divide between religious and secular Turkey. "It [violence against women] has become the target issue of so many people to give their reaction," said Gozaydin. "It is just not limited to the secular group or just women. It is much wider."