- Ela Jade Unal
Getting Away with Murder: Entitlement and Accountability in Turkish Femicide
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
The decade has seen a massive rise in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Femicide in Turkey.Between 2008 and 2019, at least 3,185 women were killed by men. 474 women were killed in2019 alone, not including the 115 women who died of “suspicious causes”. There was, however, a marked drop in femicide rates in Turkey in 2011, the year we signed into the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention is a human rights treaty -ironically- first signed by Turkey. It functions as an international framework for the prevention of GBV and femicide by establishing a series of uniform and standardised laws that can be enforced by all signatories. Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, has been talking about leaving the convention for a while now. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that finally did it. On the 20th of March 2021, Erdoğan announced that Turkey will officially withdraw from the treaty. On the 22nd of March 2021, 6 women were killed in 12 hours.
This correlation is not coincidental. But it's also not the immediate effect of a law not being in effect anymore either. Legal actions -or lack thereof- take time. It is the result of the fact that the repealing of Law nr. 6284 (the law that integrates the Istanbul Convention into Turkish Law) confirmed to countless men that their actions have no consequences. That women will not be protected in Turkey. That men are entitled, if not encouraged, to do what they deem necessary to “preserve our country’s family values” - a narrative spewed liberally by conservative Turkish politicians. And if that means beating your wife, forcing her into sex, hell, even killing her if she really deserved it then so be it. We are, after all, preserving family structures; we will handle this internally. I mean, the Turkish constitution condemns this kind of violence. So, we are in absolutely no need for some international convention to tell us how to handle our women. Right?
Just in case the heavy-handed irony does not come across, I find this narrative dismissive and false. And above all, I find it deeply and irrevocably disrespectful to all the children who have been left motherless and traumatised; to all the families who have lost a daughter; to the memory of all the women who have lost their lives; and to all the women currently experiencing hell and have to watch as their government tries to justify its refusal to help them. Furthermore, these justifications are thought of as genuinely valid arguments by the men in power. To them, by some warped and misinformed rhetoric, they believe they are actually doing enough for the interest of women. Which, in turn, strengthens the backbone of the self-perpetuating cycle of systematised misogyny that we see in Turkey today.
To address the argument of “handling the issue internally”; yes, the Turkish constitution does condemn violence against women. Yes, the Turkish constitution does have articles to protect women and children from domestic violence. But the fact of the matter is that the Istanbul Convention was our last line of defence against femicide and GBV. Because no matter how many laws, and articles, and amendments the Turkish government passes on its own constitution to make men less violent against women, none of that matters until they are enforced. And every single one of these laws have enough ambiguity that a judge attached enough to their misogyny can bend them out of shape to be completely inconsequential. Worse so, the laws mean nothing when we don’t have the structures in place to protect the women who try to prosecute, or try to seek refuge from their abusers. The Family Protection Law adopted in 2012 says that a perpetrator that violates a restraining order can get up to a whole six months in prison. Because that’s gonna stop ol’ Osman from getting out of the slammer with a literal bone to pick with Ayşe.
Most women fear seeking legal help because they know that they cannot rely on our legal system. They worry that they will stir the pot. They worry that if they try to pursue a divorce, for example, they will not be provided the resources to remain safe. Many of the women who have been victims of femicide or GVB sought out legal help. They went to the police. And they were sent right back home to their abusers. An international treaty such as the Istanbul Convention sets a precedent for how the law ought to be utilised. It provides numerous cases that at some point, becomes standardised. And probably most importantly, it sets up accountability. It gives other signatories a right to intervene and say “you signed this treaty, you made a promise to the women of your country, why are you not upholding it?”. By withdrawing from the Convention, Erdoğan has effectively deprived the women of Turkey of desperately needed protection based on his arbitrary, archaic, and frankly abysmal rhetoric of what Turkish values are. Because the perpetrators are not the only ones getting away with murder in my country. So is the government.
Which brings us to the double faceted nature of systemic Femicide. First, society encourages men to be violent. It assures them, “if you are a man, it is your right”. It stifles any potential for non-violent communication and solidifies toxic masculine cognition with the unbearably oppressive prevalence of the schtick we all know and loathe: “don’t cry, don’t show emotion, be a man”. It degrades and dehumanises women by repeatedly undermining our being. By telling men that they are superior, that they have claims to us, that hurting us is synonymous to loving us. That loving us is synonymous to owning us. We are not autonomous entities; we are objects. It lays the foundations of men believing that they have a right to harm us so far into the depths of their psyche that their entitlement issues are indistinguishable from cultural indoctrination. This Turkish male grandiose sense of self brings to mind the analogy of genocide. You really need to systematically teach a group in society that the other group is inferior and deserve abuse to get so many people to partake, with such little moral conflict.¹
Second, except for crimes of passion -which GBV rarely is, it only claims to be-, people seldom commit crimes unless they believe they can get away with it. And the Turkish judicial system has proven time and time again that they can. By refusing to keep them accountable for these crimes, we have empowered men further to commit them. A clear indicator of this fact is the spikes we have seen in GBV and femicide when there is mass media coverage of the lack of protection women have. This happened when there were international protests in July 2020 after the murder of Pınar Gültekin and it is happening again now with the national uproar against the withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention.
Men who already had plans to harm women in their lives see that we have no protection. And so they take that opportunity to act out whatever vile, inhumane plans they believe they are entitled to act out. They truly believe that they are justified in their actions, and so countless women are murdered. We have become citizens of a country which empowers men to abuse and indoctrinates women to cower. It strips women of safety, dignity, soundness of mind; of life.
¹ See: stage 3 of Gregory Stanton’s 8 Stages of Genocide model. I would like to underline that I am utilising this example as merely an analogy and do not make this comparison lightly. To quote Louise Callaghan from The Times “They are hunted like birds over here”.