Turkey’s gender war

I have a piece up on the Christian Science Monitor focusing on the extraordinary statistics released by Turkey’s Justice Ministry suggesting that murders of women have increased by 1,400 percent over seven years, from 66 killings in 2002, to 953 in the first seven months of 2009.

Honour killings and domestic violence seem to have almost reached epidemic proportions, judging by the almost daily cases reported in the Turkish press.

Despite talking to a wide range of people, I could not get a convincing explanation of why and how such an extraordinary rise could be possible.

Not many people I spoke questioned the accuracy of the data, or suggested that improved recording methods could account for it (though the year-on-year figures show pretty regular increases, not a sudden jump, as you’d expect if recording criteria had changed).

The vast majority of women’s groups believe society is becoming more conservative, and see the government as the prime culprit. However they were generally unable to cite much evidence to support this beyond a couple of quotes from PM Erdogan. I was left with the feeling that although the government has (as in so many other areas) been more concerned with appearing to do something about this problem than actually doing it, it is not quite the pervasive malignant influence that some claim.

I simply cannot believe that men are running around en masse killing their wives, daughters, sisters etc, simply because the governing politicians have some unsavoury prejudices regarding women’s rights.

My personal view is that this rise is at least partially down to better policing. Meanwhile, demographic changes, globalizaiton, and particularly the growth of active civil society movements and rising living standards mean more women want to live lives outside of what men view as their proper boundaries.

At the same time, Turkey is totally unequipped to give these women any way of escaping the violent men who threaten them. The government is probably genuine in its wish to stop the violence, but has little interest in helping women escape their traditional roles.

This cocktail of factors is giving rise to many, many awful crimes.

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