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Explained: Turkey’s Long History Of Femicides

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Only a few days back what came to be known as a black and white challenge, women across the globe posted their black and white picture on social media supporting each other. The challenge was a reward in getting people’s attention towards Turkey’s long withstanding problem of femicide. Femicide or ‘honour-killing ‘in Turkey came into focus after the murder of a 27-year-old student named Pinar Gultekin by her former boyfriend. Her death sparked outrage in the country exposing the long list of deaths caused by Femicide in the country.

Violence against women is a prevalent issue in Turkey with around 42% of Turkish women aged between 15 to 60 being subjected to both sexual and physical abuse alone in the year 2009 and the number keeps on increasing. The high rate of femicide in the nation is due to the lack of political action by the government.

Women protest femicide before the trial regarding the death of Sule Cet, who was allegedly killed by being thrown off the 20th floor of a luxury building in Ankara, on November 8, 2018. (Photo by ADEM ALTAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The patriarchal approach of the Turkish government can be counted as a major cause. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2014 accused feminist of rejecting ‘Motherhood’ saying women and men could not be treated equally as it is against nature. Later after two years, he claimed that those women who are not mothers are incomplete. The president encourages women not to use birth control and promote at least three children for the growth of Turkey’s population. Erdogan’s anti-feminist family-oriented rhetoric has a powerful influence on policy implementation and legal practices. In 2012, the President equated abortion with a murder that led to the dramatic decline of abortion services in hospitals.

The Istanbul Convention

Turkey, in 2011, became the first country to sign the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe convention that prevents and combats against all the domestic violence against women. After this, in 2012, the country adopted law number 6284 to protect the family and prevent violence against women. But under Erdogan conservative justice and development party, however, the convention is under threat as AKP has petitioned again and again for changes to the convention on the grounds that it aggravates divorce and Immoral lifestyle and threaten traditional family values.

The neoliberal economic policies of the government promote religious conservatism. The government promotes socially constructed roles and refers to womanhood with sacred ‘motherhood’. The conservative circle in Turkey wants to abolish both the Istanbul convention and law number 6284 as they claim that laws fostering gender equality are tearing families apart. Both the laws were achievements for the women’s movement in the country.

Preserving family unity directly affects women and their lives. Family-oriented policies building women’s role as housewives and mothers are cutting women’s rights. Women are ignored at the individual level and their role is seen only for family. Most of the women who are achieving economic independence and exercising their rights and are saying no to abusive marriages and relationships. Turkish feminist Scholars Fatimagul Berktay says that men are undergoing a crisis of ‘masculinity’ due to women empowerment and no longer see themselves as breadwinner, protectors and maintainers of women.

As per their traditional notion, they accuse women not being obedient that results in physical and sexual violence. It can be noted that in many femicide cases, the perpetrators are mostly ex-partners or ex-husbands. Men found guilty easily get a bailout on the ground of being religious and walk freely despite their crime.

Women participation in the labour force and gender segregation in the workplace is a major cause too. Women are subjected to work in low paid jobs or without security. In the informal sector, gender wage discrimination is common and unemployment rates of women are higher than men. Economic dependence of women on their partners does not allow women to walk out domestic violence. Due to economic inequalities, lower-class women do not avail a protective mechanism from the state.

At the very least, political tension also sums up as a reason for worsening violence against women in the country. Gender-based violence is common in areas affected by conflict. Religious militarism is in its peak in the country making space for the use of misogynist language. The ceasefire between Kurdistan’s worker’s party PKK and the Turkish government broke down in 2015 and failed to cope up in 2016, which has added to women abuse and violence.

Despite all this, a rise is being seen in women standing up for their rights. Feminist and women rights workers are raising their voices for their rights and are divorcing their partners. Caught between their struggle of rights in a country gripped by Islamic and nationalist discourse where male violence seems almost legitimate. it is unclear that women will win their battle against long occurring abuse, violence, and deaths.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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