Rape and murder are not natural disasters, but saying so can get you arrested.

Valentine’s day in Mersin, in the South East of Turkey, was marked by the funeral of a 20 year old student, Ozgecan Aslan, whose body has been found stabbed and burned after she was missing for three days. Ozgecan had been attacked by the driver of her bus, his father and friend, when she was coming home from her college in the neighboring town of Adana. She was last on the line and reportedly .

Women in Mersin attended her funeral en masse, defying the officiating imam, and an age old tradition forbidding women from approaching the grave or carrying the coffin. Big protests were held in Ankara and Istanbul the next day urging the government not to treat violence against women as inevitable, but to respond with tougher sentences, and stop blaming women for provoking men into rape, or dismissing the crime because there is no ‘observable psychological damage’.

The police intervened, blocking off the protesters’ march, and so far, five women have been arrested.

And meanwhile back in Turkey…

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is arguing, once again, that women are not equal to men, and that their delicate nature precludes them being granted equal rights and opportunitites. Feminists, he says, ‘do not accept the concept of motherhood’.

This is terribly deppressing, of course – one more thing for Turkey to worry about. My redeeming hope is that Erdoğan is in fact doing under cover work for Sacha Baron Cohen, in preparation for a second installment of Borat.




Turkish Women not to laugh in public (or talk about ‘unnecessary things’ on the phone)

This has been on my Tweeter feed for a couple days, but I was waiting for some English-language article to come out, and here it is.

In a Holiday (Eid) message the Deputy Prime minister in Turkey, Bülent Arınç announced that in order to protect morality, and in particular chastity, women should stop laughing in public. What we need instead is women who

” blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity”.

The juxtaposition, in one of  the quotes from Arınç, of the act of laughing in public and ‘knowing what is haram’ – that is prohibited, as opposed to merely distasteful or not recommended – is disturbing: it seems that the Deputy PM is basically telling women that laughing in public is as bad as adultery.

Also, the country would be better off, apparently, if women stopped talking on the phone so much and met face-to-face instead. In my experience, Turkish men spend as much time on the phone as Turkish women, but I assume that their phone usage is necessary – because they have to be at work – whereas good Turkish women will be at home, and hence have time for a glass of tea and a chat with their mother-in-law, say.

But what will women do when they need to check with their husbands what to cook for dinner?

New law on sexual crimes in Turkey

Women’s associations in Turkey are fighting a new law which looks like it will result in reduced sentences for criminals:

The platform underlined seven main objections regarding the law:

–    The draft law contains new arrangements providing “reduced sentences” for violence during rape and sexual abuse.

–    It lacks a legal provision that could prevent the reduction of sentences on the grounds that a victim may have allegedly “provoked” her assailant.

–    It also lacks a provision that will consider the testimonies of the victims as fundamental and ascribes the obligation of proving the contrary to the assailant.

–    It limits the time for filing a complaint to a barely six months after the attack.

–    The draft law also accentuates the risk of harsher sentences for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 engaging in consensual sexual intercourse.

–    It brings a separation between “attack” and “abuse” in cases of sexual crimes against children, which leads to potential reduction of sentences.

–    It also mentions the possibility of a “cure” for assailants, which constitutes according to the platform an attempt to define sexual crimes as a disease, rather than a crime.

This should be read in the context of a large increase in reported sex crimes in Turkey over the last nine years:

Some 32,988 files were reportedly opened on sex crime charges in 2011, while the number of files was just 8,146 in 2002.

Gezi anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Gezi park protests in Turkey. The protests have moved on to a much more general unrest, but while we have witnessed much violence from the police and governement, the protesters seem to have kept to the spirit in which they began.

For the first two weeks in Kuğulu Park, I experienced a gender neutral space. There was no harassment, no cat-calling, no overbearing flirting, no attempted groping. It was the first time I was seen as a human first and as a woman second. It was a truly liberating experience; I felt safe and free from any gender based discrimination.

Read the rest here.

Berkin Elvan – RIP

In July I wrote about an incident in which a woman wearing a headscarf was reportedly attached by the demonstrating crowds in Istanbul.

The attack, as described, was horrendous : half naked men had supposedly beaten her and her baby, urinated on them and torn off her head covering.

This report prompted the Prime Minister to indulge in frequent claims hereafter that protestors were attacking and disrespecting his ‘covered sisters’. No evidence of the incident was produced and in any case, no other similar incidents were reported. Unfortunately, in the light of what we had heard from women in Tahrir square, the report was all too credible.

Last week, video evidence of the woman and her baby passing through the area was finally released. She is seen to argue briefly with a group of people, apparently mostly women, and then cross the road to meet her husband. The woman also turns out to be the daughter of an AKP Istanbul Governor.

If this particular mother and baby were not harmed, the same cannot be said of 15 year old Berkin Elvan, who died yesterday after spending nine months in coma as a result of being shot by a gas canister when he was on his way to buy a loaf of bread.

Peaceful protests and vigils erupted throughout Turkey today, and as we have come to expect, protesters were assaulted with tear gas.

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This woman sustained injury after being hit on the head by a gas canister, while she was participating in a vigil for Berkin Elvan, who died of a similar injury.

Turkish women celebrate International Women’s day

Yesterday, women marched accross Turkey to mark International Women’s day, brandishing banners, and saucepans (not as a sign of their womanhood, but because it was one the instruments or protest last summer – Turks were banging saucepans on their balconies throughout the protests). Here is a slideshow of the marches.

In Istanbul, women demonstrated in Taksim, close to Gezi park, the heart of last year’s protests. The riot police blocked their entry into the park.

Photo: Women's march in Istanbul, Turkey. They chant: We'll retake Taksim tonight. #WomensDay #IWD2014 #Taksim #Istanbul

Women in Taksim, chanting “Run away, Tayyip! The women are coming to get you”. (Images taken from The New Young Turks‘ facebook page.)

Gender segregation for Turkish students.

The Turkish PM Erdogan is in touch with what his people want. Worried about mothers and fathers’ feeling, and what the neighbours might think, he is pushing for separate dorms for male and female university students.

But what about male and female students who live together in private housing without being married? If neighbours complain, then the police should look into it.

Answering a journalist’s complaint that this wouldn’t be legal, especially if the students in question are over 18, the PM replied that

his government would, if necessary, push for legal changes to allow the inspection of houses where male and female students live together.

Read the rest of this debacle here.