#MeToo in Turkey – Sound of silence


IT IS NEVER easy for assault victims to go public, Sila Gencoglu, a popular Turkish singer, wrote on Twitter on November 1st, days after accusing her boyfriend of beating her, dragging her across the floor and hitting her head with an ashtray. “But I also know that by remaining silent I would be betraying myself, the women of this country and anyone who stands against violence.” A storm of hashtags and news articles followed.

Domestic violence is alarmingly widespread in Turkey. Two out of every five Turkish women have been subjected to physical or sexual assault by their partners at some point in their lives, according to the UN. The number murdered by a partner or a family member reached 409 last year, up from 237 four years ago.

Unlike Ms Gencoglu’s, most abuse cases go unheard and undocumented. According to a study by Hacettepe University and the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, a mere 11% of women who suffer physical or sexual violence in Turkey seek help from the authorities. Many tend to downplay the abuse, the study found. Victims also fear they will be shamed by relatives and neighbours if they decide to move to a shelter or file for divorce. Attitudes remain stuck in the past. Some 54% of women in Turkey think it acceptable for a man to use violence if he suspects or discovers that his wife is cheating on him, according to the same study.

The share of Turkish women who work outside the home has increased over the past decade from 25% to 34%. Still, that is nearly twenty points below the OECD average. (Turkey also languishes near the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index.) Women with no resources of their own and scant job prospects are less likely to leave abusive husbands, says Gulsum Kav, founder of We Will Stop Femicide, a pressure group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once seemed to have feminist sympathies. He has called violence against women one of Turkey’s biggest problems. His government binned old penal code provisions that allowed those who murdered female relatives in the name of family honour to seek reduced prison sentences. A law passed in 2012 gave all women, regardless of marital status, the right to seek restraining orders against abusive partners, and offered victims shelter and job training. Implementation has been patchy, however. Only 23% of women who apply for protection receive it.

And Mr Erdogan has turned increasingly reactionary. Two years ago, his party proposed a bill that would have allowed statutory rapists to walk free if they married their victims, though he shelved the idea after a popular outcry. The government has pledged to push the female labour-force participation rate past 40% in the next five years, but it has hardly led by example. Only two of the 17 ministers in Mr Erdogan’s cabinet are women. The continuing decay of Turkey’s democracy has not spared the women’s rights movement. On November 25th, just days after Mr Erdogan unveiled a new campaign against domestic violence, police used tear-gas against a group of mostly female protesters in Istanbul. They were denouncing violence against women.



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