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January 26, 2012, Thursday

An uphill battle

Minister Fatma Şahin briefed Parliament a few days ago and outlined new steps to offer better protections for women facing domestic violence and to narrow the gender gap. Through education programs promoting a different view of gender roles, progress may be achieved in combating gender discrimination in the coming years.

But for the time being, in spite of growing popular awareness of these issues and the training already provided to thousands of police officers and court officials, a patriarch mentality remains deeply entrenched in Turkey. Patriarchy is not just promoted by men: it also has many female supporters, who work to maintain the status quo of male dominance. It does so partly by exonerating men of responsibility and shifting the blame in gender relations to women: Men are not expected to control their urges and their behavior. Thus, retired police chief Hasan Yağar, could argue in an article published in “Contemporary Police Magazine” that when men murder their female partners, the male perpetrators are not the only culprits: through their body language and their statements, the victims had provoked them into violence.

When the shocking photo of the half-naked body of murder victim Şefika Etik, with a knife sticking out of her back, made the front page of the Habertürk newspaper in October 2011, it generated strong reactions from feminists who felt that the abuse victim had been violated once more by the media. The trial of her murderer, her husband, Ibrahim Etik, has now begun in Manisa, and the defendant is trying to turn the tables by putting the victim’s reputation on the stand. In court, Etik claimed he “loved” his wife very much and had “forgiven” her for leaving the marital home, when she sought refuge from regular abuse in a shelter. In spite of inflicting 20 stab wounds on his wife and trying to set her body on fire, he argued that he had acted in a moment of rage and produced relatives as witnesses to claim that the victim had been texting and calling other men.

The trial has been adjourned until March, and hopefully the judges will see through the defendant’s attempt to get a lenient sentence by blaming his victim. Women’s rights activists will follow the proceedings closely to ensure that justice is served.

Another woman who faced violence, this time at the hands of police officers, is Fevziye Cengiz in İzmir. Prosecutors have brought new charges against the police officers caught beating her on camera, after picking her up in a night club where she was spending the evening with family members last July. But the charges laid against the brutal officers are still lighter than the hefty six-and-a-half years of imprisonment required against her for resisting arrest and fighting with the policemen, who dragged her away while her husband was retrieving her missing identity papers from the car. In this case too, the police attempted to justify the abuse by attacking the victim’s reputation, claiming that Cengiz was a club hostess.

It is this poor record on gender violence and Turkey’s low ranking at the 122nd place among the 135 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its latest Gender Gap Index that Minister Fatma Şahin will carry in her luggage when she travels to Davos, where she is due to participate in a panel on Gender Equality.

While gender inequality and domestic violence are particularly acute problems in Turkey, no country, and indeed no international institution, is immune to gender discrimination. All eyes and ears were on Angela Merkel as political and economic leaders gathered in the Swiss resort for their annual powwow, since the eurozone crisis features heavily on the agenda this year. But this doesn’t mean that women have gained an equal say in the corridors of power. In spite of attempts by WEF to promote women’s participation in the forum, female delegates only account for 17 percent of the high-powered participants this year, and it is the highest ratio ever reached. In the global business community too, gender equality still has a way to go.

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