Activists, political leaders advocate women’s rights on March 8

Activists, political leaders advocate women’s rights on March 8

March 08, 2012, Thursday/ 16:50:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Turkey rang in this year's International Women's Day with academic seminars, activist demonstrations and statements from political leaders, all calling for enhanced women's rights.

The draft law to protect women against gender-based violence did not pass before Women's Day as expected. Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin announced last week that she hoped the law would be passed before March 8 as a “present to all the women of our country.” Talks on the draft law continued late on Wednesday night and recommenced Thursday afternoon at the General Assembly.

Concerned groups have said they are “half pleased” that the bill has not yet been passed because they believe there are currently crucial deficiencies in the legislation.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at Mardin's Artuklu University that this Women's Day has a significant meaning for women around the world.

“This International Women's Day women who suffered in the Van earthquakes deserve to be remembered. Women who lost their husbands and sons in Uludere deserve to be remembered. Women in North Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all deserve to be remembered,” said Erdoğan, who also said he continues to pray for the women of Syria.

Other political leaders saw Women's Day as an opportunity to discuss the stance of women's rights in Turkey, which they argued has increased in recent years but is still unacceptable.

Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek, in comments during the Constitutional Platform Initiative Group's meeting in Ankara on Thursday, said violence against women, especially in the name of tradition, is a shame for Turkey.

Only through enacting harsher penalties on male perpetrators can Turkey put an end to gender-based violence, said Çiçek, echoing activists' calls for a change in mentality.

Çiçek added that one of the most important indicators of the level of democracy in a country is its legislation on the rights of women.

“The concept and term ‘democracy' is associated with a degree of quality,” said Çiçek, stating a true democracy is one that recognizes women's as equal to their male counterparts.

Çiçek said the final word from a leader in Turkey on Women's Day should not come from a male and added that he looks forward to the day when Turkey's highest leadership positions are occupied by women.

President of the Council of Higher Education Gökhan Çetinkaya said there must be more effective inclusion of women in university administration.

Çetinkaya, in an online message for Women's Day, wrote: “Today is March 8. I would like to take the opportunity in light of today to call for greater representation of women in higher education administration.”

Concerts, scholarly discussions and protests across Turkey called for an end to the patriarchal system that allows discrimination and violence against women to persist.

Many women's rights groups banded together on Thursday night in Taksim for the annual Women's Day March down İstiklal Street, carrying placards and banners calling for gender equality and an end to violence against women.

Not only women were eager to show their support for gender equality in İzmir, where men dressed up in high heels for a one-mile race to raise awareness of violence against women.

Most protests and demonstrations were peaceful on Women's Day, but one group of women's rights activists were detained by police after protesting naked outside Hagia Sophia in İstanbul.

The 10th International Filmmor Women's Film Festival kicks off tonight in İstanbul and will feature films that comment on the status of women today. The festival will run until March 19.

More violence on Women's Day

Meanwhile, news of gender-based violence persisted on Women's Day in Turkey.

A woman was shot to death late Wednesday night by her husband's relative in İstanbul's Pendik district.

Diyar Bengitay, who married her husband Fevzi Bengitay in 2006, filed a criminal complaint on Jan. 12 after her husband beat her. She sought refuge at a women's shelter but returned the following day.

She told her husband she wanted to divorce on Wednesday night. After arguing with her husband, Diyar Bengitay left their house and took refuge at a nearby medical center. But when Öner Bengitay, a relative of her husband, found her there, the two began to argue.

Öner Bengitay then shot Diyar Bengitay four times with a gun he had brought with him. He was taken into custody. Diyar Bengitay, who was severely injured, subsequently died.

In his statement to the police, Öner Bengitay reportedly said he killed his relative's wife because she insulted him.

Experts and activists have noted the number of excuses male perpetrators use in justifying gender-based violence, whether it be unemployment, alleged infidelity or jealousy.

Violence against women is a malady that experts and activists argue continues to hold Turkey back from achieving its greatest democratic, economic and social potential.

More than 40 percent of women in Turkey have suffered from sexual or physical violence at some point in their lives.

According to the Independent Communication Network's (Bianet) latest report, a total of 164 women were murdered, raped, sexually or physically abused or harassed in the first two months of this year.

Activists and legal experts agree the vast majority of gender-based violence cases go unreported.

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