Raising real men

Earlier this week, a memorial service was held for Esther Parker, the young American woman who was murdered by her husband just two short weeks ago. Esther leaves behind a young son, her grieving family and a community of friends across the globe who are still struggling to come to terms with her senseless death. Sadly, Esther is just one name among the growing list of women killed by a family member in Turkey.

As I have often written before, violence against women is a global phenomenon and is in no way limited to Turkey. Domestic abuse is not defined by or restricted to particular religious beliefs, socio-economic factors, educational levels or employment rates. It occurs across the board, in all societal classes. In addition to the fear of domestic abuse that too many women live under every day worldwide, women often must deal with verbal abuse outside of their own homes. Snide or insulting comments made as a woman walks down the street, having to learn how to fend off gropers on public transportation, clutching their handbag close to their chest as they rush home from work after dark, fearful of unwanted advances from men on the street. This is what everyday life is like for the vast majority of women around the world.

As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as other international agreements to protect the rights of women, Turkey has taken some steps to address the issue of violence against women. However, even the recent changes to the criminal and civil codes are obviously not enough of a deterrent.

Unfortunately, societal attitudes have yet to change. Domestic abuse is still viewed by many in the country as a private matter, one that should never be discussed outside of the family. Bringing the problem out into the open by seeking medical or legal assistance is considered to be an act that will bring shame down upon the entire family. Instead of facing the issue head on and dealing with it through legal channels, families prefer to hide the problem, opting instead to blame the victim and allow the abuser to continue to terrorize women and children. Until the prevailing societal attitudes change, no real progress can be made in addressing the issue. The key is education — through clergy, schools, government and social leaders. It will take a concerted effort nationwide to change attitudes towards women.

As all parents know, real education begins at home. Children will copy the attitudes and actions they see at home. If they see their father abusing their mother or siblings, they often view that behavior as normal and will continue it throughout their own lives, never breaking the chain of abuse, but passing it on to future generations. This is where education is vital. Families must be educated about the importance and role of women in society and understand basic human rights.

Young children should be taught that harassing women is not acceptable. All people, including women, should be treated with respect. They need to understand that no one “deserves” to be abused. Everyone has the right to live without fear of domestic violence. They need to know that it is not OK to make noises or suggestive or nasty comments at women. Women have the right to walk on the street and take public transportation without having to fear for their safety. Boys need to be taught that women are not to be viewed as property. Families must learn that women and girls are not to be sold to pay off debts or to solidify any social ties. Society must accept that their honor is not defined by how someone else in their family acts, but in how they treat all others. There is no honor in abusing or murdering a woman or girl. A real man will treat others with respect and will not intimidate, threaten or abuse others. A misogynist will never be a real man.

As in so many other countries, Turkey does have many citizens and social groups who are working to educate the public, bring about legal reforms and encourage open public dialogues about the issue of domestic abuse. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child. The culture and society where a child grows up will define who they are, their outlook on life and how they will interact with others. Each of us is responsible for speaking out against violence against women. We should not be afraid to speak out any time we see a woman being harassed in public.

We should not hesitate to call authorities or the police if we suspect that domestic abuse is happening behind the closed doors in our own neighborhoods. As more people begin to speak out and raise their voices against abuse, social attitudes will slowly begin to change. We must continue to push for legal reforms and insist that the laws are applied evenly and consistently with no exceptions. There is no excuse for domestic abuse and there is no excuse for murder.

We have all heard the adage that is attributed to Mao Zedong: “Women hold up half the sky.” We do hold up half of the sky and all women should be recognized for their true worth. Societal attitudes towards women must change. Women not just in Turkey, but also across the globe, need to learn and understand that they have basic human rights that no one should try to take away from them. Each woman has the right to be educated, to work, to raise a family if they want. Each woman should be able to live free from harassment on the street and the fear of abuse at home.

My thoughts and prayers are with Esther’s family as they face the long road ahead after the tragic loss of their daughter. I hope that their own grandson will grow up in a warm, loving family. I pray that this child will learn the true value of the women in his life. Although Esther’s son is too young to understand why his mother is no longer a part of his life, I hope he will cherish her memory and become a man who she would have felt pride in raising. I pray that he will grow up to be a real man.