Women’s rights are human rights

Last week, I highlighted the results of a survey conducted by Kadir Has University which pointed to a timid evolution in perceptions of women and gender roles in Turkey. Though promising, these burgeoning signs of progress should not obscure the stark reality that still prevails in many parts of the country.
A broad study conducted by the KAMER Foundation among nearly 25,000 women in 22 provinces of Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia as well as three Black Sea provinces shows that a majority of women still live in an environment where violence, be it physical, verbal, economic andor sexual, is all too common. According to the figures published by the online news site Bianet, 56.4 percent of the women interviewed face-to-face said they had experienced physical violence and similar numbers experienced economic, verbal or psychological abuse or a combination of all of the above. Forty percent also experienced sexual violence. Yet less than half of the women abused took steps to remedy their situation, either because they were scared, they accepted their situation, didnand’t know where to apply or, in 5 percent of the cases, didnand’t speak Turkish. An important aspect of this particular study is that it shows poverty and lack of education as contributing factors. In fact, economic deprivation is so acute in some households that 27 percent of the women interviewed cited it as a greater concern than domestic violence. Feeding themselves and their families takes priority over their own safety. One-third of the women, it turned out, live below the hunger line and, of all the women surveyed, more than half live in households where the total monthly income is below TL 1,000. As a reminder, the most recent official statistics on Turkish families released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) show that more than a fifth, 22.4 percent, of households across the country live below the poverty line. The economic growth of the past decades has clearly not benefited all Turks in equal measure. In addition to these tough economic circumstances, nearly 60 percent of the women questioned in the East and Southeast stated that they were denied their share of an inheritance. In the same region, close to 30 percent of the women participating in the survey were illiterate. In spite of awareness-raising campaigns, only a tiny fraction of women experiencing violence at the hands of a husband, partner, father or brother seek help, the study suggests. Only 1,308 respondents had contacted official institutions about abuse, which indicates that much of it remains hidden. Police officers sent women home, suggesting that they reconcile with their abusers in 15 percent of cases, or even supported the abuser, but in 72 percent of cases — and 85 percent when they applied to the prosecutorand’s office — the few women who sought to fight back against abuse got a positive response. Within the family, widely seen by Turkish officials as the safest place for a woman, on the other hand, nearly half of the women who complained about abuse found their relatives either unwilling or unable to take action. Friends were most likely to be supportive. Early marriage appears to be on a rapid downward trend in the younger generation, even if nearly four out of 10 women interviewed were married before they were 18. Among marriages conducted in the past 10 years, the ratio had declined to 30 percent, and it dropped to 20 percent in marriages contracted in the past five years. These figures remain very high and show the need for the government to take further action, but they still mark a positive trend. In the vast majority of cases, 95 percent, couples were married at the registry office and had a religious ceremony. Half of the women reached had an arranged marriage. Most of them, 55 percent, liked the men they were introduced to, 26 percent were eventually convinced by their elders and 19 percent did not object because the prospective groom was a relative. But 1,037 women were forced into marriage, 172 of them were part of a bride exchange, 21 were promised at birth, while 10 women were given in compensation to end a blood feud with a rival clan, in violation of their most basic human rights.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman