News / Europe

Turkey's Murder Rate of Women Skyrockets

Women activists carry a mock coffin of Ayse Pasali, who was shot to death by her ex-husband, during a demonstration, planned as an alternative to Valentine's Day, in central Istanbul, February 14, 2011
Women activists carry a mock coffin of Ayse Pasali, who was shot to death by her ex-husband, during a demonstration, planned as an alternative to Valentine's Day, in central Istanbul, February 14, 2011

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Dorian Jones

In Turkey the murder rate of women increased by 1,400 percent between 2002 and 2009, the last date for which data is available. The statistic was revealed by the country's justice minister, in response to a parliamentary question. The revelation shocked the country and has put a spotlight on the government's record on women's rights, which could have implications for its European Union bid.

A recent Turkish news report focused on the murder of a woman in the streets of Istanbul. The mother of four was gunned down in the streets in broad daylight. Her husband was arrested. The news report's headline was "Another Murder of A Woman." That's because such events have become almost a daily occurance.  

According to the Turkish Justice Ministry, in seven years the rate of women murdered has jumped 1,400 percent.  In 2002, 66 women were murdered, in the first seven months of 2009 the number stood at 953. The shocking increase has made front page news; one newspaper described it as Turkey's shame. On the streets of Istanbul there is shock and resignation.

"It's really bad, the killing is a big crime, really bad," said one person.

"It happens things like this, I am not surprised," said another.

Nearly every day you can read the latest report about a woman being murdered, invariably the murder will be of the most violent nature, be it with shotguns or knives, usually carried out by an estranged or former husband, or family members in a so-called honor killing.  In a case earlier this month, a 20-year-old was strangled with her baby . The suspects were her father and brother.

The dramatic increase in killings does not surprise Pinar Ilkaracan of the non-governmental organization, Women for Women's Human Rights.

"The murders are the tip of iceberg; there is a lot of violence against women. There are thousands, tens of thousands of women, who are experiencing violence from their husbands, but they cannot leave home. First of all, what the government should do is increase the number of shelters. There are 26 shelters in 72 provinces of Turkey. This is a scandal by itself, the lowest number in European countries, for example in Germany there are 800 shelters," said Ilkaracan.

Despite the increase in murders, the government rejects such criticisms. It claims it has introduced some of the most far-reaching gender equality legislation in Europe in compliance with EU membership demands. Nimet Cubukcu, former women's minister and now minister of education, is proud of their record.

"We have introduced the most progressive legal reforms in Europe to improve women's rights at home, in school, in the workplace," she said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan added his voice to the condemnation of violence against women.

"It is beyond contemporary understanding to exercise violence on women, whoever is beating them, or treating them beyond humanity. In the traditions and customs of this geography there can be no such thing, as committing violence in the name of honor," he said.

There has been a national TV campaign on violence against women in the last few months. Despite the campaign and political condemnation along with legal reforms, a recent study found over 40 percent of women were subject to either physical or sexual violence.

While most Turkish women's groups and the EU acknowledge government reforms, serious questions remain over the commitment of the Islamic-rooted government to gender equality. Ilkaracan says the dramatic increase in murders of women is the most worrying part of a wider trend.

"Turkey has full equality on paper, but there is an incredible resistance on the part of the government, including the women's minister to implement these reforms.  Turkey is the country where women's employment is the lowest among OECD countries, the gender gap in education is not decreasing and the number of women in decision-making mechanisms are also decreasing," Ilkaracan said.    

Such a grim picture will undoubtedly cause concern in the EU.  Women's rights remains one of the key areas of concern over Turkey's membership bid. That concern can only rise on the news of a 14-fold increase in murders of women.

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