2005-12-01

Intolerance: Raw Deal for Turkish Women

Rape victims in Turkey can be forced by their own families to marry their rapists -- or risk being killed in the name of family honour, according to a 'United Nations' report released today. The report, by 'The United Nations Population Fund', is the first in-depth study in Turkey of the different motivations behind 'honour-killings', where women and young girls are murdered by their relatives for allegedly bringing shame on the family. Human rights activists estimate that hundreds of Turkish women are murdered in such killings each year. The issue is a major concern for 'The European Union', which is monitoring human rights improvements made by Turkey in its attempt to join the EU by 2015. Many such killings take place in poorer communities where family life is dominated by patriarchal and tribal traditions. The 'UN' report reveals that in such communities, women who have been raped are often seen as having dishonoured their families.
'When a girl is raped by a man, since she is no longer a virgin, it is usually believed that the best way to solve the problem is to get them married, especially if the man is not already married,' the report says.
It goes on:
'If the man is already married and the raped girl is pregnant, this creates a more complicated situation and usually ends in the girl's murder.'
The report suggests that the practice of forcing rape victims to marry their attackers had been partly re-inforced by an earlier, but now obsolete, Turkish penal code. This stipulated that if a rapist married his victim, his penalty would be suspended and if he stayed married to her for five years, it would be cancelled completely. The 'UN' report, which is based on interviews with more than 250 people in Istanbul and other cities with large Kurdish populations, details several such cases. One involved the rape of a 'mentally challenged' girl.
'The brothers of the girl offered her in marriage to the man and said that they would pay all wedding costs, all in an effort to avoid gossip,' the report says. 'In the end, they shot the man dead. Later, they threw the girl into a water channel. 'Somehow the girl was not hurt; she was saved and then she was sent to another place through [social] organisations. However, the family is still after her.'
The 'UN' report will make depressing reading for the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, which was told last month by the European Commission that it needs to accelerate reforms. 'Women's rights' was one of the areas singled out by 'Brussels' as needing particular attention. A report by 'The European Commission' said earlier this month that there had been
'little progress regarding women's rights ... the main areas of concern for women in Turkey continue to be domestic violence, 'honour killings', a high illiteracy rate, and low participation in parliament, local representative bodies and the labour market'.
The government has recently taken a tougher stand: a new penal code makes honour killings punishable with life sentences. But prosecution is difficult, as 'honour killings' are often passed off as suicides and some are never discovered. Apart from rape, the report defines other situations where a woman from such a community might be murdered. A married women who has an affair, runs away with another man, or who leaves or divorces her husband might be at risk of being hunted down and killed. Similarly, a divorced woman, who is often still regarded as the property of her former husband, might be murdered if she starts seeing another man. Unmarried girls who have a boyfriend are also at risk. In some 'honour' crimes, the families involved may come to another settlement. The report gives details of the practice of 'Berdel', where a young girl from one family is given to another to compensate for a grievance. Sometimes the gift is a car or gun instead of a girl. What emerges from the report is a picture of a segment of Turkish society in which notions of 'honour' are deeply ingrained, even among comparatively educated people.
'I'm definitely against divorce,' the report quotes one 34-year-old, secondary school educated man from the south-eastern city of Batman as saying. 'If my wife is unfaithful to me, I will either kill her, or if she has a brother, an older brother, I will tell him: "You kill her".'
Although the Turkish parliament now has a special committee on 'honour killings', so far there have been few concerted state efforts to address the issue. Much of the interest and funding for existing research has come from abroad. State intervention is not always easy. The 'UN' report points out that many of the communities where such killings take place are in areas which have a large Kurdish population.
'After long years of fighting between Turkish security forces and Kurdish separatist groups in which as many as 30_000 people are thought to have died, the south-east of Turkey remains tense,' it observes.
One major concern highlighted by the report was the lack of shelters for women on the run from their families. 'Women 'forced to wed rapists or die', Meriel Beattie, The Scotsman, 2005-11-22, Tu Links: Home Office -- forced marriages

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