International women’s day in Turkey began with the murder of a woman seeking shelter from family violence in a medical center. It ended in Ankara with the Turkish Parliament passing a bill “to protect the family and to prevent violence against women.”
The long-overdue bill was badly needed. “What do we have in Turkey?” a representative of one of Turkey’s leading women’s rights groups asks in Today’s Zaman. “Violence against women, exploitation of female labor and bodies, female poverty, female unemployment, child brides and girls who are not sent to school.”
This assessment is supported by equally bleak statistics: According to the Turkish police, 78,488 incidents of domestic violence were registered in the 19 months between February 2010 and August 2011 — an average of one incident of domestic violence every ten minutes. Since this number includes only officially reported incidents, it is likely that the actual number was far higher.
Yet, despite the fact that 42% of Turkish women report having experienced violence, usually from a husband or family member, there are only 84 women’s shelter with a total capacity of 1879 women , said the Minister of Environment and Urbanism during the debate over the bill.
Whether this move by the Turkish government will significantly improve Turkey’s depressing record on protecting women from violence remains an open question. Initial reports do not indicate that the quality and number of women’s shelters will increase to meet the needs of the country’s battered and threatened women any time in the near future. Still, it is a step forward. Let us hope that there will be a significant reduction in the number of incidents such as the one that initiated International Women’s Day in Istanbul.