By Zeina Zataari
As an activist-scholar, I have always been interested in the intersections between the two apparently separate worlds and have worked to ensure knowledge produced serves societal change towards equality and justice. I was thrilled to see this intersection in action at the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies in Spain where several academics and grantee sisters showcased their collaborative efforts.
One remarkable panel, Women of Turkey: A Critical look into Honour Crimes in Turkey and among Diaspora Communities in Europe, was organized by Leyla Pervizat, an academic-activist. Leyla reminded me that the group she had worked with, In the Name of Honor, had received a grant from GFW nearly twelve years ago. Now a professor at Halic University, she brought together a lawyer working on the application of the new penal code to ‘honor-killings’ and a young feminist researcher challenging media representations of ‘honor killings.’
Although notions of honor may shift and change, Leyla reminded us that women are the ones who invariably pay the price to ‘uphold’ honor. ‘Honor-killings,’ like most cases of violence against women, does not happen in a vacuum, but within a long historical and political context. She attributed the rise in ‘honor killings’ in Turkey to an increasingly militarized culture, exacerbated by mandatory military service.
In 2004, after a long campaign led by Turkish feminist organizations, including our grantee partner Women for Women’s Human Rights, the penal code no longer allowed reduced sentences for crimes of ‘honor,’ although it still does for crimes of ‘custom.’ Their challenge now is changing attitudes and practice. Rates of suicide by young women are growing in rural Turkey and Egypt where young women are shamed and then encouraged by family members to commit suicide as a way to ‘cleanse’ the family ‘honor,’ and also enable families to get away with their crime.
Feminist research reveals how such crimes are portrayed in the media as ‘custom’ when the perpetrator is Kurdish, whereas when committed by a Turkish individual, it is usually buried in the papers and described as either passion crimes or random acts of violence. This contributes to inflicting further violence on women by attributing a global phenomenon like violence to a ‘cultural’ problem that further marginalizes Kurdish women.
Yet perpetrators continue to live with immunity, which has led the European Court of Human Rights in June 2009 to fine and convict Turkey of failing to protect women from domestic violence. A similar pattern of normalizing violence against women is unfolding in Iraq against a backdrop of ongoing occupation by military troops and contractors, of insurgents, and tribal and Islamist groups. In such a harsh reality, women have very little recourse to justice.
Listening to the ways in which feminist academics and activists are working together in Turkey reinforced my conviction that the two must work closely to combat all forms of violence.
Series by Robert Fisk in the Independent:
- The truth about ‘honor’ killings
- Relatives with blood on their hands
- One woman’s nightmare, and a crime against humanity
Zeina Zataari is part of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Program Team