When Emma Watson urged men to be part of the gender equality conversation in her ‘Her for She’ campaign launch speech, this is what she was talking about. When President Obama launched the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to urge men and other bystanders not to stay silent when it comes to domestic abuse, sexual assault and other forms of violence against women, this is what he was talking about. This is activism in action.
On February 11, a 20 year-old Turkish woman named Ozgecan Aslan was abducted then brutally murdered by a bus driver for attempting to prevent him from raping her. The college student was traveling via a minibus across the city of Mersin, and was the last person on the bus.
Instead of dropping her off, the driver attacked her, Ozgecan tried to use pepper spray to fend him off but he then clubbed her to death with a metal bar. It is said he had help from a family member and another friend to cut her hands off so that his DNA could not be found under her fingernails. Truly sickening!
Her body was found in a riverbed several days later and the story made news headline across the country. In solidarity and out of disgust for this inhumane crime, men across the country staged protests about violence against women in general because of the way crimes like Ozgecan’s are treated by their judicial system.
It is reminiscent of the protests in India sparked by the gang rape of a girl on a Delhi bus at the end of 2012 which brought to the surface the failure of the Indian law to protect women against such gender-related crimes.
The men in Turkey didn’t just stage any protest, but they wore skirts to show how ridiculous it is that there are countries and societies still using a woman’s outfit as a way to give a lesser punishment and effectively blame the victim for being raped because of her clothing choice.
Surprisingly, one of the men who has spoken out against the murder of Ozgecan is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who isn’t exactly known for his support of equality and women’s rights.
“Violence against women is the bleeding wound of our country,” President Recep Tayyip Erodgan said in a speech.
He made headlines toward the end of 2014 by making a statement at a summit claiming women are NOT equal to men because it goes against the laws of nature and also damned feminism at the same time. He has tried to outlaw abortion, believes women should stick to being mothers and preferably have between 3-5 children.
His comments may have been laughable to some, but there is more than just the shock of a world leader saying such absurd things. His words are indicative of the current culture in Turkey that doesn’t always treat women as equals. He is by no means the only man to think this way.
Turkey is a country of 75 million people where only 28% of women are in legal employment, an estimated 40% of women suffer domestic violence at least once in their lives, and where millions of girls are forced into under-age marriage every year according to the Guardian.
The New York Times reports that there has been a 20% increase in women being murdered over the past year, and many of these crimes don’t get near the amount of media attention or headlines that Ozgecan Aslan’s did, and that’s a huge problem.
Out of all the Middle Eastern countries that are ruled by Muslim law, Turkey is certainly one of the leaders when it comes to women’s rights, but it definitely has a long way to go. There are too many loopholes being exploited by men and husbands accused of domestic violence against women which leads to reduced sentences for gender crimes, and the cultural attitude that treating a woman as a second-class citizen isn’t necessarily considered that bad, in essence.
It leads to attitudes like victim-blaming and examining what a woman was wearing as a viable excuse for a crime, but it seems both women AND men in Turkey have had enough. In certain Middle Eastern countries there are no such laws which outline marital rape and domestic violence as a crime, and this therefore enforces the patriarchal dominance over women.
Is it this type of climate that reportedly makes many women reluctant to report such crimes, giving even more power to men to commit them.One positive from this case is that female legislators have introduced a law to remove the ability of a judge to reduce the sentence of criminals. It has been presented before to Turkish legislators, and initially rejected.
But in light of the Ozgecan Aslan murder is it now being reconsidered again. This time the attention of the world media is on Turkish parliamentarians to do the right thing. The miniskirt protest by men in Turkey is indicative that they are unhappy with the patriarchal policies which seek to hide and cover up rather than deliver due justice.
The protest started on social media and then turned into a bigger event with physical protests on the streets.
“If a miniskirt is responsible for everything, if a miniskirt means immorality and unchastity, if a woman who wears a miniskirt is sending an invitation about what will happen to her, then we are also sending an invitation!”, a rallying cry on Facebook noted.
Some has criticized the miniskirt protests saying they will not provoke any action in a conservative country like Turkey. But like any social media movement, it has the potential and the power to spark important discussions about gender crimes that perhaps did not exist before.
The social media pictures of men wearing skirts and holding up signs using the hashtags #ozgecanicinminietekgiy which roughly translates as “wear a miniskirt for Ozgecan” and #sendeanlat (which means “Tell Your Story”) is similar to the viral hashtag #yesallwomen used across the US in 2014 after the brutal shootings of a group of college men and women by the Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger who released a video before committing his crime stating he wanted to kill the girls who rejected his romantic and sexual advances.
The twitter hashtag #sendeanlat went viral in turkey when many other women shared their own stories of being harassed and abused for what they were wearing and other more serious gender issues that point out the inherent sexism prevalent in a country that has not done a good enough job of prosecuting perpetrators of gender crimes.
Turkish socialist feminist Selin Catagay believes these types of crimes have been happening consistently ever since President Erdogan went into office in 2002. She said in an interview the President used the guise of “strengthening the family” as a campaign that would effectively undermine the percentage of women in the workforce.
“Women face the most extreme cases of violence when they attempt to become independent of men. Here, the religious-conservative ideological imposition that women should behave according to their purpose of creation is the discourse that perpetuates violence against women because it encourages men to “punish” women who step outside the confines of patriarchal family,” she said.
She goes on to talk about her feminist organization called Sosyalist Feminist Kolektif which launched in 2008 in retaliation of the gender-skewed politics coming forth from the Erdogan administration. They have protested and spoken out against the treatment of women in the workforce, laws which don’t afford women the same rights as men in public life in Turkey, the clamping down on reproductive rights, and the treatment of female Syrian refugees currently taking shelter in Turkey.
They also believe the imposition of religious laws through the government leaves a lot of room for laws that don’t protect women from violence at the hands of men. It is interesting to note that over half the people using the hashtag #sendeanlat (51%) were men, showing that this issue of gender inequality in Turkey is not just a woman’s issue, it is a human rights issue.
While the attempted rape and alleged murder of Ozgecan Aslan is a horrible crime, it is representative of all the other women whose mistreatments, murders, and disappearances need to be brought to the surface in Turkish politics in order for the government to face up to the fact that there is a deep unrest in how they approach gender laws.
It is heartening to see the amount of men who stand in solidarity with women on an issue like this, just like there are man women who stand shoulder to shoulder during the protests in Ferguson, MO after the shooting of unarmed black man Michael Brown.
The trend (if we can crudely call it that, but we would rather it be a change) we are seeing is that there is a generation of people, spurred on by the power of social media and it’s ability to make activism more accessible, willing to see less of a gender divide when it comes to matters that affect women or men disproportionately, but instead view them as inherent human rights violations that need to be fixed.