Turkey’s deepening tragedy of murdered women

As she did most afternoons, Pınar Ünlüer was waiting to collect her six-year-old son from his school in the western province of İzmir. She was then shot dead in broad daylight only meters away from the school, by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected.

The 29-year-old was among 210 Turkish women killed or forced to commit suicide in 2012 in misogynist attacks by men, according to the women’s rights group We Will Stop Femicide. Since then there has been a chilling increase in the number of women killed, often at the hands of men they know.

Newspapers report almost daily on murders of women by men they knew, and the rights group says 328 women were killed last year.

In the first five months of 2017, 173 women were killed across Turkey compared with 137 in the same period of 2016, the group said in its monthly report in May.

“When a woman is killed, I feel the same pain. I see them as my daughters,” Pınar’s father, Zeki Ünlüer, told AFP, adding that his daughter’s killer had sought a reduced sentence by claiming he had been provoked, a tactic often used in such cases.

“When my daughter was laid to rest, my wife and I died.”

Since 2010, 118 women have been killed in İzmir alone.

Women’s activists told AFP that the rise in killings had come as more women sought to exercise their rights, including divorcing abusive partners.

“Women are changing but men are not. Men cannot keep up and there is a crisis,” said Gülsüm Kav, a founding member of We Will Stop Femicide.

The Turkish government has said that the number of women killed every year is unacceptable, but activists warn that the problem is getting worse.

Activists also say the killers try to get reduced sentences by claiming insanity, alleging that a woman had insulted them or that they had been cheated on.

Eda Okutgen, described by her sister Nazlı Okutgen as having “a heart of gold”, was stabbed multiple times in November 2014 by her ex-husband in İzmir.

He was initially given life in prison for her murder, but a higher court annulled the sentence, and he is now claiming insanity in a retrial, Nazlı Okutgen told AFP.

Over 37 percent of Turkish women said they had experienced physical or sexual violence – or both – according to an exhaustive 2014 survey of 15,000 households by the country’s family ministry.

Turkey has ratified the Council of Europe’s 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women.

There are also Turkish laws to protect women and punish perpetrators of assault, including law 6284 — passed in 2012 to protect families and prevent violence against women.

But according to Kav, of We Will Stop Femicide, officials were not putting the law into practice.

“These murders are something that can be stopped. There are solutions,” she said, pointing to the drop in women’s murders from 180 in 2010 to 121 the following year, a decline she attributed to the law’s debate which shone a spotlight on the problem.

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