The rise in honour killings in Turkey points to a patriarchal need to control women, where women straddle structures that can either reinforce or challenge gender norms
In March 2011, 19-year-old Hatice Firat’s body was discovered by Turkish police in the Southern province of Mersin, Turkey. Hatice had been tracked down and stabbed more than 40 times by her brother, Mahsun Firat, after she had allegedly run away with her boyfriend in February. According to Hatice’s family, her killing was necessary in order to cleanse the family of her “dishonourable act” and “reclaim” their honour.
Over recent years, honour killings like Hatice’s have increased at an alarming rate. Recent government figures suggest that murders of women – including honour killings – have increased 14-fold in seven years, hitting nearly 1,000 in the first seven months of 2009. Justification for honour killings can include a young woman looking at a man, becoming pregnant out of wedlock or being raped.
Although steps have been taken in Turkey to tackle this problem, these steps fail to go far enough and have brought with them their own problems. In recent years, changes have been made to Turkey’s penal code which now imposes life sentences for murders in the name of honour, regardless of whether they were committed by a minor or not. Consequently, female suicides in Turkey have increased. Female family members are now encouraged to take their own lives in order for male family members to avoid life imprisonment for murder. There are also cases in which murders are disguised as suicides.
In the Turkish context, the concept of honour is represented as being determined by acts of “purity” or “impurity” and is embodied in women’s behaviour. This is linked in a fatal way to a man’s prestige and status, which paradoxically provides women with the power to maintain and emasculate a man’s position of privilege in society if they choose to resist the hierarchical order. Masculinity is defined by one’s ability to exert control over another.
Often, this order is maintained and perpetuated through violence or the threat of it. Hatice Firat’s attempt at autonomy would no doubt have robbed the male family members of their status and standing in society until her death when, to some degree, it would have been restored.
In contrast, femininity is defined by subordination. Honour is maintained through obedience, self-restraint and self-effacement, modesty in dress, speech and seclusion. For example, 44.2 per cent of women living in urban areas and 64.5 per cent living in rural areas believe that women must obey their husbands. Furthermore, 10.6 per cent of women in urban areas and 24.9 per cent in rural areas believe that in some cases a man can beat his wife, as well as 42.7 per cent of women in urban areas and 61.2 per cent rural areas believing that the behaviour of women is the responsibility of males.
No amount of effort by the government, international community or non-governmental organisations will provide a sustainable solution to the problem of honour killings until patriarchal definitions of masculinity and femininity which legitimise violent behaviour are problematised. In order for this to be achieved, both women and men must actively and constructively become engaged and re-educated in alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity. Perhaps then, tragedies like Hatice’s will be tragedies of our past, and not of our present and future.
Image from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/turkish-honour-seriously-misguided
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