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Elcin Poyrazlar Headshot

No Country for Women

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After 14 years abroad I am now back in my home country. Most of the time I feel that I am a stranger to the "New Turkey." And it becomes stranger and stranger. It took me almost a year to adapt (no doubt there are moments of struggle still) to the new political culture, the head-turning speed of usage of social media here and the unwritten rules of the emerging elite.

When I left Turkey for my studies I felt I was more or less represented in the government. Now I am back and I see that I am a minority. Fine. Politics is like that. Once you feel you are in power then you lose it. But the transformation my country is going through is mindblowing. It can be felt in every field -- in education, business, culture, fashion, media, even on the streets. I live in Istanbul, a mega-city, so I can't really say whether it is more conservative or religious. But there is certainly an air of submission where without being told, you have the instinct to shut your mouth.

But one area about which I try not to shut my mouth is violence against women. Turkish women are systematically harassed, raped and murdered. Underage girls are forced into marriages with much older men. In some cases they are sold by their parents. And sometimes if they refuse they are killed to save the family's honor. For statistics you can go the European Commission's Turkey reports or Amnesty International publications. In the last ten years, violence against women in Turkey has increased by up to 1400 percent. The representation of Turkish women in the national parliament is 14.3 percent. Violence and discrimination against women can be found at any level of society, educated or not. On certain streets of Istanbul, if you are wearing revealing clothes, you can easily be harassed -- and in case of rapes, the judge may decide that you seduced the rapist.

Some random guy in the park may come up to you and tell you off because you are kissing your boyfriend. Or someone from your neighborhood might complain about your daughter's "indecent behavior with men." You try not to care. However every day you wake up to the fact that many Turkish men care terribly about the "honor" of young girls and women. And for many of them honor means virginity. They can care about it more than they care about the women themselves. So if honor is soiled, women should be executed.

All I am saying is because Turkish women are objects of male honor, they are deeply unhappy. Even though they try hard to have their rights they are taught to know their "place" when the issue comes to social rights. They are encouraged to assume traditional roles and women who want to go after their careers are generally not seen positively. And the dominant male and conservative political culture is certainly not in their favor.

A foreign expatriate told me once that he does not want to bring his daughter up here. Although I argued against that by saying there are worse countries for women, like Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in the world, I could not deny the deteriorating situation here. Yes, Turkey with its patriarchal state and social system was never heaven for women. But I can't shake this terrible feeling that it is getting even worse.