Turkey Responds Slowly to Honor Killings
Wednesday, April 12, 2006 10:35 AM

Turkey's government and civil society sectors are slowly beginning to address the practice of honor killing, or murdering women for disgracing a family's "honor" by allegedly having an affair, an extra-marital pregnancy (often the result of rape), being seen in public with a man, or even not showing modesty in their dress. However, as Turkey works to gain acceptance into the European Union, improving its deeply flawed human rights record has become a priority, and honor killings have begun to attract more attention.

Under the new Turkish penal code approved last year, those guilty of honor killings are now eligible for life sentences, a steep improvement from the prior norm of showing leniency, and giving only a couple years in prison, for those convicted of honor killings. However, because the ideas surrounding honor killings are so embedded in the culture of the deeply patriarchal societies where they occur, scholars like Aytekin Sir, an expert on honor killings at Diyarbakir, Turkey's Dicle University, see such legal measures to be merely the first step towards eradication of honor killings.  For example, he reports that judges often rely on their own sense of justice, rather than that of the law, to assign punishment, and so the stricter sentences for perpetrators of honor killings have been largely neglected. Furthermore, families have found ways of circumventing the tougher punishments and still retaining their sense of "honor" by pressuring young women to commit suicide or having children engage in honor killing because of the lighter sentence they will receive. 

Civil society has become more active on the issue of honor killings, as well, creating greater public awareness. The Turkish press has increased its coverage of honor killings, and the phenomenon is appearing in more books, plays, and films. In particular, a women's group called Ka-Mer has been active in creating safe shelters and telephone hotlines for persecuted women and protecting women by settling them in different parts of Turkey with new identity information. The group works in southeastern Turkey, home to a Kurdish majority, where half of women are illiterate and many are entirely dependent upon their husbands or fathers for financial support. Ka-Mer and other experts say that poverty and lack of education are the two most common factors linking honor killings. One study has shown that uneducated women are as likely to believe in honor killings as are men, making the education of women a vital component to fighting the practice of honor killings.

The road towards elimination of this practice is uphill, with increased honor killings due to large-scale migration to cities and accelerated fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkish forces in the southeast, but recent developments show that Turkey is at least on the path towards addressing honor killings.

Compiled from: "Turkey Faces Battle to Stamp Out Honor Killings", Gareth Jones, Reuters Alertnet, 7 April 2006.