Does peace-building happen only between nations or cultures, or is the concept more all-encompassing than that? Can peace-building happen between genders?
Last week Ozgecan Aslan, a Turkish student, was murdered for resisting rape while taking public transportation. This devastating story is not unique to Turkey. It is reminiscent of the 2012 brutal rape and murder of Jyoti in New Delhi, or the Isla Vista killings in California that sparked the #yesallwomen conversation. Now, in Turkey, protesters are calling for their leaders to do more to protect women from gender-based violence (GBV). The Financial Times quoted Deniz Bayram, a lawyer who works with the feminist organization, Mor Cati, as saying, “Every woman thinks that it could have been her in the minibus instead of Ozgecan.” And this certainly rings true for many of us.
Reading about Ozgecan reminded me of a scary encounter I had while taking public transportation in Istanbul. A man followed me incessantly as I disembarked from the tram, until I ran into a pharmacy and asked for the employee to call the police. Sharing this story at work, I discovered that others had similar stories of being targeted by men in transit systems—from DC’s Metro to Nairobi’s busses. I could have been Ozgecan. You could have been Ozgecan. Violence against women permeates not only Turkish culture, but global culture, and it is going to take both genders working together to stop it.
As an intern at HasNa, a non-profit that builds peace through development activities in Turkey, Armenia and Cyprus, I’ve learned about the laws that are in place to protect women in Turkey. Like many nation’s laws and even global compacts, these attempts don’t always translate into action. The past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the cases of violence against women. In fact, a 2009 Human Rights Watch study that found that 42% of Turkish woman are subject to domestic violence at some point in their lifetime, and only 8% seek legal help against it. While communities with a population larger than 50,000 are required by law to have a women’s shelter, NGOs lack the resources to serve victims of GBV.
For this reason, HasNa initiated Project SHINE (Self Help through New Exchanges) to empower NGOs working to end GBV and enhance their capacity to serve Turkey’s women. What is more interesting is that the participants of Project SHINE are both male and female leaders. Engaging men in the fight against GBV is extremely important. Increasingly, international organizations are calling for men to step up and speak out: HeforShe, Men Can Stop Rape, and The White Ribbon Campaign, to name a few. If we want to build peace between the genders, we cannot only engage a single gender in the dialogue!
The tragic death of Ozgecan has reminded us of how important this project is for the region and the world. Women in Turkey need our solidarity, and we hope that you will partner with us through supporting Project SHINE to fight GBV in Turkey and help ensure the rights of women. You can find out more information on this project and our other work in the region on our website. You can also support Project SHINE directly through our Trevolta campaign. Together, we can stop violence against women.
This blog post was contributed by Nichole Saad, who is currently an intern at HasNa Inc.