When Women Pay the Price

The Guardian publishes an interesting column from Turkish novelist Elif Shafak about a controversial rape case in her country. In the piece, Shafak argues that Turkey is stubbornly patriarchal, and as a result, women in general, and particularly women who are victims of violence are forced to pay the price. This story serves as a tragic example.

26-year-old mother of two, Nevin Yildirim, was reportedly raped over the course of eight months by a relative by marriage. The man took photos of her naked, and blackmailed her to keep silent. But eventually, she became pregnant, and he began boasting of his exploits with his drinking buddies, and there were people in the village who knew what was going on.

So by the end of August, Yildirim decided she’d had enough. One day when he climbed up the back wall of her house, she allegedly, shot him ten times, stabbed him, and cut off his head.

This week, the customers of a coffee house in a village in the Mediterranean region saw a young woman carrying a bloody sack. Inside was a severed head. She hurled the sack towards them and said: "I saved my honour. Do not talk behind my back any more."

… She said she didn't want anyone to call her children "the whore's kids". Instead, they would be seen as "the children of a woman who had cleansed her honour".

The case has caused an uproar in Turkey. Women's organisations have rallied to her support, her story has received wide coverage in the media, the social media has buzzed with remarks, and an appeal has been made for her to have an abortion. As I write, the court has announced its decision against the appeal. Yildirim turned out to be 29 weeks pregnant, past the legal limit to terminate a pregnancy, which is 10 weeks. In cases where a woman's health is endangered, abortion can be allowed at up to 20 weeks.

The court's decision sparked a debate with deep moral, social and political implications. Not long ago, members of the government discussed limiting, if not banning, both caesarean section and abortion rights in Turkey. The health minister, Recep Akdag, had said that should any children be born as a result of rape or violence, the government would take care of them. The proposal on abortion was fiercely opposed across society, as a result of which it was shelved. The laws regarding C-section, however, have been changed and the procedure greatly limited.

The truth is, recent debates on women's bodies and reproduction rights have left a bad taste in the mouths of us Turkish women. The suddenness of the proposal and the lack of a genuine, pluralistic debate left many women uncomfortable and worried about the future. Turkish women have enjoyed greater rights than their sisters in other parts of the Muslim world. But all of a sudden, women realised the rights they had taken for granted could one day be taken away.

For women in Turkey who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, there are few doors to knock on. There are few women's shelters, and too often society tends to judge the victim, not the perpetrator.