Turkish women victims of family conspiracies

Written By : Ian Potts MediaGlobal. Honour murders occur every year in the Middle East, from Turkey to Pakistan. Turkey’s bid to enter the EU in 2005 led Turkish lawmakers
27 Mar 2011 12:00

image Written By : Ian Potts MediaGlobal. Honour murders occur every year in the Middle East, from Turkey to Pakistan. Turkey’s bid to enter the EU in 2005 led Turkish lawmakers to impose a mandatory life sentence for these crimes. However, one unattended result is that would-be murderers often pressure victims into suicide.
“The name and honour of the family are thought to be more important than anybody’s life,” said Fatma Benli, a Turkish attorney dedicated to Women’s Rights. “But there is a heavy punishment for murder, so a woman is made to look like she died as if by accident or suicide.”
Honour crimes are pre-meditated, targeted killings that are discussed and supported by the immediate family. Even female members often support murder; a mother may rationalise her daughter’s death thinking that no man would marry into a family that carried such dishonor. If she disapproves of the murder, she may be targeted as well.
Old penal codes in Turkey had previously offered convicted murderers an eighth the normal sentence when their crimes were honor-based.
“Honour murders occur because a woman seeks to determine her own life; the way she dresses, whom she loves, what she does to make a living,” said Sylvia Maier, Professor at the NYU Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, to MediaGlobal. “It is about a woman’s desire to live a self-determined, autonomous life that runs smack in the face of the patriarchal norms of gender behavior.”
Like honour murders, honor suicides are the choice of the family. But in countries where harsh penalties exist for honor crimes, women are often pressured to take their own life out of guilt or shame.
“In honour murders, social pressure passes beyond religious beliefs, logic, and all human emotions,” said Benli.
Women can be locked in a room containing a knife, noose, or gun until they have killed themselves, or be urged to jump from a building or bridge. These cases are especially difficult because they are difficult to distinguish from other suicide cases.
When faced with suicide, some girls will flee to shelters and are even imprisoned so that family members cannot gain access to them. Turkey has stipulated that any city containing a population of 50,000 or more is required to operate one or more of these shelters. But police will sometimes reject women seeking sanctuary, or forcibly send them home.
Most common in the Middle East, the Muslim diaspora has expanded honour crime to a global phenomenon. Murderers in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Norway have received significantly shorter sentences because defendants use cultural defence to explain why killing to preserving honor is both legally and culturally permissible in their home country. Similar murders in the US and Canada have also been on the rise.
“Almost all penal codes in Middle Eastern countries have a clause that says if a man takes a woman’s life in order to defend or cleanse a family’s honour, that person will not be charged with murder,” said Maier. “At most, that person will be charged with manslaughter and may even be acquitted because that is such a necessary cultural requirement to have clean honour.”
Articles 98 and 340 of Jordan’s penal code consider any act permissible if the perpetrator experiences temporary insanity or kills to defend his family honour. In 2009, Syria amended a law that had prevented men who killed in instances of adultery from serving more than one year in prison, now requiring a minimum of two years for the same crime.
Though some Middle East governments are amending their laws to rein in these honour crimes, the public must also back these initiatives for them to be effective. Turkey has been running public service announcements where prominent Imams, athletes, and celebrities appear together to denounce honour crime.

MediaGlobal is an independent international media organiSation, based in the United Nations, creating awareness in the global media on social justice and development issues in the world’s least developed countries.

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