Turkish pop star’s case highlights violence against women

ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) – When Turkish pop star Sila reported her partner’s physical violence to police, it was a rare moment in Turkish history: a celebrity speaking out against her abuse.

Ahmet Kural, a famous actor, is accused of beating the singer, whose full name is Sila Gencoglu, last October.

Kural’s trial began yesterday in Istanbul, one day before International Women’s Day, celebrated with a march in the metropolis, and rallies in other cities.

For Sila’s lawyer, Rezan Epozdemir, her case is a powerful moment for Turkish women since victims do not usually come forward.

Rights groups said Turkish laws to help protect victims have improved. But traditional patriarchal attitudes dominant in conservative society as well as a lack of awareness often prevent women from speaking out against abuse.

“It is extremely significant that a woman who experienced violence freely sought her rights and took legal action, and for her case to be at the centre of debate,” Epozdemir told AFP.

Kural faces up to five years in jail for charges including actual bodily harm, which the television and film actor denies.

Activists said the number of Turkish women murdered by their partners is rising and more suffer physical or sexual abuse by partners or male relatives.

In 2018, 440 women were killed in murders linked to their gender, according to the women’s rights group ‘We Will Stop Femicide’, compared with 210 in 2012.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu last November said 133,809 women had been victims of violence in 2017 while in the first 10 months of 2018, the number was 96,417.

A 2014 government study found 38 per cent of Turkish women had been subjected to either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Head of the Federation of Women Associations of Turkey (TKDF) Canan Gullu said after Sila’s action, there were “many more calls” to their emergency hotline from female victims of abuse empowered by the singer’s actions.

Gullu said more women had become aware of their rights and the law that protects them from violence.

Turkey was the first country to ratify the 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world’s most progressive binding accord to prevent and combat violence against women.

A Turkish academic at Middle East Technical University (METU) Feride Acar who contributed to the text, said improvements had been made in Turkey, but more needed to be done to build on the convention’s promise.

The convention calls for more shelters, known as violence protection monitoring centres in Turkey, which Acar praised. But she said more access to the shelters was needed.