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Opinion

Opinion: Longing for justice, not a harem

The Turkish first lady's recent statements shook social media. DW's Seda Serdar believes this helped raise awareness, which probably wasn't her intention.

As if it was not sufficient enough to ban the Women's Day demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey's first lady, Emine Erdogan, uttered the unfortunate words "a harem was a school for women." This is not the first time that Mrs. Erdogan has shocked the public with her statements. Just a few days ago, she compared the Republic of Turkey and its 92 years of history to a wreck.

It is no secret that the Erdogan's are longing for the Ottoman era. However, by making these statements Mrs. Erdogan unintentionally drew more attention to the real problem in Turkey. Her remarks mobilized women, not only around the country, but drew international attention to women's rights in Turkey, which are in an alarming state.

303 Women Killed

The killing of women and sexual and verbal abuse has reached a peak during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Even though the government prides itself on the legislation it has passed for women's rights, the facts on the ground prove the contrary. In 2015, according to the Stop Killing Women Platform, 303 women were killed. That is almost one woman a day. In 2014, this number was 294 and in 2013, 237.

Women's rights organizations are struggling to raise awareness. The laws that allow rapists and abusers to get less prison time due to "good behavior" or "crime of passion" are still being ignored by lawmakers. Women's organizations have intensified their struggle and are pushing for an amendment, recently named "Özgecan Law” after the university student Özgecan Aslan (20) who was brutally killed and set on fire by a bus driver on February 11, 2015, while heading home on public transportation. She became a symbol of violence against women in Turkey and there seems to be more awareness about the issue. The reason Özgecan's death shook the whole country, and that we are still talking about it was because each and every Turkish woman could relate to her death. It could have been any of us in her shoes.

Lack of Will

However, the government is still callous towards these demands. There is only one explanation why such actions are not being taken, which is the lack of will. Women are seen as second class citizens in the eyes of the existing government and are only good for bearing children. In a country where the president feels free to have the right to tell women to have at least three children and defines women primarily via motherhood, demonstrates exactly where the problem lies.

Mrs. Erdogan's words were not the only mishaps. On March 8, the Ministry for Family and Social Policy released a video in which the photo of a child bride was labeled as "tradition." The government should not be promoting this perverse way of thinking, it should be fighting it. Instead, they are busy removing ballerina statues dedicated to Özgecan Aslan due their allegedly "explicit" nature.

Even though the women's organizations are fighting for their rights, they lack support from fellow females that could actually help change the situation in the country. Mrs. Erdogan should not have been glorifying the harems, which were also known for keeping women as slaves for the Sultan's pleasure; instead, she should have shown support for the "Özgecan Law" and promoted gender equality.

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