Uç kadından biri or one in three: On violence against women in Turkey and the United States

14 Feb
One Billion Rising! (Image from onebillionrising.org)

One Billion Rising! (Image from onebillionrising.org)

One billion rising.  Perhaps you have seen these three words popping up here and there over the past weeks as we head towards Saint Valentine‘s Day.  A day of love – and a day of protest related to violence against women.

I choose to highlight this event today through the lens of being in a cross-cultural marriage.  I was born and raised in the United States.  My husband was born and raised in Turkey – emigrating here twenty years ago.  So, what does my cross-cultural marriage have to do with the One Billion Rising movement?

Well, you might – or might not – be surprised to learn that I am often asked, point blank, about the presence of violence in my marriage – as soon as my social work colleagues – and some friends – learn that my husband is Turkish.  I find this an offensive assumption about men from Turkey.  I also find this just about the worst extension of some sort of attempt at “cultural competence” used, perhaps, to “warn” me about my husband.  Although my heart and mind often bristle at this question, I have had the opportunity to discuss this with one friend who asked such a question.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: : “Um, dear friend, what is your reasoning in asking me this question?

Friend:   “He’s from the Middle East, right?”

Me: “Um, actually, he’s from Europe.”

Friend: “But he speaks Arabic, right, and he’s Muslim?”

Me: “No, actually, they speak Turkish in Turkey, and while his family were Sun’ni Muslims in name, he is not religious.”

Friend: “But Muslim Middle Eastern men are known for oppressing women – including accepting that violence against their wives is par for the course, no?”

Me:  (Sigh before launching into what I hope will be a friendly and open-hearted explanation of the problematic assumptions in my highly educated friend’s statements)

Friend: “Ok, I’m glad we talked about this.  (Next week, she sends me a newspaper cutting about honor killings in Turkey)

If I am really engaging in reflexivity on this matter, I do admit that in my zeal to assist people in having an open mind about not only my husband, but other Turkish men, Middle Eastern men or Muslim men…I really (really) wanted to deny the stereotype as this was not my experience.  And as a survivor of violence myself, I know the difference.   It is for this reason, I suppose, that it means that much more to me that my husband and I speak of this matter openly.  It is for this reason, I know, that I am grateful to my kaynana (Turkish for mother-in-law) who admonished her sons to “not be a macho, no matter what! And don’t hit women!” And this was deeply emblazoned in my husband’s psyche as a young boy back in the early 1960s!

But, feet back on the ground, of course, in every stereotype, there is a grain of truth.  And in the case of Middle Eastern men and/or Muslim men, there are many grains – maybe even a bushel of truths – about what some might call culturally-sanctioned violence.

And it has taken me some time, but recently, a voice inside me suggested that perhaps “the lady (me) doth protest too much” about refuting stereotypes about categories of men such as those that my husband fits into.   As we approach V-day this year, I have to admit that I have finally learned to live with the fact that yes, there are horrible realities related to violence against women in Turkey.

And while these truths make the stereotypes applied to my husband hurt all the more, I want to take this opportunity to put some statistics out there for you as we cannot read them enough, in my opinion.

Violence against women is (heart-breakingly) a universal phenomenon

You can read more about this in the thoughtfully constructed, worldwide study on violence against women conducted by the United Nations. You can read more about this in an article you can find by clicking this hotlink – with Turkey featured.

In Turkey…39% of women report suffering intentional physical violence by a man at some time in their lives.

In the United States…22% of women report suffering intentional physical violence by a man at some time in their lives.

As a researcher, I am sure that these are likely to be lower-bound estimates for the overall presence of violence against women based on sampling challenges and issues related to disclosing such matters.  However, this baseline tells us a lot.

So as you go about your day today, dodging red rose vendors, gorging on chocolate bonbons or bumping into a few pink and white balloons – watch out for people participating in One Billion Rising activities – and maybe even check out this link, which talks about how women in Turkey are also participating in this movement: One Billion Rising in Turkey – an article in Today’s Zaman, one of the English-language papers in Turkey.

If you are in need of help related to domestic or family violence – please visit this website – and note their “leave this site quickly button.”  A sad, but necessary technological innovation.

Please love one another on this V-day, and please do what you can to address violence against women in your own life.

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