Rise in Turkish girls’ suicides worries activists
Bahar Sogut was 14 when she shot herself in the head with her father’s gun. Her mother and grandmother, who live in a small mud-built house in a village outside Batman in Turkey’s poor southeast, said it was her fate.
“She died with Allah’s (God’s) bidding,” her mother, Nefise Sogut, told Reuters. Fate was the only explanation either gave for what happened.
Bahar Sogut was one of 14 people—10 of them women and girls aged under 23—who have killed themselves this year in Batman, a city of 250,000 people, activists say. Another was aged 12 and threw herself off a building opposite her school.
Rising suicides among women in the mainly Kurdish southeast has prompted the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Yakin Erturk, to visit the region, where rights activists say families are forcing young women into suicide because the government has clamped down on so-called “honour killings”.
Hanging, poisoning and shooting are the most common methods, they say.
Turkey, which started European Union entry talks last year, has toughened legislation on honour killings, carried out against women seen to have tainted the family’s name, for example by having a child outside marriage or merely by being the subject of rumour.
Men, previously treated leniently by judges who considered “honour” a mitigating factor in murder, now face life sentences under a new penal code passed last year. Activists say that has made families put pressure on the woman in question to kill herself to spare the male relative from jail.
“(They are told) if I were you I’d kill myself,” Nilgun Yildirim, from women’s support centre Ka-Mer told Reuters. “They think ‘I’ve done a bad thing, my brother will go to jail because of me, I’ll kill myself’.”
In the eastern city of Van, 20 women have killed themselves this year, compared with 45 for the whole of 2005. Zozan Ozgokce, from Van Women’s Association, says some deaths are a result of coercion while others are murder presented as suicide.
WOMEN’S STATUS IN SOCIETY
“One woman’s husband was a soldier. She had a baby. Her mother-in-law forced her to kill herself,” Ozgocke said, citing the woman’s family. “She said if (your husband) was here he would kill you, so you must kill yourself.”
The United Nations’ Erturk, still at the start of her mission, says allegations about forced suicide should be taken with caution. “But there are elements within their environment which compel them, and leave suicide as their only option,” she told Reuters, adding the issue must be seen in the context of violence against women and their status in society.
Nefise Sogut, the mother of Bahar and of three sons, declined to comment on women being coaxed into suicide. She said her husband, who is unemployed, was out of the house when her daughter shot herself. She was clearing snow from the roof. “I’ve heard of such things but I wouldn’t do it to my daughter,” she said in Kurdish.
Like many women in the region, where horses and carts are still used and fields are tended with manual tools, she speaks little Turkish.
Sociologists and psychologists see several reasons for the high suicide rate among women in Batman, a city that grew quickly because of migration from villages at the height of violence between Kurdish rebels and Turkish troops in the 1990s.
Violence against women, pressure to behave as their families would like, economic problems and the challenge of adapting to city life are some reasons put forward.
Amnesty International estimates between a third and half of women in Turkey suffer physical violence in their families.
Nationwide, 80 percent of women are literate, compared with 95 percent of men, according to Turkey’s Statistics Institute.
The disparity is greater in the poor southeast and the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF estimates that in some provinces more than half of girls aged six to 14 are out of school.
Bahar left school after just five years, which her mother, who married at 15, said was her own decision. “There is social pressure…they can’t make their own decisions, and limits are imposed on them,” said Tuba Azlan, a psychologist at the Selis advice and counselling centre for women in Batman.
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