On Women on a Women’s Day

In the face of increasing brutal physical and sexual violence against women in Turkey, there may not be much to celebrate for women on Women’s Day. If anything, today should be considered an occasion for figuring out paths to a better world. The recent acts of brutality that occurred in recent months in this country have been a real shock to anyone who is halfway sensible.

Interestingly, and deplorably, much of the violence women experience comes from spouses or from former spouses. Although it would be too simplistic to point out one thing or another as the root of this evil, one might conjecture education as an important factor. As a matter of fact, education does seem to play a role in violence against women, but even highly educated people also seem to be involved in violent acts. According to the Statistical Institute of Turkey, the prevalence of physical violence by education level of women decreases from 52.2 % to 25 % as we move from a category of no education to high school or more. It is obvious from these figures that being educated does not make one abstain from being violent.

Aside from lack of education, some of the general characteristics of men in Turkey, such as authoritarian, macho and militaristic personality traits, are probably quite influential in determining their behaviour toward the other sex. Authoritarian patterns of behaviour are present in many families, and are instilled in children at a very early age. The traditional patrimonial family structure does not leave much room for a healthy development of personalities. Girls are especially under more pressure than boys, and are often subjected to incestuous relations that they are usually ashamed to reveal. The same nauseating militaristic and authoritarian, and condescending attitudes are also imposed in the school system, which probably reinforces the familial patterns of behaviour. Last, but not least, it should be mentioned that the archaic islamic world view does not place any particular emphasis on women’s rights as we understand them in today’s world. On the contrary, women are simply expected to obey their fathers or husbands, who usually display a patronizing and “know-thy-place” type of attitude, which frequently results in battering, beating, torturing and even execution in the name of saving the family’s honour. Arguments to the contrary are nothing more than an apology to continue the repressive and exploitative attitude toward women. Historical and theological evidence is legion in this respect.

Sadly, many women are raised and socialized within this kind of a social milieu, and are therefore accepting of the repressive structures of their daily existence. It is, unfortunately, the boys they raise that end up perpetuating the same mechanisms of repression that they have witnessed at home all along.

The real good news and a source of hope in this bleak picture is, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers violence against women a “global public health problem.” This is quite a promising stance because otherwise a problem of such a high magnitude would perhaps be overlooked for many years to come. Considering that about 35 % of all women in the world experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, a global policy orientation is certainly grounds for more effective action toward a brighter future.

Violence against Women (2010)
Violence against Women (2010)

The WHO reports that “38 percent of all murders of women globally were reported as being committed by their intimate partners.” Furthermore, women who had intimate partner violence are “twice as likely to experience depression, 16 % more likely to have a a low birth-weight baby, more likely to acquire HIV and 1.5 times more likely to contract syphilis infection, chlamydia or gonorrhoea”(http://who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/VAW_infographic.pdf?ua=1 ).

Serious levels of gender inequality continue to exist not only in Turkey, or in the less developed countries in general, but in many parts of the world. According to the WHO, everyday in 2013 800 women lost their lives due to pregnancy and child birth, both of which are preventable complications. The Organization also indicates that women in underdeveloped countries are 23 times more at risk of dying from maternal causes compared to those in developed countries. Likewise, life expectancy of women in less developed countries is lower than those in developed ones.

One important facet of gender inequality that cannot be overlooked is the differential wages men and women receive. According to the OECD, the median wage of women in Canada is 19 % of men’s, 15.4 % in Mexico, 26.6 % in Japan, 15.5 % in the Czech Republic and 11.8 % in Turkey while the OECD average is 9.3 % ( http://data.oecd.org/ ). Clearly, world capitalism thrives on discrimination of women as well as other subaltern categories.

Without a concerted effort at creating a different world at the global level, these mechanisms of oppression and exploitation will continue. The world has certainly come a long way in the last 50 years or so. As Professor Hans Rosling is taking pains to demonstrate, life expectancy and income levels have been increasing, and infant mortality rates decreasing. There are more people with access to sanitary living conditions, and so forth.  However, as some of the figures above indicate, the inequalities that exist are still far from acceptable levels.

Among the inequalities that exist, gender inequality requires special attention. It should be more than obvious that without any determined and focused policy that addresses women’s issues directly, their plight cannot be alleviated. Even then, the dynamics of world capitalism, as its history manifests, may not permit equality simply because it has to find ways to guarantee ceaseless accumulation of capital. As Professor Immanuel Wallerstein argues, the states in the world are faced with multiple challenges that threaten their legitimacy. Under such conditions women, children and minorities are relatively easy groups to handle vis-à-vis corporate power that needs the state. “Creating enemies” can be another effort to maintain legitimacy and also to bolster corporate capital in need of a “spacio-temporal fix” à la Harvey.

Then the problem arises as to how an effective struggle can be formed and maintained to overcome gross inequalities. This eventually brings us to Samir Amin’s point that without abandoning identity politics that necessarily veils real class interests and causes fragmentation, and without re-gaining the consciousness for class struggle, things are not likely to get any better.



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