Özgecan Aslan, 20 years old, was a psychology student in Mersin, in the south of Turkey. She died as she was heading back home in a minibus, a very popular means of transport. The driver, after an attempted rape, killed her by stabbing her and beating her with an iron bar. Then, with his dad and friend’s help, he cut her hands and burned the body against any DNA evidence and threw it in a river. The body was retrieved on the 13th of February.
Protest have risen throughout Turkey, to say enough in a country where 300 women have been killed last year. One sign particularly struck me: “she was 20: she still had so much to do”. As a Turkish student, just a little younger than her, still planning my future, still living with my innocent and naïve prospects, I could not identify more. I have spent every single summer of my life in that country, and I am wondering how I am still alive, when will my time come. I am a veteran in a war against women. I am still alive but it could have been me. I am living with the sense of relief and guilt of the soldier who came back home, safe and alive, after seeing his or her comrades fall behind. What’s the difference between me and Özgecan? I could have been her, she could have been me. We were one bullet away from each other. Or rather a man, or more, away from each other.
Men kill women. Since the Witch Hunt in the Middle Ages, to today’s Özgecan, men have killed, kill, and will kill women. The misogynist society, this world that hates women and girls so terrifyingly and violently, has consistently tried to deny the existence of women. Confined to the domestic, cosy but oppressing walls, women have quickly and easily been excluded from the public realm, unable to express ourselves. The few times we were out, women have been impeded to show themselves: veils hiding our so bothering existence to men, or strong social backlash (“slut-shaming”) for clothes considered “too open”, provocatively reminding our physical differences with men. Violence, rape, torture, mutilation, to undermine our self-respect, our bodies, our existence, to dominate. The ultimate expression of misogyny is femicide. Women are killed every single day. Even before we are born.
As I notice that not even my Microsoft Word corrector has ever seen this term-femicide-and underlines it as being incorrect, and that it can’t be found on many renowned, serious dictionaries (not just in English), it might be useful to explain the meaning of it. The United Nations Studies Association (UNSA) defines femicide and/or other gender related killings as “the killing of a woman because she is a woman, or the killing of a girl because she is a girl”. Its lexical non-recognition tells a lot about our own global lack of recognition.
According to the UN, there are 200 million women missing in the world. Each year, around 66 000 women are violently killed. This accounts for almost a fifth (17%) of all victims of intentional homicide. The Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) Vienna Liaison Office published in 2013 a report on femicide. Their report, subdividing femicide in various categories gives a desolating picture of modern reality.
Female infanticides and gender-based sex-selective foeticide are widespread in India and China. In both countries, the gender ratio for children under 15 years is of 117 boys for every 100 girls. The traditional methods for the killing of baby girls are particularly violent: feeding them with salt to increase the blood pressure or rice with its husk to slice their throats, mixing milk with poisonous plants. To avoid detection (luckily, the human mind is very adaptable), new means have been developed: starving, dehydrating or wrapping the babies in wet towels so that they die from pneumonia. In China, the poor men bereft of women, found their soul mates through their trafficking, purchase and abduction.
Closer to us, the femicide as a result of domestic violence is particularly widespread and widely unreported. In Europe, intimate partner femicide rates have remained constant over the last 70 years. Domestic violence kills around two women each week in the UK, one every three days in France. In Ireland, out of the resolved cases in 1993, 99% of the women were killed by men. One woman is killed every two days in Italy: 7 times out of 10, the murder happens in a familial context.
The femicide in the name of honour is also common and generally unpunished. There are around twelve of them in the UK each year. There have been a thousand in Turkey over the last five years, with a spike in “honour suicides”. In 2011, in Pakistan 77% of cases of this type have been acquitted.
The femicide related to organized crime is one that we do not often think of. As drug trafficking increases in some Latin American countries, such as Guatemala or El Salvador (which holds the sad record of the highest rate of female killing worldwide), so does the number of women killed. Just in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, in the hands of drug traffickers, 382 women and girls were murdered between 1993 and 2004, most of them were aged between 15 and 19 years.
Then we have the dowry related femicide, which usually happens through immolation, the “targeted killings of women at war”, the “genital mutilation related femicide”, the murders related to accusations of sorcery, the serial killings of women… The kind of list one would wish it did not exist.
I have not mentioned the given reason for each of the killing types. For instance, I have not mentioned that girls infanticides are said to happen because it is considered that girls won’t be able to look after their parents as they get old having left the family nest after marriage. I have not described the acts that might bring dishonour to a family, such as a daughter being raped or having sexual intercourse before the wedding. I have not reported the “passionate murders” during or after a separation happening in 70% of the femicide cases. I haven’t because I assumed that we all have heard of these justifications. Perhaps this is the problem: we have assimilated the fact that there are reasons that push a man to kill a woman, other than misogyny. We take for granted that there might be certain traditions, just like we unconsciously took for granted that an outfit might be a trigger for rape. We might as well have seen reasons like putting too much salt, answering a phone call too late, looking for a job or having a tattoo done as traditional cause for why women are murdered. Those were some of the explanations given by men in Turkey for femicide. They appear excessive and outrageous, just like all the other explanations pushed forward.
Misogyny kills. Women are seen as men’s property. “Usus, abusus, fructus”, this is how the Romans defined property; this is exactly what happens to us girls and women: used, sold and destroyed. Our lovers will kill us because if we refuse to be their own private property, then we can’t be anyone else’s. Our parents will deny us to grow because we have poor market value, or because we will end up being somebody else’s property. Instead of burning his rival’s car or house, way too common, a gang member will destroy another of his private property, his partner. Özgecan’s murderer could not take her body, he took her life instead. In one way or the other, the object ends up in the hands of the one it supposedly belongs to. We are perceived as objects. Just as object have a designated role, we are also attributed one: mother, daughter, sister, wife. We are, if not forced, strongly urged to quietly stick to our roles. If we somehow start acting as women, that is, as human beings (a little reminder for anyone who had forgotten it), we will be quickly reassigned to our initial position. Who were the witches burned in the Middle Ages? Smart independent women, such as healers, abortionist, Beguines (a group of Catholic sisterhood emancipating itself from the strict codes of the Church, especially in the sexual realm). As states a Turkish feminist organization, half of the femicides in the country happened as “women wanted to make their own decisions about their own lives”.
We tend to see men who torture and kill women as some sort of perverts. I believe it is a misuse of language. By designating them as such, we make their situation particular: they become marginals who act out of specific impulses and circumstances, we give those misogynist criminals individuality. We do not see the massive violence against women. The misogyny that pushed each of those criminals to act. The fact that those men did not see women as anything else than their natural property.
We have to acknowledge this fact: men kill women. We must not accept any excuse, any particularity and see it on its global scale and misogyny. Each femicide has to be taken seriously. It’s only by identifying and recognizing it that we can take public and legal action. Özgecan is not an exception. She is one among many of a long terrifying, and yet not entirely known list. How many other women are to be found dead, victims of misogyny? How much of their future will be taken? Will I be one of them?
Yagmur Arica is a Turkish and French first year undergraduate student in politics and economics at UCL. She has completed all of her studies at the Lycée International, an international school in Paris. Her feminism was confirmed by a project in high school about feminine prostitution, when she realized the extent of female objectification. She is particularly sensitive about prostitution and violence against women.