Author Elif Shafak is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Critics have named her as “one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish and world literature.” Her books have been translated into forty languages and she was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters among many other literary awards and recognition. For more information visit her official website HERE
On a windy day in Istanbul, I take a cab heading to a quaint neighborhood by the Bosphorus. Inside the car it smells of coconut air freshener and furtively smoked cigarettes. There is an amber rosary dangling from the mirror and right underneath, a photo of three beautiful children. They are girls, all of them. I ask the cab driver, a young man with cropped black hair, if they are his kids and when he approves, I say: “How lucky you are! Daughters tend to be very fond of their fathers.”
He nods, beaming. He starts talking about them. He is proud of his family, I can see. We talk about the importance of education for girls, especially in countries such as ours. Then, after a while, with a bashful smile he tells me how ever since he became a father he stopped staring at the women on the street, let alone whistling or singing at them. “When my friends do such things, it raises my hackles. I always think, it could be my daughter walking there, some day. That makes my blood boil.” But then he says something that has the same impact on my blood. ”That’s why I instructed my wife, you are not going out without me anymore, I said. If she needs to do shopping, we can do it together over the weekend.”
I ask him is it fair to get irritated at the men who are harassing women on the streets and then go and confine his wife to the house. “You’re right, it’s not exactly fair,” he concedes. “But men are everywhere. I can’t do anything about them. This way, at least, I have my peace of mind. I know she is protected.”
Lots of harm is being done in Turkey, as elsewhere in the world, in the name of protecting women. We often hear that politics, by nature, is such a rough and chaotic business that it is better that women stay away from it. “Let men do the dirty work” they say, half jokingly. In the name of keeping women safe, men limit, punish and subject women. The irony is, way too often, they think they are doing women a favour.
And yet… while husbands, brothers, sons, uncles or fiancés claim to shield women from the strangers on the streets, report after report shows that the overwhelming majority of violence against women comes from those who are closest to the victims. The Human Rights Watch says more than 40 percent of Turkey’s women “experience sexual/physical violence from their husbands or partners at some point in their lives.”
It is a vicious circle that keeps spinning at full speed. While many men in Turkey claim that women will be safer at home, home is not a safe place for women. Meanwhile the less females in the public space, the more dangerous are the streets, day and night. The less females in politics the more aggressive and quarrelsome is our political language. The less our freedom as women to go out and participate in every single area of social, political, economic and cultural life, the less the possibility of change for a better world.