Psychology major Beril Esen ’13 spent the early months of this past summer conducting a study on the recently discovered concept of defensive self-esteem. But when Esen’s psychology research ended in late June, her academic plans for the summer were hardly complete. She was also awarded a Summer Research Fellowship by the Levitt Center for Public Affairs to study the issue of domestic violence in her native city of Istanbul, Turkey.
She is being advised in her research by Lecturer in Economics and Women’s Studies Nescan Balkan, who has met with Esen in Turkey to provide guidance and insight on this broad topic.
While statistics on domestic violence and women’s rights are often difficult to obtain in Turkey, Esen’s sources estimate that 35 percent of Turkish women are subject to physical abuse by their husbands, and that five honor killings occur each day in the country. While this physical violence is the chief concern of Esen’s research, she emphasized that the abuse of women in Turkey takes many forms, including physical, psychological, sexual, verbal and economic abuse. Turkish Penal Code no longer explicitly allows for the physical abuse of women; however, a large grey area exists regarding the enforcement of current legal protections for women.
In developing an understanding of the predicament facing Turkish women, Esen visited a number of Turkish university libraries and interviewed key figures in Turkey’s struggle against domestic abuse. Among these interviewees was famed Turkish feminist, lawyer and political activist Canan Arin, who founded women’s rights organizations in Turkey including the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter, the Istanbul Bar Association Women’s Rights Enforcement Center and the Association for the Education and Support of Women Candidates.
Arin’s work has been instrumental in reforming the Turkish Penal Code and shedding light on the victims of domestic violence. While Turkish laws regarding women have improved significantly since the early 20th century as a result of the work of Arin and others like her, Esen remarked that “there is still a long way to go in regard to legal reform on the topic of domestic violence.”
She believes that education is one of the key components for achieving equality for women in Turkey. Teaching the concept of gender equality to children at a young age is essential, she says, because studies have shown that children who grow up in households prevalent with domestic abuse are more likely to abuse or be abused as adults. Esen also emphasized the need for more women’s shelters in Turkey (Arin’s women’s shelter was recently closed due to lack of funding), and said that she hopes the Turkish government will invest more in programs aimed at preventing and addressing domestic violence.
Esen admits that two months is hardly enough time to fully investigate the issue of domestic violence in a country as large as Turkey, but she believes that the first hand interviews and on site research she has conducted have given her a better understanding of the problem than she ever could have in the United States.