My Laidlaw project has been the most challenging academic endeavour I have ever taken on. I knew from the moment that I chose a topic as hefty as tracking femicide in Turkey that my six weeks would be nothing short of intense, but I didn’t realise the depth and intensity of the emotional and intellectual skills that I would have tested. I am, however, beyond honoured to have engaged with this topic, and if left with the choice, would do it all over again.
The process began with a broad reading on the political theory behind femicide on an international level. I learned about the cultural variation of femicide, noticing that Turkey’s femicide history is embedded in patriarchal values and social norms. The more unique extremity of Turkey’s femicide rates and deep-rooted pro-patriarchy sentiment grew apparent as I began a short-lived literary venture on honour and custom killings, a particularly gruesome topic highlighting the reasons as to why some women are killed in the name of “honour” or “custom”. The literary review continued with a deep-dive into the details of the Istanbul Convention and ended with a comparison between GREVIO state reports sent by the government and shadow reports sent by non-governmental organisations in Turkey to the European Commission. The stark difference between the Turkish government’s letters detailing oh-so-thorough pro-feminist action plans, and the crudely honest yet dismal report on women’s rights sent in by action groups such as Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız (We Will Stop Femicide) and Kadın Dayanışma Vakfı (The Women's Solidarity Foundation), was frankly ridiculous. The state sung the praises of police forces that were “trained to face violence against women” while feminist NGOs pointed out the details (or lack thereof) of a "police training program" that turned out to be an hour-long, one-off talk on the incidental killings of women. What the government called integration of information surrounding femicide into news and TV media was a blatant lie: a singular stream of media controlled by the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (The Justice and Development Party, the governing party led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) continued to reign king in the media world, with the misinformation surrounding the severity of systemic femicide being exacerbated by fad-like vocabulary found in mainstream magazines like Sabah and Milliyet. Weeks of reading confirmed what I already knew to be true: the socialisation of Turkish people to accept innate systems of violence, a dismal block of independent media representing the widely varied backgrounds of a multi-ethnic country with over 80 million people, and patterns of human behaviour pushed and moulded by a non-democratic government all contributed to a culture where women are not protected. The femicide epidemic didn't seem to be the result of an accidental dose of male mania, instead, my literature review pointed to a more serious cause: a violent history of a power-hungry patriarchal hegemony that had been simmering for centuries.
After reading came data organisation, and so began a tireless listing of thousands of women’s deaths which had taken place and recorded over years. The immense challenge of recording femicide in Turkey is that the government has no active database detailing the incidents. Instead, the website that saved the day became Anıt Sayaç, an independently run and updated website recording all known femicide cases in the country. Anıt Sayaç was a lifesaver, but I had one problem: in order to conduct correlation analysis on the rates of femicide, I would need to hand-log all of the women’s names and details. And that’s what I did: around 4 years of femicide data was filed meticulously on Microsoft Excel, classified under name, region of death, date, “reason for murder” (a classification I argue is highly induced by a social system that makes it seem like the woman’s death is somehow the woman’s fault), the perpetrator, method of killing, perpetrator status, and the presence of a restraint request. That, and correlation analysis, concluded a high-intensity month and a half, dotted with weeks off to collect myself and reconnect with family and friends.
One thing I never expected was the extent to which self-care would become a more important factor to my productivity than anything else. Listing a single woman's femicide, which, on a good day would take 20 seconds, could drag out to take a sluggish 10-15 minutes during which I read articles on the morbidly detailed deaths of women that lived in the same country I was doing my work in. The terror increased when I realised that some of these women had died in the same neighbourhood I spent my Summer 1 in. The women's identity and relationships were reduced to buzz words, unveiling the women's personal history in a deeply invasive and highly reductionist fashion. I worried constantly about the wellbeing of women around me. I found myself defeated, removed, and even heartbreakingly sad for days. I was constantly plagued by the thought that I had become entrenched in a field of work laden with grief, and that my work was doing nothing to make it better.
With time, however, sadness and defeat grew to become blazing anger, and that anger ignited a drive to finish what I had started. What really made this kick in was waking up one morning with a simple realisation: nobody has done the kind of work that I was doing before. Nobody has published this data in a revised form (Anıt Sayaç was phenomenal but contained mistakes and revisions that needed to be extracted from external news articles), and nobody has translated these local articles’ contents into English for public access. With this realisation, my work became so much more than I could have ever dreamed of. As the pacing of the data logging picked up, I found myself deeply invested in making sure the details of every case were preserved in their accuracy. The women’s stories continued to drive me to tears but it was with a sense of obligation and care that I would remove myself from my work for the day and start back again, properly motivated, first thing the next day. I owed it to these women to be kind to myself, and I owed it to them to continue. Those moments truly made my project into what it is today.
I am filled with pride at the notion that my project has become more that I could have ever expected within the timeframe I dedicated to it. Leaving with a qualitative and quantitative understanding of the subject, and creating an evolving data set that can be developed to become public access, are outcomes beyond my wildest dreams when I applied with this project idea months ago. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to conduct this research and cannot wait to see what is to come in my Summer 2.