Emine Yaman lies in bed, her legs rigid, her feet prone to sores and swelling. Paralyzed by a bullet her husband fired into her chest, she is the face of domestic violence in a country still struggling to discard long-held cultural practices that denigrate women.
She wears diapers and reaches for a knotted sheet hanging from an overhead bar to shift her upper body. The weak bones in her 40-year-old hips, knees and left arm have broken since the shooting in 1999. Infections induce fevers and she takes antibiotics. A municipal doctor sometimes visits her bare apartment beside a highway in Turkey’s biggest city.
Virtually abandoned by her family, she lives on the kindness of strangers.
Her husband, Ahmet, who did a short stint in jail for shooting her, has filed for divorce, saying she was aggressive. He lives with their teen-age son and daughter in his home province of Giresun on the Black Sea coast.
Emine rarely talks to her children, and gets some consolation from refusing to divorce.
“He left me like this,” she said. “Should I divorce him and make him feel comfortable?”
Turkish media and activists have cited Emine Yaman’s story as an extreme example of the consequences of domestic violence in the secular state of more than 70 million people, mostly Muslims. The recent murder of an Italian peace activist hitchhiking in a wedding gown renewed debate about the problem. A man was charged with the killing.
Turkey is still grappling with the issue of violence against women in a largely patriarchal society where the old expressions go: “A beating comes from paradise” and “Don’t keep her without a stick on her back and a baby in her belly.” So tolerable is abuse that in the 1990s, a TV comedy show featured a character who was constantly beaten up by her husband.
Last year, a Turkish survey of 1,800 married women found that one in three was a victim of domestic abuse. Some global estimates are similar.
Turkey has struggled to curb “honor killings,” murders of women deemed to have tarnished the reputation of their relatives, sometimes by having a premarital affair or a child out of wedlock.
Pressed by women’s groups and the EU, which the country hopes to join, Turkey removed many discriminatory laws, made rape within marriage a crime and barred sexual harassment in the workplace in a 2005 penal code. Activists say enforcement is weak and police and judges need training.
Turkey is also educating thousands of police about domestic abuse with tutors and training videos and backed an awareness campaign on television.
Some women’s activists support the Islamic-oriented government’s efforts to lift curbs on the wearing of Muslim head scarves, which would make it easier for pious women to get state jobs and education. But they say authorities should devote as much time to domestic violence.
Turkish law requires municipalities of more than 50,000 people to open shelters for women, but many cities don’t provide such help. Traditionally, authorities discourage breakups and urge couples to resolve differences, a path that can prolong the abuse.