Content warning: This article contains discussions of domestic abuse.
For some people International Women’s Day is a day of celebration, for others it is a day of protest.
Last night, on the eve of International Women’s Day, I attended an event in Edinburgh hosted by the Faculty of Advocates. My Dad, Sheriff David Mackie, was invited as a member of the faculty, and he told me about it. I was very keen to attend so we went along together.
The event consisted of a screening of the film Dying for Divorce followed by a discussion with the producer, Sinead Kirwan. This was facilitated by Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi of the Witches of Scotland campaign.
Dying for Divorce, a film by Chloe Fairweather, was the British entry this year for the ‘Best International Feature Film Award’ at the Oscars. It follows lawyer Ipek Bozkurt and a group of activists in Turkey who are fighting for justice for the survivors of gender-based violence in the country.
The film, that was shot over five years, focuses on the stories of two women, Arzu and Kubra, from very different walks of life, in their quest for justice after being brutally attacked by their intimate partners.
The story of Kubra was particularly distressing. She was a vivacious, intelligent, independent woman working as a news reader in the metropolitan centre of Turkey. She was repeatedly struck by her husband two days after the birth of her daughter. The blows to her head caused such trauma that the woman, who had been a fluent speaker in a few languages, was left severely impaired in her speech and movement. The change in her, between the snapshots of her life as a news reader and videos of her wedding day, to meeting her in her parent’s home after the incident, was horrifying.
It was suggested in the discussion that followed that she had suffered abuse from her husband previously in the marriage. Her story struck me so closely because she reminded me of myself. I was also involved in an abusive relationship with a man that I married. Looking back from the safety of hindsight I understand how perilous my life had been at that time. As the severity of aggression grew with each incident, I became afraid of what might have happened to me had I continued in the relationship. I consider myself lucky to have found in my friends, family and surrounding community, the strength and support that afforded me the opportunity and the courage to speak up and leave him. Many people are not in such a privileged position.
Dying for Divorce showed the political events in Turkey that have led to an erosion of democratic freedoms and contribute to rising femicide and violence against women. More than one in three women in the country will experience domestic abuse. Though, as my Dad pointed out in our discussion, this is not a Turkish problem, it is a global concern.
It is a Scottish problem. Here one in four women will experience abuse from their partner. We will all be familiar with reports that showed the number of deaths of women as a result of domestic violence rose during lockdown to four women a week. This is double the national average. But that is to say that on average in this country two women each week are murdered by an intimate partner. Someone they love. Someone they trust. Someone they chose to spend their life with. In a place that should be the safest place for them, in their home.
Karen Ingala Smith runs a campaign called Counting Dead Women that can be found on Twitter or on her web page www.kareningalasmith.com. She keeps a record of each woman in the UK who was ‘killed by a man (or where a man is the principal suspect)’. In 2021 there were 141 deaths. Reading the page, the date, the name and report on each case is harrowing and heart-breaking.
The shame and fear felt by survivors mean that these cases often go unnoticed by those who have not experienced abuse at first hand. It can be believed that a thing like that would happen to someone else, in some particular set of circumstances. What the film demonstrated is that it does not matter what social set you belong to, how modern or intelligent or independent you may be, gender-based violence is a threat to every woman.
In her book See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse, Jess Hill explains that this form of violence does not announce itself. It is an insidious process that entraps its victim in a web of manipulation that is incredibly difficult to extricate oneself from. We should not ask of a battered woman, ‘why didn’t you leave?’ We should ask of a perpetrator, ‘why did you do it?’
On this International Women’s Day, my thoughts are with those survivors and those currently experiencing abuse. My thoughts are with Arzu and Kubra, two women who showed such strength and power of will after their lives were destroyed for the sake of a man’s pride. My thoughts are with Ipek Bozkurt and the brave activists who courageously and tirelessly fight against the impossible tide of misogyny. For all those that suffer, who have suffered, who fear that someone they know may be suffering; speak up.
Feature image: imdb.com