The Second Voice: Why are the French Feminists so Divided Compared to the Turkish’s Ones?

Margaux Seigneur
Valerie Bacot leaves Courthouse, flanked by relatives and lawyers. Source: L’Post

In light of the revolutionary mobilization of Turkish feminists regarding the imprisonment of Çilem Doğan for the murder of her violent husband, French feminist collectives seem shy, divided, and torn by a partisan dynamic which damages the universal fight against violence against women.

In France as in Turkey, Domestic Violence Kills

A few months apart, in two courts separated by thousands of kilometres, two women are on trial for the murder of their respective husbands after having suffered repeated domestic violence and rape.

One of the defendants is French and the other is Turkish.

Also referred to as “the new Jacqueline Sauvage,” Valerie Bacot is a woman, who for 12 years was beaten, raped, and forced into prostitution by her ex-father-in-law, turned husband. It was on the night of 13 March 2016 that she killed him.

Immediately, public opinion was gripped by the case and media mobilization grew. A support committee was launched, as well as an online petition that created a real infatuation. Valérie Bacot became the new emblem of the fight against domestic violence and social networks supported her with hashtags; #libertépourvalérie (freedom for Valérie).

This formidable mobilization gained even more visibility when the lawyers Nathalie Tomasini and Janine Bonaggiunta, who had previously defended Jacqueline Sauvage, took up Bacot’s case.

In Turkey’s Adana province, Çilem Doğan’s story is disturbingly similar. On 8 March 2015, the young Turkish woman decided to end the domestic violence, forced prostitution and rape she had suffered for years by killing her husband. She then pleads for self-defence.

Çilem quickly became a national symbol of violence against women in Turkey. Her story is widely reported. In the streets as well as on social media, Doğan’s name resonates and spreads. Hashtags of support multiplied; #CilemDogangururumuzdur (Çilem Doğan is our pride). A petition was launched and met with immediate success. Her letters written in prison were relayed throughout the country and her lawyers used their media influence to call for a general mobilization.

Çilem Doğan, arrested by two policewomen. Source: Bia News desk

Guilty of Having Survived

At the time of the verdicts, the silence is heavy. France and Turkey are holding their breath. The two women were found guilty. They each received symbolic sentences, but with very different meanings.

Valérie Bacot was given a four-year prison sentence, three of which were suspended, and will not return to prison. Çilem Doğan was sentenced to life imprisonment for the first time. Thanks to the persistence of her lawyers and the pressure exerted by the many feminist groups, she was eventually sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

In these two stories, there are similarities between France and Turkey which reiterate the sad universalism of domestic violence. One might be tempted to think that there is only one difference: the sentences handed down to the two victims for a similar crime were considerably different. However, it is necessary to highlight the differences between the mobilization of French and Turkish feminist collectives to combat the common phenomenon of violence against women.

On Equal Terms but a Struggle at the Opposite End of the Spectrum

While Valérie Bacot and Çilem Doğan both benefited from extraordinary media, digital and popular mobilization, the organization of feminist collectives was totally opposed, confirming the fissuring of French feminist organizations.

“This trial was the trial of feminism against the barbarity of the state.” Testified Çilem Doğan’s lawyer during our interview.

In contrast to the French scenario, Çilem’s trial was not only the trial of a battered woman but of all Turkish women. Like the mobilization against the withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention, the conviction of Çilem Doğan was a new attack on women’s rights resulting in an unprecedented protest.

In Turkey, the consensus around the fight to eliminate violence against women is such that partisan, political, and ideological divides are being erased. When the Istanbul Convention was withdrawn, Turkish women’s and feminist organizations united together. Since then, this coalition remains. The ideological frictions are visible but by no means ludicrous. Even the feminist groups loyal to Erdogan are offended! They, who at first sight supported the vision of a conservative and religious Turkey, find themselves in the centre of the target at which the president is firing again.

Demonstration in Ankara on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Source: Margaux Seigneur

Unity in Diversity

From then on, a multitude of feminist bodies made up the single body of the demonstrations. Kurds, Muslims, atheists, students, LBGTQ+, anti-militarists, members of the conservative association KADEM, workers, environmentalists, socialists, etc. All shout the name of Doğan! In a country where it is not good to be a woman, the only message is unity; unity facing oppression.

All over Turkey, women are singing to the rhythm of the violations of their rights! They scream in the hope of being heard, of being listened to! Kurdish, Turkish, and even Armenian voices are heard together to defend the one who has not remained silent. The slogans intermingle, the speeches follow one another but the anger remains!

This colour of bitterness is far from being uniform in France.

While the collective Femmes Solidaires organized a demonstration on the steps of the courthouse in Périgueux, no other organizations joined the first one.

French women’s rights are certainly not subject to the same trends as those of Turkish women. However, domestic violence remains a patriarchal tradition in both countries. So why does French feminism fail to unify its fight and prefer a partisan division to a common struggle?

Femmes Solidaires on the steps of the courthouse. Source: Hervé Chassain

Turkish Feminists Have Nothing to Envy of French Feminists

As Natacha Chetchti, a sociologist and anthropologist at INSEM commented; “Today each feminist group defends its own interests.”

While egalitarian feminists are accused of denying class domination, gender issues, and racism. Some favour debates on the veil and the burqa while others prefer to see racial domination as inclusive evil.

Those internal debates, therefore, lead to selecting a certain type of defence according to a specific of violence against specific categories of women.

However, domestic violence escapes the logic of a polarizing debate. Between the class struggle, the racial, sexist, religious, and sexual debate. There remains the homogeneous struggle of violence against women of all genders, classes, and origins, as in the Turkish revolutionary mobilization around Çilem Doğan.

The various French groups failed to seize the case of Valérie Bacot to organize a common response. If the story of this woman has indeed moved and mobilized public opinion, it has not triggered a movement of intra-party solidarity capable of bringing together the different feminisms of the country. Despite the possibility of union, feminist collectives seem to prefer to fight the global phenomenon of domestic violence separately.

Looking at the legacy of a common object of struggle handed down by Çilem Doğan, we ineluctably witness the partisan drift of French feminism of interest that is detrimental to the collective cause of women’s defence. This fracture confirms that if unity is indeed strength, then French feminism is headed for disaster.

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The Second Voice: Why are…

by Margaux Seigneur time to read: 5 min