Author Elif Shafak calls for end to child marriage in Turkey

The acclaimed writer highlighted the risk of Syrian refugee girls becoming child brides

WB1ACT Edinburgh, UK. 22 August. 2019. Turkish-British novelist, Elif Shafak attends a photo call at Edinburgh International Book Festival. Pako Mera/Alamy Live News

Acclaimed author Elif Shafak has highlighted the rise in gender inequality in Turkey at a festival in London to mark International Women’s Day.

The British-Turkish writer, who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction for 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, spoke about problems women were facing in her homeland.

“Turkey is a country which has been going backwards first gradually then with bewildering speed. As the country tumbled into nationalism, populist authoritarianism and fundamentalism, I think sexism increased,” she told a panel at the Women of the World festival on Friday.

She added: “One of the biggest issues is violence against women. In the last 10 years, the increase in cases of gender violence in Turkey has been 1,400 per cent.”

Shafak used the platform to warn about the increase in child brides in Turkey, a particular issue for the country’s 3.6 million Syrian refugee population.

An estimated 15 per cent of girls get married in Turkey before the age of 18, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides.

“Many Syrian families prefer to marry off their daughters thinking it will make it safer for them,” she said.

“We need solidarity and global sisterhood now more than ever.”

Shafak was joined in the panel by campaigner against FGM Nimco Ali, bloggers the Triple Cripples, human rights barrister Helena Kennedy QC and Yemeni activist Nada Al Ahdal.

Ahdal, now 17, spoke of her experience as a 10-year-old being engaged to a man of 26.

She told the panel that her aunt had burnt herself to death in order to escape her violent husband.

Ahdal’s sister tried to kill herself in the same way when she discovered she would be married at the age of 12 but was unsuccessful. While her sister recovered in hospital, Ahdal was told by her family she would marry the man intended to be her sister’s husband.

“This is when I decided to escape to the interior ministry and I recorded a video message to show the world what I was going through,” she said.

Ahdal’s video, published on YouTube, was viewed eight million times and translated into 40 languages all over the world.

She said: “My struggle has led to new legislation - the first of its kind in Yemen - criminalising marriage under the age of 18.”

The teenager, who is the director of the child rights Nada Foundation, was in London to collect an award for her activism from the With and For Girls collective.

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