Femicide and #MeToo Meet Political Science

The driving force behind Sumru Atuk’s research is clear: “I am drawn to the topics that bother me the most,” says The Graduate Center political science doctoral candidate. Her topic is femicide, or the killing of women and girls because of their gender. Specifically, she is studying patterns of systematic violence against women in her home country, Turkey, and in Mexico.
This spring, she won a $20,000 American Association of University Women fellowship to pursue her research. The grant will enable her to travel to Turkey to complete her dissertation research. “I am determined to devote all my time and energy to my work next year,” she says. “Receiving these grants, especially from prestigious institutions like AAUW, renews your belief in your work, gives you hope in this world full of uncertainties.”
Already, Atuk has presented on gender discrimination and contemporary feminism at the New York State Political Science Association, Western Political Science Association, CUNY, and elsewhere. Particularly relevant during the era of #MeToo, her work examines how femicide is a broad political and structural problem as opposed to merely an interpersonal issue.
The angle is an unusual one. In fact, Atuk had a hard time finding an academic home for her scholarship. “I got offers from sociology programs and none from political science programs,” she says. “Political scientists don’t think femicide is political enough.” Out of the six political science programs she applied to, only The Graduate Center supported her goal to study femicide in the context of political theory.

“The topic of femicide is a woefully neglected area of study, even though by most accounts there is a global epidemic,” says Professor Alyson Cole, executive officer of The Graduate Center’s Ph.D. and M.A. programs in Political Science and Atuk’s dissertation adviser. She compares Atuk’s work to the feminist scholarship that “established that rape needed to be understood and redressed as a crime much like any other, rather than a dyadic relationship between a criminal and his victim.”

Cole has collaborated with Atuk, and in a recent paper, they make the case that #MeToo is a powerful, feminist political movement. “The hashtag offers new terms to join feminists together in their fight against gender discrimination in all its forms,” they write.

Atuk has also taken her research beyond the page. As a graduate teaching fellow, she teaches feminist theory and political theory classes at Hunter College. 
And evidence shows her research carries weight outside of academia too. “A feminist lawyer told me this type of research [on patterns of violence] could be used in courts to back their claims with academic data,” she says.
Similarly, femicide literature can be “very useful in attracting international attention and helping force states to take necessary measures,” Atuk has learned, instilling hope that her research may eventually empower women around the world.

Submitted on: JUN 19, 2018

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