Gülsüm Kav was born in Amasya, Turkey, in 1971. She grew up in a secular family surrounded by strong female role models. Her mother and aunts were hard working and resilient, showing Kav from a young age that women were never to be viewed as second-class citizens, which was a view that was not always exhibited in Turkish society. As she grew older, she sought out a career that would enable her to help other women first-hand.
In 1996, Kav graduated from Eskişehir Anadolu University Faculty of Medicine and began her career as a medical doctor. She moved to Istanbul, where career opportunities were greater. This was also a tumultuous time in Turkey for feminism, as women were starting to take to the streets to protest “honor killings,” which were viewed by the law as crimes of passion. Kav could not fathom how the government and judicial system could still view women as second-class citizens, and her focus began to shift from medicine to activism.
A few years later, the case of Güldünya Tören put Turkey’s femicide issues on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Tören was hospitalized after her brothers attempted to murder her for giving birth to a child conceived by rape. They later entered the hospital and killed her. This sparked a wave of protests across Turkey after the killings, and another wave after the brothers were given very light sentences.
From this and similar tragedies, women’s voices finally reached lawmakers’ ears, and femicide and “honor killings” were given much stricter penalties. However, the murders did not stop, and in 2010 Kav and others brought together several activist groups to form We Will Stop Femicides. The group provides legal and moral support to victims’ families and lobbies for change and eradication of sexist government policies.
Kav says, “This is the most important issue for modern women in cities and who are looking for their freedom; they need to be backed up by strong policies and systems of justice.” Kav continues to fight for that justice, and for her efforts was included in the BBC 100 Women list in 2020.