Concluding Declaration of the 19th Assembly of Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers
As women who work, create discourse, and are involved in the policies of combating violence against women, we came together at the 19th annual Assembly of Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers, hosted by the Adana Women’s Solidarity Center. The Assembly took place between October 15-17, and it was focused on “Local Government Approaches to Combating Violence Against Women, and Opportunities to Collaborate with Women’s Organizations”, and 330 women from 29 cities, 68 women’s and LGBTI organizations, and 61 public bodies and councils were in attendance.
We had discussions via reports and workshops about problems women’s organizations experience in their dealings with local governments, what sort of relationship there should be between women’s organizations and local governments, the work and responsibilities of local governments regarding violence against women, the current state of shelters and counseling centers, shadow reports from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the problems in putting to use the laws against violence against women, changes, and achievements.
The leading topics of discussion during presentations, discussions, and workshops on the main subject of the Assembly were the lack of cooperation between local governments and women’s organizations, the problems about sustaining established cooperation, and the difficulties caused by the staffs’ changing of duties and the closure of women’s counseling centers under councils appointed a state guardian as part of the national state of emergency measures.
It does not suffice that there be a relationship between local governments and women’s organizations, the important thing is how this relationship is established. It is seen that this relationship is based on request, established amongst individuals, and uses a language and attitude of criticism only. For this relationship to change, a new approach to local government should be adopted, aware of the various requirements of women, inclusive of women in the decision-making process, and establishing an institutional, not personal, relationship with women’s organizations.
As local governments are an important platform in women’s struggles, the anti-democratic proceedings of councils ran by a state guardian and the national state of emergency measures have led to the loss of gains made by the women’s movement, and narrowed the field of struggle. As a result of the appointment of state guardians, research into women’s issues by councils have been stopped, and staff at women’s centers have been left unemployed and/or made to change jobs, leading to the discontinuation of services. This also raises concerns about the confidentiality of the information regarding the women who consult these women’s counseling centers. The centers shut down by local governments after being appointed a state guardian following the national state of emergency measures should be reopened and multiplied in number, existing counseling centers should be protected, and personal information, which is of paramount importance in the struggle against male violence and the ensuring the safety of women, should be kept private.
Issues faced by individuals who have fled to Turkey because of war, violence and/or other problems in their home countries, the insufficient number of counseling centers, the negative treatment of women in women’s shelters, particularly those ran by the state, the insufficient amount of funding, the lack of staff and the inadequate knowledge of existing staff working in state institutions, particularly ŞÖNİMs (Centers for the Prevention and Monitoring of Violence Against Women), problems faced during the implementation of the Law No. 6284 concerning the Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women, the secondary traumas faced by women and children subjected to violence, and suggestions for solutions to all of the above-mentioned were important topics of discussion at this year’s Assembly.
As well as the issues we discussed during the Assembly, following the Assembly, women’s organizations who play a vital role in the support of women and children subjected to violence and who fight for their rights were first temporarily sealed off, and as of this week permanently closed as per government orders. It is unacceptable that the Adıyaman Women’s Life Association, Ceren Women’s Association, Gökkuşağı Women’s Association, Muş Women’s Shelter Association, Muş Women’s Association, Selis Women’s Association and Van Women’s Association, all of which are components of our Assembly, have been shut down. The forced cessation of women’s associations’ activities not only attacks women’s right to organise, but also stops women and children who want to escape from male violence from accessing the support they need. We stand together with our fellow travellers, with whom we’ve been fighting against violence directed at women in this Assembly for years, and the fact their organizations have been shut down will not prevent us from cooperating with them.
As women, women’s organizations, and LGBTI organizations who have come together at the 19th Women’s Shelters’ and Counseling Centers’ Assembly, we repeat the following demands once again to combat the male violence that threatens our living spaces:
- Local governments should create gender-sensitive budgets, and share budget data, performance plans, and activity reports in a transparent manner so that women can access them,
- Women’s counseling centers, first-step help stations, and emergency phone lines, which are important tools in battling violence directed at women should become prevalent across many councils, and these should be operated in cooperation with independent women’s associations,
- Permanent staff should be appointed to equality departments, which systematically sustain the relationship between women’s organizations and local governments.
- The CEMR Agreement (European Requirement for Gender Equality in National Life) should be signed and implemented by all local authorities,
- The responsibilities of local councils and municipalities concerning humanitarian aid and international protection should be defined, and state funding should be made available to them. The usage of these funds should be monitored by civil society organizations and transparency must be ensured.
- Counseling centers and ŞÖNİMs should be located in areas that are easily accessible for women, particularly for disabled women,
- ŞÖNİMs should share the data they have collected with the public at 3- or 6-month intervals,
- Directly applying to ŞÖNİMs should be made easier, and since the exit process and internal workings of ŞÖNİMs are hindered by the fact that it is the sole authority in the process, ŞÖNİMs’ authority should be loosened and the process made swifter,
- Staff working at ŞÖNİMs, counseling centers, and shelters must be female so that women can establish trust with them and share their concerns more easily, and staff working at ŞÖNİMs and refuges should work in separate locations. Staff should be employed on permanent contracts rather than subcontracted.
- The staff working at ŞÖNİMs should be increased in number and given new training, supervision support should be mandatory, and supervision should not be time-pressed and offered in large groups, but offered as training that is satisfactory to staff, high-quality, not project-based, and sustainable.
- The trend to appoint staff from unrelated fields into posts at hospitals, schools and nursery has manifested itself in ŞÖNİMs and shelters as the appointment of imams/preachers as psychologists. In such situations, posts open to members of a particular profession should not be taken up by others, and staff working at shelters should not offer religious services unless expressly requested by residents,
- The support offered to local authorities by ŞÖNİMs should not discriminate based on the prevalent ideology of the government departments those local authorities fall under, and the support offered to licence holding venues by ŞÖNİMs should also be offered to independent locals, and the same support should be offered for individual applications to make the process easier,
- A common language should be adopted to reach out to disabled women, and staff with qualities that make it easier for them to communicate with disabled women, such as being proficient in sign language, should be employed. Translation support for other languages should be provided, and multilingual sexual violence crisis centers as outlined in the Istanbul Agreement should be opened in every city.
- If a woman needs to be evicted from a shelter due to not complying with the rules, a disciplinary record is kept, which prevents them from staying at another shelter ever again. For this reason, eviction should not be recorded as a disciplinary crime,
- Monthly meetings should be held according to ŞÖNİM procedures, and shared decisions should be made as to the running of counseling centers and shelters. These coordination meetings should be regularly attended by civil society organizations and organizations working to prevent violence against women.
- Women with young children who work or live in the shelters have difficulty in their work lives due to childcare issues. For this reason, the number of nurseries for children aged 0-3 and the quota for existing nurseries should be increased, and support systems for childcare that do not hinder women’s work lives should be implemented,
- Boys over the age of 12 continue to be not accepted at refuges. The problem of accommodation for boys over 12 years of age should be resolved as per the Regulation Concerning Women’s Guesthouses,
- A written psychosocial programme aimed at children and adolescents, prepared with the cooperation of child-centerd organizations and educational institutions should be available at all shelters and counseling centers,
- Shelters and counseling centers must be staffed with social workers who have experience of working with children, child development experts, and child psychologists, and a voluntary cooperation network with individuals who work with children and have knowledge and information should be established,
- Working with children and adolescents separately from their mothers at shelters and counseling centers (meeting, initial sessions, individual follow-ups, social and educational program, and psychosocial support) should be standardised,
- Every staff member and volunteer working at shelters and counseling centers should attend seminars and workshops on fundamental subjects such as child-centerd perspectives, child neglect and abuse, and children’s rights,
- Special psychosocial activities for women and children who have fled war zones should be conducted, and workshops on peace, equality, gender equality, and nondiscrimination should be made available to children staying at refuges,
- By means of inter-ministerial protocols, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, law enforcement officials, social workers, school principals, guidance councillors, teachers, and hospital staff should be given regular, mandatory professional training focusing on gender, sexual and gender-based violence, refugees, and discrimination towards LGBTI individuals and disabled people.
- Policies and safe places should be created so that every woman, child, and LGBTI individual who has immigrated to Turkey temporarily or permanently can be protected against sexual and gender-based violence, regardless of their legal status (including those without identity papers). Local authorities should define their responsibilities in this area, and the inclusion of women’s and LGBTI organizations fighting against sexual and gender-based violence in the field of humanitarian aid and international protection should be made easier,
- Knowledge and experience of the application and follow-up procedures regarding social and legal support for immigrant and refugee women and children should be compiled into accessible materials,
- Referring to immigrants who have arrived in the country without papers or have lost their papers after arrival in criminal terms such as “fugitive” and “illegal” should be refrained from, and studies and campaigns to raise awareness about terms and discourses that could lead to the alienation of refugees and lead to discrimination and xenophobia should be conducted,
- Permanent measures should be taken to solve the accommodation problem of women who are forced to continue their lives in difficult conditions in refugee camps or cities,
- Women, children and LGBTI individuals whose refugee status has made them vulnerable to human trafficking and abuse should be given sufficient protection, and abusers should be punished,
- Precautions to prevent female and LGBTI refugees from experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual assault, and abuse should be taken, the necessary legal regulations should be put into place, and off-the-books employment should be prevented,
- The obstacles in refugee children’s access to education should be removed and child labour should be prevented,
- Refugee women’s and LBTI individuals’ access to birth control and reproductive health services should be made easier,
- If a married woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, she cannot get an abortion unless her husband gives his consent, which drives woman to seek illegal solutions. Especially for women in the process of divorce, an unwanted pregnancy can cause a lot of problems. With regards to abortion, the phrasing “the husband’s consent is required” should be eliminated from the relevant law,
- The charity-centered approach, which causes secondary discrimination, should be avoided, and mechanisms based on rights and focusing on support should be implemented,
- Judicial and administrative staff and law enforcement officers working to prevent violence against women should be offered regular training that will enable them to get a female perspective and inform them about the mechanisms to fight violence against women. The Law No. 6284 should be implemented efficiently,
- It is seen that despite having received training on the subject, lawyers do not have comprehensive knowledge of the Law No. 6284. Therefore, the quality of the training provided to lawyers by bar associations regarding the Law No. 6284 should be higher, training should be regular and compulsory, and more hours should be dedicated to it during intern training,
- “Confidential records” is one of the prerequisites of the Law No. 6284, however, four years after its introduction, the necessary infrastructure has still not been established. The necessary infrastructure to keep records confidential, which is of vital importance to women and children, should be completed immediately,
- The implementation of the Law No. 6284 limits the living spaces of women and these limitations prevent women from becoming stronger. Rather than procedures that hinder the women suffering from violence, those preventing the male perpetrators from reoffending should be adopted (such as requiring the man, not the woman, to change where he works),
- Despite many European law statutes codifying stalking as a criminal offence and it being included in the Law No. 6284 and the Istanbul Convention, the Criminal Code still does not define stalking as an offence, which leads to non-punishment. Stalking should be codified as a criminal offence,
- Bar associations should act quickly in appointing lawyers, particularly for women who have suffered violence,
- Bar associations should distribute a printed copy of the Istanbul Agreement amongst judges and prosecutors for a more efficient implementation of its aims,
- Female lawyers should be given priority in divorce cases and lawsuits pertaining to law number 6284,
- Every woman applying for legal aid citing the Law No. 6284, divorce, or male violence should be appointed a lawyer regardless of her financial situation,
- The state should guarantee the rights of women who have suffered male violence to obtain legal remedies. Due to a lack of funding in legal aid, few women can make use of this right in practice. The fees for filing a lawsuit and hiring a lawyer should be provided by the state or by private insurance companies for women who have been subjected to violence,
- Women who have been victims of violence should not be made to repeat the same statement to various departments in the legal system over and over again, and the Turkish Bar Associations Union and bar associations should demand a specialized unit be set up for this purpose in police stations,
- Owing to the limitations of article 234/5 of the Criminal Code, women subjected to violence when the offence committed warrants a sentence of fewer than five years are not provided with legal aid unless they are illiterate or under 18 years of age. This procedure leads to the initial statement from the already traumatized victim to be taken under unsuitable circumstances, which leads to a poor investigation process. For these problems to be overcome and for legal protection in accordance with the Istanbul Agreement to be awarded, the limitations of article 234/5 should be lifted not just for sexual assault cases but for sexual harassment, bodily harm, defamation, harassment, threats, and blackmailing. Women who have been subjected to these crimes should also have the right to be appointed a lawyer by a bar associations.
- Many parts of the report put forward by the Parliamentary Research Commission on Factors that Disrupt the Union of Family, Divorce and to Determine the Precautions to be Taken to Strengthen the Family Institution go against the Law No. 6284 of the Criminal Code regarding the Protection of Family and the Prevention of Violence Against Women, as well as the Istanbul Agreement, which concerns domestic violence. If the commission findings are made into law as they stand, it will destroy the accomplishments of the women’s movement and take away the seriousness of violence against women. We demand the commission to withdraw the drafted law.
Components and Attendants of the Assembly on Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers
- Adana Women’s Solidarity Center (AKDAM)
- Antalya Women’s Counseling and Solidarity Association
- Aydın Söke Women’s Solidarity Association
- Bodrum Women’s Solidarity Association
- Buca Evka-1 Women, Culture and Solidarity Association (BEKEV)
- Çanakkale Association for the Utilization of Women’s Handicrafts (ELDER)
- Çiğli Evka-2 Women’s Cultural Association (ÇEKEV)
- Association for Women with Disabilities (EN-KAD)
- Fethiye Women’s Solidarity Group
- İzmir Women’s Solidarity Association
- Foundation for Women’s Solidarity
- Women’s Solidarity Foundation (KADAV)
- Mersin Independent Women’s Association (BKD)
- Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation
- Mor Salkım Women’s Solidarity Association
- Muğla Labor is Mine Women’s Association
- Urfa Living Space Women’s Solidarity Association
- Life Cooperative for Women, Environment, Culture and Enterprise (YAKA-KOOP)
- Erzincan Katre Women's Association
- Koza Women’s Association
- Women’s Rights and New Solutions Foundation (KİH-YÇ)
- Staff from the now-closed Van Women’s Association
- Association for Struggle Against Sexual Violence
- Women’s Labour Collective
- Çınar Jinwar Women’s Center
- Van Rojin Women’s Life Center
- Roza Women’s Center
- İştar Women’s Center
- Kardelen Women’s Center
- Ekin Ceren Women's Center
- Equal Life Association
NB: As the 19th Assembly on Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers took place between October 15-17, Adıyaman Association of Women and Life, Diyarbakır Ceren Women’s Association, Rainbow Women’s Association, Muş Women’s Roof Association, Muş Women’s Association, Diyarbakır Selis Women’s Association and Van Women's Association had all contributed to and signed the concluding manifesto. However, the Statutory Decree on Certain Precautions as Part of the State of Emergency (KHK/677) put an end to these foundations’ work. Since the concluding manifesto is traditionally published on November 25, these signatures of these components of the Assembly could not be included in the final text.