Concluding Declaration of the 15th Assembly of Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers
As women and women’s organizations who fight to prevent violence against women and who run shelters and solidarity centers for women to set up new lives away from violence, we came together for the 15th annual Assembly of Women’s Shelters and Solidarity centers in Özdere, İzmir, between October 12-14.
This year’s assembly took place in a climate in which despite international agreements and legislature, policies to prevent violence against women are not implemented; women are being murdered at an accelerated rate; our bodies are trying to be kept under supervision with regulations concerning abortions and C-sections; we are trying to be limited to our traditional roles within the home and family under the guise of strengthening the family; women who rail against these are arrested or taken into police custody; and our rights to political activity are trying to be stopped. More recently, sociologists and social workers who stood in solidarity with the women of İŞTAR who were subjected to violence were arrested. Women’s records which were meant to be kept confidential were seized. This goes against the fundamental functions of counseling centers and shelters. We announce to the public that we will keep following this case, and as participants of the Congress we will travel to Mersin and cooperate with the women of İŞTAR.
The state is trying to hoist its duties onto women’s shoulders!
The claim to “Strengthen to Family” means more gratuitous women’s labour!
Perspectives which imprison women into the family and overlook her personality cause violence and practical inequality. Strengthening the family and the liberation of women are inversely correlated, because the strengthening of the family emerges not as the state fulfilling its social obligations, but in the shape of women being imprisoned into the private sphere and her entire existence being defined in the role of motherhood in the family. Examples of practices that favour the family over woman as an individual can be seen in the title of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, which shirks from using the word “woman”, laws to target violence against women are billed as targeting the “preservation of family”, the repeated use of the word “guesthouse” instead of "refuge", an increasing number of women on television being portrayed as being part of a family and the Broadcasting Authority interfering with relationships shown on TV that do not portray women in this manner.
The latest behaviour of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) focuses on preventing women’s right to organize, arrests, and police interference. This casts doubts on the legitimacy of women’s services especially in regions where Kurdish women work, and forces women who have left their private spheres with difficulty to return to their “safe-sacred” families.
The conservative understanding which extols and fetishizes the family and the neo-liberal understanding which fetishizes the market work in unison. The void emerging due to cutbacks on public spending and social policies is attempting to be filled by more uncompensated women’s labour in the home. The same goes for social services. Furthermore, it must be known that our primary duty as women’s organizations is not to provide services that must be provided by the state. Our aim is to continue our work towards monitoring the policies and services offered by public institutions with a feminist perspective, to raise awareness of the public of these issues, and to empower women’s struggle for freedom.
Shelter, not Guesthouse!
In counseling centers and shelters, which are the most important tools in fighting violence against women, we see an approach that aims to protect not woman as an individual but the traditional role of the woman within the family. The repeated usage of the word “guesthouse” in legislature and regulations to refer to women’s shelters is a sign that this approach will continue. Including police stations and Family Counseling Centers, every institution an abused woman seeks help from aims for reconciliation and mediation. These attempts at reconciliation and mediation to continue a family union between an abusive man and an abused woman is what leads to women’s murders. These practices must be ceased immediately!
As women try to struggle against the male violence they experience, they cannot find adequate support at shelters to be able to establish an independent life. Their travel expenses and rent are not provided, and they have to wait months for financial aid. Rather than being provided with social, psychological, and legal support, many state-run facilities such as family guidance centers offer advice under the guise of “family counseling”, advising women to be patient and to do as her husband says. The few women who overcome the intermediaries and access the few existing shelters are unable to access legal aid and exercise their rights due to a shortage of staff or lack of funding. There is no consistency or uniformity in services. Services vary from city to city. When left with no access to support, women can even be forced to return to an abusive household. As women who struggle, create policies, and have amassed significant experience in this area, we will advocate relentlessly for the usage of the term “shelter”, and for shelters to be not places where women are treated as guests but where women and children are empowered in the fight against violence.
Our struggle for shelters is also a struggle for the mechanisms available to support women outside of shelters to be strengthened. Counseling centers are vital in this regard. Some counseling centers ran by local councils experience financial difficulties due to not being politically aligned with the existing government, and are even subjected to investigations and pressure from law enforcement. We also witness partisan approaches to distributing the funds intended to be used to combat violence against women by development agencies. The fact that the process is not transparent, the auditors are not sensitive to gender discrimination, and the qualifying criteria are uncertain all prevent these funds from being used for women and children. However, funding is one of the most important aspects of fighting violence against women. Due to a lack of proper funding, daycare centers for children which are very important for women to establish alternatives away from violence are not opened, and even legal aid can be denied to women staying at refuges. In light of all this, we remind officials once more that the funding allocated to combat violence against women should be used towards it.
As women who are continuing the struggle in this arena, we are creating a communication network that monitors violence against women based on a gender perspective, and for positive examples to be more prevalent. By means of this communication network we aim to share more of our experiences and strengthen our solidarity.
Laws are met with political obstacles
Despite changes in legislature, as result of the liberal-conservative policies, our gains cannot be put to practical use. In spite of the passing of the Law No. 6284 and the signing of the Istanbul Convention, there are still not enough refuges, women staying at shelters do not receive financial support, staff is unaware of the law or they grant a protection order without putting it into practice due to their sexist views.
The demands of women’s organizations to be included in The Law No. 6284 were not only partially disregarded, but many regulations they protested against were included in the final bill. All these problems have led to further issues in the implementation of the law. Due to a change in the administrative structure of Social Services and Child Protection Institution, the application process for shelters was revised. In practice, women who apply to refuges can only be settled with a police escort. There is an urgent need for the establishment of first-step application centers, for staff working in combating violence against women to be given in-work training, for the continuation of counseling centers run by local councils and women’s organizations due to the high number of applications submitted there, and for existing practices to be strengthened. We call the government to action regarding the training given to public servants with whom abused women come into direct contact with, such as members of the judiciary, mainly judges and prosecutors, administrative staff, and law enforcement, regarding gender equality and women’s rights as outlined in The Law No. 6284. We reiterate once more that for these services to be established, the Ministry needs to be restructured as the Ministry of Women and Equality, and the necessary budget should be dedicated to it.
The Centers for the Prevention and Monitoring of Violence and Coordination which were outlined as suggestions to be put into law during the lawmaking process of The Law No. 6284 by women’s organizations, and the Centers for the Prevention and Monitoring of Violence which were codified into law and will be established in the near future are different structures in terms of their administrative structure, practices, and perspective. These centers should be regulated and established in line with the suggestions from women’s organizations. As things currently stand, these centres have been structured so as to be able to exercise the maximum amount of intervention and regulation in shelters run by local councils and public institutions, as evidenced in pilot schemes. However, all the protection and support schemes which exist to combat violence against women, from independent women’s organizations to local councils, have different attributes. The new regulations should keep this in mind, and aim to lift the control and intervention towards protection and support schemes run by local councils and women’s organizations, aside from the requirements of international standards.
Female victims of sexual violence are rendered to be alone
As evidenced by rape trials monitored by women’s organizations and feminists, women who have been subjected to sexual violence are left to fend for themselves, not provided with support in the public or private sphere, and for these reasons the legal process is either disrupted or does not begin at all. Due to sexual violence crimes being confined-space crimes, and often there being no witnesses or physical evidence, a fair trial is unable to take place and most end with the acquittal of the male perpetrator of violence. Sexist approaches to sexual violence crimes that can be seen at every stage from the collection of evidence to the trial itself must be immediately eradicated.
In lawsuits concerned with violence against women including sexual violence that we monitor as women’s organizations and feminists, we need the development of the idea that a woman’s account of events is all that is required to file a complaint in a court of law, and for this to be included in legislature. To this end, we are currently discussing hosting an event where we can discuss our monitoring mechanisms and feminist approaches to law.
Immigrant women experience compounded violence and discrimination
Apart from victims of human trafficking, the violence and discrimination experienced by immigrant and refuge women usually goes unnoticed. The support given to victims of human trafficking is limited solely to shelters, and long-term solutions are not offered. Information about immigrant women who are settled in satellite towns is not forwarded to counseling centers. However, especially in the foreign press, there are news of Syrian refuge women escaping the civil war in their country and seeking asylum in Turkey being subjected to sexual harassment, and young girls being married in exchange for cash. The lack of access to support services for the violence women staying at refugee camps might experience is a huge concern.
- We do not consider the defense of women’s rights by the Ministry of Family and Social policies to be adequate, and we demand that a new Ministry of Women and Equality be set up and allocated the necessary funding.
- Women’s access to support mechanisms and information about their rights should be made easier. Support centers should be opened in easy to access locations, application units must be set up, and the services offered must be posted on noticeboards in institutions women frequently visit such as local councils, hospitals, and community health centers.
- Legal regulations to fight violence against women such as The Law No. 6284 and the Istanbul Agreement cannot be put into practical use due to a lack of awareness by practitioners, lack of in-work training, and oversights regarding their compatibility with other laws. For example, The Law No. 6284 states that registry records of women and children who have suffered violence should be made confidential, but this is not put into practical use because it is said to contradict the Population Records Law. In-work training offered to institutions made responsible by law to fight violence against women and staff working in said institutions such as law enforcement, the judiciary, social services, healthcare etc. should cover subjects about discrimination and gender. There should be consistency between the law and its practice, and justice for women should be in practice, not just theory.
- The arrests of volunteer women working at Akdeniz Municipality İştar Women’s Counseling Center is one example of the many attempts to hinder women’s political activities. Members of the Antalya Women’s Solidarity Foundation and Canan Arın, one of the founders of More Çatı, being taken into police custody is a direct attempt at destroying feminist women’s right to free speech. The oppression of women who are struggling to end violence against women and to make gender equality a reality must be lifted immediately.
- There is a need for institutions supported by local authorities so as to keep track of the implementation of laws. Such local activities will make it possible for women’s issues to be established on-site and the monitoring of laws. It must be made possible for local institutions who will undertake this monitoring process to cooperate with women’s organizations that are independent and aware of current issues of gender inequality.
- Shelter rules must be amended so as not to obstruct the empowerment of the women staying there and causing difficulty for the women working at the shelter.
- Children staying at shelters should be treated as individuals, and refuges should be equipped to provide them with their needs, as well as a social worker to work with them.
- The services provided at shelters and counseling centers should be consistent and focused on empowering women and children.
- Administrative staff working in shelters, violence intervention centers, and counseling centers should be chosen from amongst experienced female staff that is sensitive to gender equality, regardless of rank. Staff must be given seven weeks’ annual leave, supervision at regular intervals, and if need be, training on subjects such as trauma and crisis management.
- Shelters ran by local authorities being under various institutions such as the Directorate of Health, Directorate of Culture, or Directorate of Social Services causes problems. There is a need for a regulating body that will unite institutions such as shelters, counseling centers, and equality units, and will have a gender equality perspective. Staff at said institutions should be female and sensitive to gender equality issues.
- Quotas in certain areas of work in institutions under the Ministry or local authorities should be available to women staying in shelters or applying to counseling centers to seek support, and they should be given priority.
- The struggle to end violence against women should have a holistic approach, and coordination between institutions should be ensured. Women becoming victimized once more through the very institutions they seek support from should be prevented.
- Women should be allowed to use their right to a lawyer in trials absolutely, just like with trials concerning children.
- Investigations regarding shelters and women’s counseling/solidarity centers should be dependent on official permission considering the confidentiality requirements of the records pertaining to women who are receiving support. Investigations and research should be carried out with the vulnerability of the women seeking support in mind.
- The voices of media that is sensitive to gender equality should be strengthened.
- Services provided by shelters and counseling centers are limited by lack of funding. These institutions, which play an important role in the struggle against violence against women should be allocated funding so they can empower the women and children seeking their help, the existing funding should be increased, an emergency fund should be created, and the inadequate number of trained staff should be remedied.
- A complaint submitted by a woman should be enough for a sexual crime trial, and to prevent the victimization of women and shorten the legal process, Sexual Crisis Centers staffed by a prosecutor, police officers, and other experts where women can access healthcare support and legal aid 24/7 in one step should be opened.
- The article regarding the requirement of municipalities with a population of 50.000 or more to open women’s shelters is attempting to be revised to require municipalities with a population of 100.000 or more to open shelters instead. In Turkey, where 5 women are murdered on average daily by male violence, this number is unacceptable, and it is far below international standards. The number of shelters must be increased, and they should be equipped with the means to strengthen women and children, and there should also be supportive social policies for women who are subjected to violence but are not staying in shelters.
- We must not allow women’s voluntary work under local councils to be degraded as uncompensated female labour and ignored. Keeping in mind that such work is a part of public duty, funding should be set aside for women who do voluntary work.
- The present condition of Syrian refugee women shows once more that one of the most adversely affected groups in time of war is women. There is a need for legal regulation so as to combat incidences of violence over the border, and for centers where refuge women experiencing violence in the places they are staying can be given advice an accommodation, with a sufficient number of interpreters and staff that are sensitive to gender issues.