Concluding Declaration of the 16th Assembly on Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers
The policies of the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) fail to prevent violence and strengthen male dominance.
The state should give up on being the voice of male violence!
Male violence can only be ended by practices that empower women.
As women’s organizations, feminists, and social workers from councils and social services who want to stand in solidarity with women, we are fighting back against male violence, and this year we came together for our 16th annual Assembly in Istanbul between October 25-27. Turkey’s biggest platform against violence against women is the Assembly for Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers, and there were about 200 women in attendance this year. At this year’s congress we discussed the new liberal-conservative policies’ impact on women. Views from the most high-ranking state officials which try to confine women into her “traditional" role in the family is a direct reflection of these policies. It must be known that what leads to male violence is exactly the acceptance of these traditional gender roles by society. Therefore, a perspective which expects women to bear and care for children as the pinnacle of her duties, tries to forbid abortion, does not fight towards gender equality, and defends the preservation of the family even if the woman and children of the family are being abused, can be regarded as the mouthpiece of male violence.
As a result of new liberal-conservative policies, social services that serve women along with their children have been ceased. The Centers for the Prevention and Monitoring of Violence (ŞÖNİM), which are said to have been opened in their stead, are not accessible to women. They are few in number, and the few centers which exist are on the outskirts of cities. Women who cannot reach these centers and are reluctant to get law enforcement involved have been barred from receiving accurate and sufficient information, and it has become almost impossible for them to escape from violence. Furthermore, the Centers for the Prevention and Monitoring of Violence also provide services to male perpetrators of violence. This practice, intended to “rehabilitate” men, paves the way for intermediation, risks women’s lives, and uses up the funding intended for women towards men.
Women who are receiving support at ŞÖNİMs or staying at shelters are not provided with the adequate psychological and legal support and religious preachers being posted at shelters instead is an example of how women’s access to psychological and legal care is denied. This practice also leads to discrimination amongst women based on religious beliefs. All these practices are attempts to ignore the gains the women’s movement has made in the fight against male violence until today. We see clearly how these gains are attempting to be cheapened and degraded so as to shirk from responsibility.
As women and women’s organizations that have come together at the 16th Assembly for Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers, we remind once again the vital importance of the following points in fighting violence against women:
- Administrative processes to combat violence against women should be reevaluated without ignoring the many years’ knowledge and experience of women’s organizations on the matter, by destroying patriarchal policies that stoke violence, and with holistic policies that ensure gender equality. Practices that set back the very significant gains the women’s movement has obtained until today or infringe upon them are unacceptable.
- With the establishment of ŞÖNİMs, institutions that provide important tools and alternatives for women to escape from violence, as well as shelter, such as community centers which were also able to work as counseling centers, Child Protection Institution ran by the Social Services, and local councils’ women counseling centers, have been rendered useless. ŞÖNİMs cannot be regarded separately from state policies that view women not as individuals but a part of a family unit, and aim to strengthen traditional roles. Regulations and practices reflect the outcomes of the policies, and the state is in the process of setting up a new centralised structure to combat violence, which structure risks interfering with the work of local councils and women’s organizations.
- The Ministry of Family and Social Policies has called for women’s organizations to work with ŞÖNİMs, however, we regard the fact that they determined which organizations were allowed to do so as an attempt at ignoring the women’s movement.
- We demand that a state institution be set up that will stand beside women to fight against violence against women, and for the state to fulfill the obligations undertaken in CEDAW and the Istanbul Agreement, of which it is a party.
- We regard the requests for information from women’s organizations about the women who ask for their aid as a step towards centralization. However, this kind of centralization has a tendency to regard women’s organizations as a state apparatus, and threatens their independence. We do not consider it appropriate to share such information without first establishing a shared framework as to its uses.
- Refugees are not places to cut women’s ties with their usual lives, but places where life goes on and women are empowered until the emergency they experience comes to an end. For this reason, shelters should be free of control and hierarchical structures, and no rules should exist bar those pertaining to violence, confidentiality, and security. New avenues of discrimination towards women should not be created. We demand that a comprehensive system encompassing all institutions regarding confidentiality and women’s safety (hospitals, chemists, schools, the Social Security Body, councils etc.) be set up as required by the Law No. 6284 to fight violence against women both inside shelters and outside.
- Mechanisms to combat violence against women outside of shelters should also be strengthened. There should be no before-after divide such as “life after violence” and “life after refuge”, and social, economic, and legal support should be offered not when leaving the shelter but during the stay or before entering the shelter, alongside the fight against violence.
- The Law No. 6284 requires women with sons over the age of 12 or disabled children to be provided with independent housing, yet this article is not put into practice. Shelters should also be modified to accommodate women with sons over the age of 12.
- Any women who has suffered abuse should be accepted into shelters, and the special requirements of immigrant, transgender, and disabled women should be taken into account. Shelters and counseling centers should be aware of these requirements, and refugee and asylum-seeking women should be provided with support mechanisms regarding domestic violence.
- Staff working in direct contact with women in shelters and counseling centers should undergo prior training regarding violence against women and feminist methods.
- Women’s organizations should not be regarded as civil society organizations to make up for the state’s lack of social responsibility. The duties of the state regarding the struggle against violence against women cannot be hoisted on the shoulders of women’s organizations. We see as unacceptable the attempts to include women’s organizations in areas where women are used as showcases and ignoring the same organizations in areas such as employment, education, health, and employment law.
- The state should dedicate the required budget to combat violence against women as part of its social responsibility.
- Combating violence against women also means a fight against the inequality between men and women. Therefore, every law passed by parliament should be reviewed in terms of its consequences for gender equality, and women’s organizations’ opinions on the matter should be taken seriously.
- Judges’ recording of divorce cases as being due to “irreconcilable differences” even when violence is present is an example of how lawmakers still try to hide incidences of male violence. Women’s organizations will continue their demands to be allowed to act as advocates in lawsuits to do with male violence against women.
- Violence against women is not only limited to domestic violence but also occurs via the state apparatus. The budget dedicated to law mongering should be used to empower women instead, and the funding used not to buy arms but to create the necessary mechanisms for women to be protected from male violence.
- Women should be able to apply for support from violence in their mother tongue and receive it. It is not adequate for there to be a translator present while providing support, and staff able to communicate in multiple languages should be employed in every counseling centre.
- During the peace process, the woodland protection scheme which enables private individuals to own guns should be lifted, and the violence directed at women by forest guards, police officers, or other public servants should be prevented, and the perpetrators punished.
- During the Gezi protests of June 2013, women who took to the streets to exercise their democratic rights were subjected to sexual violence in the form of insult, threats, and assault by police officers, as well as naked body searches at police stations. Those responsible should be established and penalized immediately.