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The first Voices Against Violence Middle East and North Africa Regional Convening was held last week.  In coordination with Promundo and the International Organization for Migration, Vital Voices is bringing together over thirty participants combatting gender-based violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa in Amman, Jordan. Voices Against Violence: The GBV Global Initiative (formerly the Gender Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative) is a program designed to address extreme forms of gender-based violence (GBV) and harmful traditional practices around the world by providing emergency assistance to survivors, offering advocacy support and technical assistance programs, as well as acting as a focal point for improving international network coordination. The regional convening was a three-day interactive learning and networking program that brings representatives from civil society, government, criminal justice professionals, and advocates together from throughout the Middle East and North Africa with a commitment to combat GBV. Once such advocate and former Global Freedom Exchange participant, Asli Saban, shares her thoughts on the availability of services for survivors of GBV in Turkey below.

Despite the political and social forces focused on tackling the issue of domestic violence in Turkey, a lack of direct services for survivors remains a critical gap. As a social worker with a focus on women’s and children’s welfare, I see concrete solutions that would help to alleviate this gap:

1.)   Strengthen guesthouse facilities

In Turkey, a women’s shelter is called a guesthouse, and victims of domestic violence can stay for up to six months in these shelters.  At a maximum this can be extended up to one year, after which point they are forced to leave. In addition to providing shelter, women in the guesthouses receive meals, the Association of Lawyers provides free legal services, and kindergarten is offered to children residing in the shelter with their mothers. Social workers, psychologists, child development experts provide psychosocial support, and the government provides a small monetary stipend.

2.)   Offer continued assistance to women who have left the guesthouse

While these services can be quite comprehensive, the time allotted to the women in the shelters is frequently not enough for many women to rebuild their lives.  After leaving the shelter, it is not easy for a woman to support herself financially. To continue to assist women and children after they have left, programs should offer reduced rates for kindergarten, transportation, rent, and child care. For those women who do not reside in guest houses, Turkey does not have non-residential counseling services for women. We lack the preventative and protective services necessary to prevent domestic violence from escalating and though many non-governmental organizations, seek to create specialized counseling services for women, but are frequently barred from doing so by the government.

3.)   Shift cultural views on gender

To overcome some of the barriers to adequate services, we must work to shift our communities’ views on gender. The first step is raising awareness about gender relations, a challenge that both government and non-government actors need to tackle together through targeted advocacy.  We must tackle the confidential nature of domestic violence and reporting. Policy assessments are unreliable because they do not reflect the vast numbers of cases that go un-reported. Outreach programs should be conducted via televisions spots to raise awareness of the resources available to women experiencing domestic and sexual violence to encourage them to seek services. Additionally, we need to make materials accessible to women with disabilities, including creating an SMS hotline for those hard of hearing, and braille materials for women with impaired vision.

4.)   Implement public private partnerships between the government and NGOs

The government must acknowledge discrepancies between the cultural contexts in various regions within the country in order to implement appropriate projects in different regions. They must collaborate with a variety of NGOs in order to carry out this important work. The government should work to expand its current services. By providing more counseling services for women in villages and cities, an increased number of women will have access to necessary psychosocial services and other occupational courses that empower them to succeed.

5.)   Reorganize shelter classificaiton

Women’s shelters should be categorized according to age and the severity of issues the women are experiencing. Women of different ages and experiences have different needs in terms of support and security, and shelters must address them accordingly.  We must do better to provide support through qualified social workers and professional service providers.

6.)   Provide rehabilitation services to men who use violence

We should focus on providing rehabilitation services to men who use violence. We need to engage with the private sector and social entrepreneurs who can and should play a crucial role in preventing gender-based violence. We can also provide protection activities and projects for men and boys. Additionally, we should teach gender rights to children and boys and increase the number of male activists working on gender based violence.  

7.)   Provide more support for refugees

Our current policies do not support refugee women and children. The refugee crisis has led to an increase in instances in domestic violence. Our country not only accepts refugees from Syria, but is also welcoming women and children from Afghanistan and Iran. We must provide specialized support to these women and children.  Language is a major barrier, as many staff do not speak any foreign languages and many refugees do not speak Turkish. For this reason institutions and service providers need translators on staff to work with refugees Many national and international organizations should open shelters for refugee women. These shelters should be supported by government and Internat€±onal authorities.

 In my opinion, gender-based on violence involving refugee women in Turkey will increase in the future. To address this, we should focus on more protective measures to address gender-based violence among refugees in camps and host communities.

Finally, all programs and policies should be seek to empower women, allowing them a sustainable future free from violence. Throughout this convening, I learned what best practices are being implemented around the world, and hope to apply them back home in Turkey.