Take five: “Most services for refugees in Turkey are gender-blind”

Date: Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Yelda Şahin Akıllı, Project Coordinator at the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity. Photo: Courtesy of FWS.
Yelda Şahin Akıllı, Project Coordinator at the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity. Photo courtesy of FWS.

The Foundation for Women’s Solidarity (FWS) is an independent women’s organization dedicated to fighting violence against women, especially domestic violence and trafficking of women. The FWS opened Turkey’s first independent Women’s Counselling Centre in 1991 and its first independent shelter for women survivors of violence VAW shelter in 1993. Last month, the organization was selected by UN Women to conduct a project to foster dialogue between women’s organizations and local actors, to help prevent gender-based discrimination and violence against women among the refugee population in Turkey. The project is being implemented under the regional programme, ‘Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’. Yelda Şahin Akıllı, a feminist activist and student at the Department of Gender and Women Studies at Ankara University, is FWS’s Project Coordinator in charge of the project.

Your organization has over two decades of experience providing services for women survivors of violence. What are the lessons learned during this time?

Women’s solidarity and the women’s movement have been key factors in changing the lives of women survivors of violence. Our organization was established in the midst of a wave of feminism in Turkey in the late 1980s. At the time, there were no counselling centres or shelters for women in the country. Today, as a result of more than two decades of struggle, we have persuaded decision makers to take greater responsibility for combating violence against women. We have successfully campaigned for changes in laws and ensured that different administrations take special measures for the protection of women survivors of violence and for the prevention of such incidents. This has been possible thanks to the collaboration of numerous independent women’s organizations, and their dedicated work towards common goals. The organized power of the women’s movement is fundamental to ending violence against women.

How would you describe the current situation for women refugees in Turkey?

There is a large refugee population currently living in Turkey. There are also over three million Syrian people who have been forced to flee their homes living in Turkey under a special protection status. Meeting the basic needs of these people requires a huge amount of financial and organizational capacity, as well as expertise and knowledge. Unfortunately, most of the services for the refugee and Syrian population living in Turkey are gender-blind. In particular, there is a lack specialized services for women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Read the full story on UN Women's regional website for Europe and Central Asia