From 11 countries and 40 Women’s and LGBTI organizations, 200 participants were present at Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation’s Conference entitled “Policies on Women’s Shelters and Solidarity Centers against Male Violence throughout the 2010s: Sharing Experiences from Turkey and Europe”, organized on 26th and 27th of February at Kadir Has University, Istanbul.

The Conference was funded by the Turkey Delegation of the European Union, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Association and Technical Assistance for Civil Society Organizations (TACSO). Throughout the Conference, experiences were shared and debates were held by women’s organizations from Germany, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, England, Bulgaria, Poland, Holland, Spain and Turkey that are active in the area of combating violence against women. The Conference revealed the currency of violence against women, the significance of independent women’s organizations and inter-agency coordination in combating violence against women, over the examples in Europe and Turkey. 

The main subjects of debate in the Conference were the models with which the independent women’s organizations and governmental agencies can work together for effective struggle with violence against women, the significance of the independence of the women’s organizations, the negation and marginalization of women’s organizations that have knowledge and experience about violence against women,   lack of adequate funding for combating violence against women, failure of governmental agencies in executing their powers and responsibilities,  the problems in the practice of existing laws and the importance of gender equality’s being considered as a governmental policy. 

One of the remarkable outputs of the Conference has been the establishment of the fact that the states that take into consideration the experiences and approaches accumulated by women’s organizations could manage to build up effective models in combating violence against women. One example to such models is the model of Vienna. 

The Model of Vienna 

Delivering a speech on the first day of the Conference, Tamar Çıtak, from Domestic Abuse Intervention Center Vienna, noted that initially, the significance of the Intervention Center was not perceived by the state; however, the state was then obliged to admit the significance of the intervention centers as a consequence of their struggle. Currently, there are 9 crisis centers in Austria and these centers are operated by independent women’s organizations with all their expenses covered by the government. 

Women are in the core of the activities in the Austrian model. A woman that is exposed to violence experiences the following steps throughout the process:

  • The police reports to the Intervention Center within 48 hours at the latest 
  • After the report by the police, the Intervention Center directly contacts the woman and provides the supports she needs. During the provision of such support, organizations combating domestic violence meet regularly, evaluate the information on the cases and implement the resolutions together.

One of the most significant aspects of the Austrian model is that there is a coordination among organizations that allows the anonymity of the whereabouts only by submitting a petition and thus ensuring the woman’s safety. Çıtak noted that they did not encounter any case in which a woman’s address was found by the aggressor man after she preferred anonymity. Considering the fact that in Turkey, there are many cases on the contrary, it was observed once again through the Austrian model that the state could easily ensure the implementation of the anonymity system.  

Hürriyet Hot Line for Combating Violence

Among the founders of Hürriyet Hot Line for Combating Violence, as the only hot line in Turkey providing 24/7 psychological, legal and social support for women exposed to violence in Turkey, Neşe Hacısalihoğlu talked about the aims, foundation process and its difference from other aid lines. Hürriyet Hot Line for Combating Violence was transferred to the Women’s Associations Federation of Turkey on January 31, 2015 and although not totally shut down, the new model could not sustain the 24/7 principle due to financial deficiencies. 

The difference of this hot line from others can be specified as follows:

  • It was the only hotline that provided psychological support on the line and followed a case from the start to the end,
  • The staff working on the line were aware of and able to monitor all cases over a database and monitoring system,
  • The cases were being followed at each institution and thus, any faulty or deficient transaction could be detected and intervened.

Instead of the line number 183, offered by the government as a Social Support Line, there is a need for a hotline that would only offer support for women exposed to violence, with specialized staff, as was revealed with the sharing of Hürriyet Hot Line for Combating Violence experience. 

The Condition of Shelters 

Britta Schlichting from ZIF-Zentrale Informationsstelle der Autonomen Frauenhäuser, Germany made a presentation about the concept and characteristics in independent women’s shelters and noted that in Germany 1 out of every 4 women in Germany is exposed to domestic abuse and despite 40 years of experience, women’s shelters are still facing bureaucratic and financial hardships. Berna Ekal from Turkey shared her ethnographic survey on the shelters of municipalities in Turkey and told that in public-run shelters, “state protection” is a more dominant notion than solidarity. Ekal noted that the local and central government institutions are not considering supporting independent shelters financially. Whereas feminists demand shelters from municipalities and central government, Ekal expressed that the dominance of shelters upon the women using them should also be taken into account.

Rebuilding Lives away from Violence 

Mor Çatı volunteer psychologist Feride Güneri talked about the methods men can employ to be able to sustain violence and the possibilities for women to get away from violence. Güneri spoke as follows: “Violence is not behavioral, it is a mindset. Violence can only be stopped by who practices it as violence is a deliberate choice, The reason behind violence, as it is often asserted, is neither depression, alcohol nor psychological disorders. The one that practices violence has tactics to keep you within his control Being able to see these tactics is important in being able to get away from violence” .

Hilary Abrahams shared experience about the influence of violence on the feeling of self-confidence in women and the types of support needed by women in order to get away from violence. According to Abrahams, women firstly need a proper and safe place, emotional support and close relations in order to rebuild a life away from violence. Burcu Yakut Çakar noted that the welfare system that will ensure economic empowerment of women iis not available in Turkey. Çakar expressed that women are heavily burdened by housework labor, do not have equal means in financial resources and any welfare system that defines women within the family and bound to men will turn out to become a welfare trap rather than a network of welfare that would empower women in staying away from violence. 

Combating Violence in Europe

In her speech, Carol Hageman White evaluated European mechanisms in combating violence against women and emphasized that models incorporating independent women’s organizations have proved to be successful. Zozan Inci from Swedish National Women's Shelter Organziation (Roks) shared that, contrary to common belief, violence against women is also a widespread problem in Sweden. As Inci shared, according to the 2013 figures of Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, in every 20 minutes, a woman is subjected to violence, every day, 100 women are raped and only 23 percent of rape incidents are recorded. Sweden ranks fourth in gender equality in the world, according to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum. Inci also stated that the regulations combating violence against women are sufficient but they are often not practiced and coordination between institutions cannot be achieved.

The fact that almost all of the perpetrators of violence against women being men, has been another outstanding point among the shared experiences across countries. 92 per cent of the perpetrators in Austria and 98 per cent in Sweden are male.

The Situation in Turkey

At the conference, speakers from EŞİTİZ and Mor Çatı talked about the regulations in Turkey in combating violence against women, problems in their practicability and the means of combating violence against women.

Açelya Uçan from Mor Çatı shared that regulations often are not implemented and remain only on paper; that women subjected to violence are further subjected to bad treatment at the institutions they apply which prevents them from applying to those institutions again. Some of the experiences Uçan shared are as follows:

"Upon her complaint that her father is threatening to kill her, one police officer replied 'I also tell my child that I would kill her but I don't, let your father come here, kiss his hand and make it up' ".

"A girl sexually abused by her father goes to the police station with her mother to file a complaint and the police officer says to the child 'Would you forgive your father? After all, he is your father. There is no harm done (to the virginity) no force used, it would be difficult for you to prove it' to discourage her.

Perihan Meşeli, Mor Çatı lawyer, criticized that the insistent stalking that women are often subjected to is a crime in many countries but still not in Turkey.

"Even though the stalking women experienced has been described as a crime both in the law 6284 and in Istanbul Agreement-where Turkey was the first country to sign- it is still not considered a separate crime in Turkish Penal Code (TCK). This shows once again the frivolity, contradiction and lack of foundation in creating these regulations and in signing them with the promise of their enforcement. This inconsistency in domestic law and stalking not being considered a crime causes absence of necessary penalties."

Lawyer Hülya Gülbahar from EŞİTİZ (We are Equal) Monitoring Foundation said that when combatting violence against women is in question, the state never has the time or the money. She emphasized that in order for the state to combat violence against women, it should allocate a budget for it. Gilbahar also added as follows: "despite government's efforts to suppress women and marginalize the women's movement, according to a research published in Hürriyet newspaper on March 8th, 86 per cent of women trust women's organizations; hence there is hope, we should look for ways to reach women who want to be organized."

International Law and Women’s Law Policy

One of the important results that emerged from the various country experiences was that the support model for women who were subjected to violence should include the solidarity center, the shelter and the emergency hotline working in coordination with each other and with independent women's organizations.

Albena Koycheva from Bulgaria Gender Research Foundation explained their work regarding the adaptation of domestic legislation to international agreements and the implementation of these changes. She also stated that the enforcement of the law should be monitored regularly and the fact that violence offenders test the limits of the law should be taken into account.

Koycheva also noted that the Istanbul Agreement is a binding agreement and that the state has a special obligation to enforce it. 

Biljana Brankovich from the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) stated that Istanbul Agreement is an action tool that could be used by the feminist movement all around the world. Eniko Pap from Hungary emphasized that the state should get to know, encourage and support women’s organizations in support of fight against violence against women. Karolina Wieckiewicz talked about international obligations concerning reproductive rights and violence against women, through examples from Poland. She stated that due to the ban of legal abortion, women are forced to seek ‘back alley’ abortions which threatens their lives.

International Networks

At the final session we discussed how to build international feminist Networks and how to make them functional. In this session we talked about the work of WAVE network (Women Agains Violence Europe) where Mor Çatı is a member. WAVE regularly publishes country reports and provides an important ground to be able to see the situation in different countries and to act united. Riekje Kok talked about the organization process of the World Shelters Conference and indicated our need for strong networks to fight violence. Sandra Moreno Cadena from La Vie Campesina Farmer’s Movement emphasized that despite women forming 80 percent of total agricultural workforce in the world, they own only 2 percent of the agricultural land and stated that supporting women’s right in the rural is the fight to support our bodies and our lands. Cadena also shared the organizational experiences of women in La Via Camesina which was created through relating with other feminist networks.