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I feel myself open
1 Aug 2010
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There’s no local funding. If we want to do a project, then we can apply for funding for it. We always have to think about a project to have this place running. Only, this place should have direct support from somewhere. We just manage, and we try to get money from here, money from there, and we try to create our own budget, which creates a distorted system. It shouldn’t be like this.”

Women's Solidarity Foundation. Center for rape, domestic violence and trafficking based in Ankara, Turkey. August 2010. 

I feel myself open

In 1987, there was a women’s discussion group, and in 1991, the women who shared their experiences there decided to establish this foundation. It’s an independent foundation established as a women’s counseling center, and it’s the first collaboration of a women’s group with the local government in Turkey. In 1993, the first independent women’s shelter in the country was established by this foundation.

Now, there are two main topics that the foundation focuses on. One is trafficking of women and the other one is domestic violence. Mainly, the activities of the foundation are awareness-raising about both issues, publications, participation in conferences, and trainings given to NGOs and other organizations. In addition to that, women call here.

Women call, and we provide psychological and legal support for violence but unfortunately because of the budget constraints, we do not have full-time psychologist here. There used to be, and there used to be psychological support and legal support. We have volunteer lawyers and through them, we provide legal assistance. But we usually direct the women to shelters or to the lawyers’ bar association.

If there is a very urgent legal issue, we intervene in a more direct way. We need the psychological counseling and the shelter for violence against women. We work together to apply to international organizations so that we can find funding for that because there’s no local funding.

We always have to think about a project, like a separate project that can receive a grant, to have this place running. If we want to do a project, then we can apply for funding for it.  Only this place should have direct support from somewhere. We just manage, and we try to get money from here, money from there, and we try to create our own budget, which creates a distorted system. It shouldn’t be like this.

We do not have separate budgets for our separate activities. We have general money coming in for projects, and we try to manage everything from that budget. Then, we try to apply for European Union projects, for instance, but we lose time doing these things and we cannot do what we really should do.

For three-year or one-year projects, we have funding. After one year, we don’t have any funding. Also, to have funding for these projects, we have forty or fifty pages of documents to fill in. We waste a lot of time working on it. Then, we might not even get the funding. Once you get it, there are other extra project costs. It’s not a sustainable system. The organizations, all of them, are just struggling to survive.

For instance, we have a website, but we cannot open it because when we open it, the number of applications will be really high and there’s not enough personnel working here to handle the need. The lack of support, just general support from the official institutions, is a big problem.

Of course, it influences the services you provide. For instance, the domestic violence shelter is not operating right now because the project ended, and we don’t have money. A shelter, it should be sustainable. It should be always open. For instance, if we have a shelter for domestic violence, just imagine applying for two years of funding. What will happen after the two years end? We do not have any other income. A shelter does not earn money.

Through the 1990’s, there was one shelter and it was for domestic violence, then the funding for domestic violence was not available anymore. So, in the 2000’s, funding for human trafficking issue was found. Therefore, there is only one shelter now and it’s only for women who are victims of human trafficking.

The combat against trafficking started in 2000 in Turkey, and the shelter started in 2005. There are several institutions involved in the shelter. The international organization of migration, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they’re all involved.

The women who are trafficked do not come and apply to the shelter directly. The Ministry of the Interior finds them through police operations. Then, they are brought to the shelter. There is a process of collaboration.

Early on, most of the trafficked women who came were from Russia, Moldavia, and Ukraine. In the last two years, there are nearly no women coming from Moldavia, from Ukraine, and from Russia. It is probably because there has been some kind of consciousness in these countries. The NGOs and state departments are working really hard to integrate trafficked women back in their societies. They give them some opportunities to establish their new life there.

The shelter here also works for the re-integration of the women in their home countries, in collaboration with the NGOs in these countries. These networks and these NGOS and state departments are conscious and working well.

But for the last two years, women from central Asia are mostly victims of human trafficking, probably because of the economic crisis of the region. For central Asia, human trafficking is a new topic. They are also not very good at re-integrating the women coming back home. They are even treated as criminals there, these women. The NGOs are not working; the state is not working; they are not providing any job opportunities for these women; and sometimes the women are trafficked into the system again.

Traffickers are very experienced in what they do, and they’re always one step ahead of us. They are working at two levels, one in the home countries and the other here. In the home countries, they are selecting the women. They know their life, their conditions, and they pick the women according to their socioeconomic status. These are the women who do not have family or who do not have a father or brother. Maybe they have a very ill person they have to support in their home, or they don’t have jobs, for instance.

The traffickers know how to establish contact. Psychologically, they know these techniques. They use these conditions of this woman. They say they will give them a job. They pay for the passport application, and they all buy plane tickets for the woman.

Most of the time, it’s a typical trafficking scheme. The woman is taken to the airport by a person, and after she gets to the airport in Turkey, she is also welcomed by another person, and this is always according to the homeland of this woman. For example, if she is coming from Russia, they are speaking Russian. They are from the same country, both the person who is sending her and welcoming her. They are very close to her, speaking the same language, from the same nationality.

It’s very complex and sometimes even their families sell these women to these organizations. They are always people who know her and, for instance, the person who welcomes this woman has a characteristic similar to this woman. For example, a woman, she welcomes her, very friendly, then they go to the home and lock her there.

Either they do these tricks in their home country or if the woman comes to Turkey by herself, without any of these organizations, and starts to work here independently. After some time, they contact the woman through her friends.

Mostly, women come to Turkey with the hopes to establish a new life, to get a new job, or to marry. They come with such hopes, and they are trafficked. The traffickers are from their own countries, so they come into their social network. They start to tell them, “There’s a better job.” For instance, this woman is looking after a sick person. They say that there is another similar job here, but they give you better money, so why don’t you give up your job and come here? After the woman gives up her job and goes there, they lock her, and she becomes, in that way, the victim of this human trafficking.

They also have these very psychological techniques to oppress the woman and keep her from escaping. They say, “We are going to kill your family.” They say, “We are going to tell in your home country that you’re involved in sex work.” So they don’t even need to lock these women. They take the passport of the woman and they just say, “We are going to give you to the police.”

There are two pillars of our awareness-raising campaign. First of all, the women who arrive at the shelter are informed about their situation in the sense that they are not responsible for what happened to them because they usually feel guilty about what happened to them. First, they are told that they should not feel like that.

We also share this knowledge with other women and international organizations. We have videos that are on TV, and they say that if someone is subject to trafficking, the traffickers are guilty. They are criminals. There is a one-five-seven, an emergency call center for trafficked women, and it provides services in different languages. Also in airports and other entry-points, they are given information cards. There is a number and it’s free to call. If your passport is taken away from you or if you are under threat, then you should call this number.

Also, the foundation provides training to the police and judges and prosecutors because they are the ones that should be informed that the women who are trafficked are victims. They should know how to approach it because sometimes when they arrive at the police station, the woman cannot express themselves. They either remain silent or they accept whatever the police say, and they are deported immediately. By making police aware of the women’s rights and what they can do, the process can shift in a more positive way.

The second pillar is the awareness-raising in the source countries. We attend international meetings about human trafficking through our foundation. Through that, we establish relations with NGOs in countries where the women are comign from. Through international relations, there is a more effective collaboration.

Also, the police in Turkey are involved in fighting this human trafficking. They call us at the shelter, and they say, “We rescued this many women, and they are here.” Then the coordinator here at the foundation establishes a team and the interpreters and they go there and talk to the women.

First, within the police station, you have a pre-interview. You just introduce yourself. It’s important to have a trust relationship. It’s important to establish that relation with the women and then they ask questions, “Where am I going? What will happen to me next?” You say, “You are going to the shelter and it will take some time for you to finish with your official things and then you can go back home.”

When they first arrive at the shelter, they let them be alone for a while. After that period, the shelter team goes and talks to them to know about their needs. Their needs are identified. These could be any basic need and they’re all free in the shelter, like, hygienic pads or soap, shampoo or clothes, underwear. They provide it for free.

After that, after they recover a little bit, the shelter facilities are introduced. This is the kitchen. This is the living room. There is a meeting with the other women in the shelter and in this meeting, the regulations in the shelter are introduced. Then, the women have one-to-one interviews with the social service worker, also the psychologist, to know whether they need psychological support, legal support, what kind of individual needs they have. An individual plan is prepared for each woman. Like when they will go to the hospital, when they will have a psychological time, and during that period, the international organization of migration is always contacted and the other processes are also started.

It’s a closed shelter, which means they cannot go out whenever they will. Of course, when there are official things they have to do, they go out, but only when social service employees accompany them. There are three interpreters in the shelter and there are social service workers, a psychologist and administrator and the cook. They can stay as long as they want but there is a minimum. They should stay at least for two weeks. They need time to recover.

For instance, their sleep periods are just off because they usually work at night and they sleep during the day, so it takes time to adjust to normal sleeping hours. They are also taken to the hospital after the recovery period so that they will be diagnosed if they have like a gynecological problem. The social service and psychologist in the shelter also have group work with all the women. They’re always asked whether they want these services or not.

They are given fifteen lira weekly so they can afford their cigarettes, and sometimes they prefer to save this money because they usually come here to earn money and they say, “I cannot go back home without any.” Sometimes, they have a family in need in their home countries and they send this money to them. It’s not a big amount but at least they can provide that.

For their return, all the necessary steps are taken. Usually, they don’t have their passports, so the embassies here and the Ministry of the Interior over there in the target countries are contacted, and their passports are issued again. Sometimes this takes a long time. For instance, it depends on the embassy of the country too. Some countries are rather slow in this process.

About human trafficking, there are two goals we want to reach. The first one is involvement of the foundation in the detection of all victims. Now, the police do it, but when the foundation gets involved, it’s more likely that there is the woman’s perspective in the process. The second one is to raise awareness in more NGOs and get them involved in this issue and also raise awareness of the society in general. There are only three organizations in Turkey that are involved in human trafficking issue.

The foundation has general goals too. Discrimination and violence against women in all fields of life and human trafficking is a part of it. Our ultimate goal is of course to end all violence against women. It’s a huge goal. It’s not easy.

Now, we are in a re-structuring process and we will have study groups that will have strategic goals to reach in several years, and we will work towards these goals. Of course, the goals always involve enhancing the capacity of the organization.

The foundation aims to have a shelter for domestic violence because the shelter for trafficked women cannot be used for domestic violence victims. It would be great to have another shelter because now we are just directing the woman to other places. There would be more capacity in general and the services we provide would be better.

The biggest difficulty we face is the limits of the capacity. I mean, the shelters are small. Sometimes, a woman calls and says she wants to leave the home. You say, “Call the shelter,” but sometimes there’s no space.

Then, the other two shelters for domestic violence are not women’s NGO shelters. They’re social services from the municipality, so sometimes a woman calls the psychological support and tells us, “They were just being very rude and very harsh to me.” When you have a shelter run by a women’s organization, you have again the woman’s perspective. It’s important to have this kind of service.

The other institutions involved, they do not have a gender perspective either. They usually discourage women. A woman calls us and says, “I went to the police but they said to go back home.” We hear cases like this. A woman says, “I have been harassed. I have been beaten. I have been subject to violence,” in any way, and the police sometimes say, “Just forget about it. Go back home.” Under these circumstances, the women call here. They tell us their story: They have applied to the police station but they have not been given correct knowledge. They are not helped.

Sometimes the person working here also calls the police station. We inform the woman that she can file a complaint about the police officer, tell to the station that he did not help her, even if it was his job. We also provide this knowledge and sometimes petitions are written here.

Also not only domestic violence, but also sexual crimes, rape and harassment cases, we go and follow the cases and we see that the prosecutors and judges are very prejudiced. It doesn’t matter what kind of training they receive, some of them don’t change. Some of them don’t receive any training at all.

This is the biggest impediment, I feel, the general patriarchal structure that infiltrates everywhere. I mean, you’re trying to do something but you have to work with other institutions, other NGOs, and you face this all the time. Our capacity is very low because the state doesn’t invest in us.

The legal structure is also problematic. I mean, there’s a law saying that the municipalities should have a shelter if they’re over a fifteen thousand person population, but they’re not obliged. There’s a law, but when they don’t follow it, there’s no punishment. The law is just there. Many municipalities don’t have a shelter and what you can do is sue them but usually you don’t. Even if you sue them, there is no punishment, really. The law only says you should open a shelter, but it doesn’t say “what if they don’t.” The legal mechanisms are not sufficient.

Yes, these are the general things, but I feel strengthened by doing this work because I’m also harassed in the street and everywhere. In every place, I also experience being the second sex. Therefore, while struggling for other women, I also feel, “Oh ok, in such a case, I do this also for myself. I can do that. I can do this.” It helps me. If I’m not involved in doing such work for a certain period of time, I also feel myself more scared, or more closed, but when I work here, I feel myself open.

I’m here why everyone is here.


Community Justice Activism Advocacy
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