The Foundation for Women’s Solidarity (Kadın Dayanışma Vakfı) is an independent women’s organisation combating all forms of violence against women by providing free counselling support to women subjected to violence, organising awareness-raising activities, and advocating for the enactment of necessary laws and regulations. The foundation is receiving a grant from the 2022 period of our Gender Equality Fund to improve the capacity of its women’s counselling centre and reach more women by employing a second social worker.
Read below our interview:
The Foundation for Women’s Solidarity is receiving a grant from our foundation for the first time in the 2022 period of the Gender Equality Fund. Can you tell us about the aims and activities of your organisation?
The Foundation for Women’s Solidarity is an independent women’s organisation that combats all forms of violence against women and gender inequality and builds solidarity with women subjected to violence. The Foundation established the first women’s counselling centre in Ankara-Turkey in 1991, and Turkey’s first feminist women’s shelter in 1993. Although the shelter is no longer in operation, our independent women’s counselling centre is still active.
We organise meetings and trainings to share our knowledge and experience in the field of violence against women; we advocate for political authorities to enact and implement the necessary laws, provide funding for services for women, and for institutions to fulfil their responsibilities.
Since 1998, we have been a member of the Women’s Shelters and Counselling Centres Assembly, which brings together women’s organisations fighting violence against women in Turkey. We are a member of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Civil Society Steering Committee and the Istanbul Convention Turkey Monitoring Platform. We are a member of the Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE Network) and also the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Turkey Coordination.
While carrying out these activities, feminist principles guide us. Our foundation raises funds through individual and corporate donations, grants and member contributions. A large part of our work is carried out thanks to our volunteers.
We are working to ensure that these mechanisms provide empowering support to women without blaming them, and enabling them to make their own decisions.
How does violence against women take place? Can you tell us about the different types of violence against women and the existing support mechanisms?
The most common types of violence we encounter in our women’s counselling centre are psychological, physical, economic, sexual, digital violence, and stalking. In a violent relationship, different types of violence are often seen together. For example, psychological violence occurs alongside all other forms of violence, and sexual violence is often seen together with physical violence.
We can say that applications regarding digital violence increased during the pandemic. Especially women students who returned to their families’ homes shared that while they wanted to press charges against perpetrators, they were also worried that their families would find out. Stalking has also become more common, especially together with digital violence, with the increased use of the internet, social media, and digital tools. You can find more detailed information on these different types of violence and women’s struggle against this violence in our Women’s Counselling Centre 2021 Activity Report.
Women who have been subjected to violence can receive social, legal and psychological support from the Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centres (Şiddet Önleme ve İzleme Merkezi – ŞÖNİM), women’s counselling centres of municipalities, and women’s organisations. They can apply to the nearest police or gendarmerie station, prosecutor’s office, or family court. In case of emergency, they can use the mobile Women Support App (Kadın Destek Uygulaması – KADES), call the 112 Emergency Hotline, and Domestic Violence Emergency Line (0212 656 96 96 – 0549 656 96 96).
Another point we need to underline here is that although all women’s stories of struggle against violence are unique, we also encounter many similarities. Feeling insecure, helpless, unsuccessful, and worthless, isolation, difficulty in communicating, hopelessness, the idea that nothing will change even if they apply to an institution, and the lack of sufficient and accurate information about support mechanisms make it difficult for women to fight against violence. Therefore, we are working to ensure that these mechanisms provide empowering support to women without blaming them, and enabling them to make their own decisions.
The most important aspect of a feminist women’s counselling centre that empowers women is that it makes visible the system of exploitation behind male violence.
You recently published the Women’s Experience of Struggle Against Male Violence: Women’s Counselling Centre 2021 Activity Report. What role do Women’s Counselling Centres play in combating violence? Can you share with us the highlights of your experiences in this field?
There are many institutions and organisations that women can apply to receive support, but these institutions often question women’s decisions and do not allow them to be active subjects in their struggle against violence. As the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity, we build feminist solidarity with the women who apply to our women’s counselling centre. We respect women’s decisions, do not make decisions on their behalf and do not force them to take any steps they are not ready for. Moving away from violent relationships is not easy for anyone. Taking this into consideration, we support women in making their own decisions.
The most important aspect of a feminist women’s counselling centre that empowers women is that it makes visible the system of exploitation behind male violence. We emphasise that women’s bodies, labour, and sexuality are exploited and violence against women is a means of perpetuating this exploitation.
Women may tend to blame themselves for the violence or because they cannot get away from a violent relationship soon enough. In such cases, we talk about the fact that there can be no justification for violence, the effects of being raised and socialised as obedient girls, and the pressure that society puts on women. We point out the steps women take with great courage to get away from the cycle of violence to make them realise how strong they are. Listening to women’s narratives without blaming or judging them and talking about the patriarchal system empowers women. Our women’s counselling centre differs from the counselling centres that do not centralise feminist principles, and it empowers women through the practice of the slogan “the private is political”.
Digital feminism has become a popular concept today. As a feminist organisation that has been active in the field for almost 30 years, can you tell us about the opportunities and limitations that digital media brings to feminist movements?
In times of intense social and political pressure, where freedom of association is prevented, digital media tools can produce creative ways of organising. The pandemic also contributed to this situation. When we did not have the opportunity to meet in person, we met with women on digital platforms and continued our work through digital tools. In addition, the applications to our women’s counselling centre show us that women find us through search engines and social media. We try to be more active on social media and share information about combating violence against women and the support provided by our women’s counselling centre.
We point out the steps women take with great courage to get away from the cycle of violence to make them realise how strong they are.
Social media also provides a space for women who have been subjected to violence to make their voices heard when they are silenced by threats, and when they cannot receive sufficient support from institutions, in short when they cannot access justice. We have seen many women sharing their experiences in this way. However, many women also experienced the negative consequences of sharing their stories of being subjected to violence on social media.
Social media and digital platforms can also create misinformation. We try to overcome this by sharing accurate and easily understandable information. They also reduce communication and activism to limited social media activity. No matter how easy and cost-effective, relationships established through digital media are no substitute for face-to-face relationships. Therefore, we try to prioritise direct communication.
With our grant support, you are implementing the project Strengthening Women’s Solidarity through the Women’s Counselling Centre. Can you tell us about the project and its activities?
With this project, we aim to increase the capacity of our women’s counselling centre. We provide free social, psychological, and legal support to women three days a week. With this grant support, another social worker joined us. We started to provide support four days a week so we can now reach more women. As the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity, our primary goal is to ensure the continuity of our women’s counselling centre. In this way, on the one hand, we increase our ability to support more women, and on the other hand, we improve our advocacy capacity regarding the nonfunctional aspects of the mechanisms of combating violence that we monitor through women’s experiences.
About the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity
The Foundation for Women’s Solidarity is an independent women’s organisation that aims to combat all kinds of violence against women. The foundation provides social, legal and psychological support to women, organises trainings on combating violence against women for the professional staff of public institutions and civil society organisations, and awareness-raising activities targeting the public.