Sunflower Women Association (Günebakan Kadın Derneği)

Introducing “Sunflower Women Association”

The Sunflower Women Association (Günebakan Kadın Derneği), established in Mersin, aims to ensure equal rights, responsibilities and participation in society for women by working on domestic violence, women’s health, education of child on gender, women participation in municipal mechanisms and gender equality in municipalities. The association also works on women’s human rights, women’s participation in the working life and the areas for opportunities in this regard. The Sunflower Women Association provides legal support to women and follow violence and abuse lawsuits. It also conducts monitoring and advocacy work at the level of municipalities in Mersin through city councils. The Association is one of the two organisations Turkey Mozaik Supports as part of the Gender Equality Fund 2020.

The project Turkey Mozaik Foundation supports is “Enforce the Laws and Open Women’s Counseling Centers and Women’s Shelters” (Yasaları Uygulansın, Kadın Danışma Merkezleri ve Kadın Sığınma Evleri Açılsın).  The project aims to determine the current status of women’s counseling centers and women’s shelters in Mersin Metropolitan Municipality and Akdeniz, Mezitli, Toroslar and Yenişehir district municipalities and to eliminate any identified deficiencies by conducting advocacy studies. A report regarding the status of women’s counseling centers and shelters will be prepared and shared with other women CSOs and municipalities active in Mersin. Please see below the detailed interview with Sunflower Women Association.

Sunflower Women Association (Günebakan Kadın Derneği) aims to empower women for them to take part in society with equal rights, responsibilities and participation. Could you tell us about the establishment of the Association and the work you have done since then?

We think that if women demand their rights and own their responsibilities, they will be accepted as independent individuals by the society. As Sunflower Women Association, our aim is to support women to participate in the society with equal rights and responsibilities. With this vision, our association was founded on 25 November 2008.

We get involved in court cases for crimes against women in Mersin through our association lawyers. Our members, volunteers, psychologists and lawyers provide psychological and legal counselling to women who are exposed to violence. We cooperate with the Women’s Rights Centre of Mersin Bar Association (Baro Kadın Hakları Merkezi), the Ministry of Family and Social Policies Violence Prevention Center (Aile ve Sosyal Politikalar Bakanlığı Şiddet Önleme Merkezi) and the Mersin Women’s Platform to locally monitor women’s problems and support women.

We have worked with many stakeholders since our establishment and we continue to work with them. In 2010-2012, we took part in the projects of Mediterranean Public Education and Advanced Technical School for Girls (Akdeniz Halk Eğitimi ve Olgunlaşma Enstitüsü)  and supported the trainings for women. In 2012-2014, we implemented the “Combating Gender Based Inequality and Violence with Local Support Mechanisms” project as the partner in Mersin which aims to empower and support women who are exposed to violence and raising awareness for violence against women at the local level. The project was carried on in three cities simultaneously with Başak Culture and Arts Foundation from Istanbul and the House of Life Women’s Solidarity Association (Yaşam Evi Kadın Dayanışma Derneği) from Urfa.

In addition,  two of our members who participated in the training of trainers provided by the Women for Women’s Human Rights Association (Kadının İnsan Hakları – Yeni Çözümler Derneği) carried on the Women’s Human Rights Education Program (Kadının İnsan Hakları Eğitimi Programı) in cooperation with Mersin/Yenişehir Cemevi Women’s Branch (Mersin/Yenişehir Cem Evi Kadın Kolları) and Seven Colours Association (Yedi Renk Derneği). With the cooperation of Toroslar Municipality Public Education Centre, we organized trainings for the families with 0-6 years old and 7-11 years old children in our association.

We also carry out advocacy and monitoring activities on gender equality for municipalities. For example, we have organized a petition campaign for two central district municipalities in Mersin which do not have the women counselling centre and women shelters. We continue our communication with Mersin municipalities, City Councils and Women’s Councils as much as possible. We organized a workshop on ”Women Friendly Cities and Gender Responsive Budget” for mayor candidates during the local elections with the support of Mersin Bar Association and Mersin University Problems of Women Application and Research Centre (Mersin Üniversitesi Kadın Sorunlarını Uygulama ve Araştırma Merkezi).

We were part of the Mezitli Municipality City Council Gender Equality Working Group. We participated in the Women Producers’ Market of Mezitli Municipality and promoted our members’ productions. In addition, we contributed to the projects of Toroslar Municipality on gender and women’s rights aspects.

We organised various awareness activities on 25th of November, the Day of Combating Violence against Women, and 8th of March, International Women’s Day, which are special days for our the area we work on. On November 25, we sent petitions to judges and prosecutors in Mersin who were involved in cases of violence against women for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention and the Law No. 6284. We carried various awareness raising activities for November 25 and March 8. In addition, we organised Women and Dance Festival on International Women’s Day this year for the second time.

Lastly, we conduct awareness and advocacy activities on child abuse, child education, women’s health, women’s participation to labour force and microcredit for women.

Sunflower Women Association’s “Enforce the Laws and Open Women’s Counselling Centres and Women’s Shelters” project is supported within the scope of Gender Equality Fund with the co-financing of the Turkey Mozaik Foundation. Could you tell us about the objectives and activities of this project?

According to Article 14 of the Municipal Law, the metropolitan municipalities and municipalities with population over 100.000 have to open shelters for women and children. Yet, we are seeing that this law is not taken into consideration and many municipalities have not taken the necessary steps in this regard. Furthermore, existing women and children shelters have insufficient capacities and no sanctions are applied in this regard. These conditions cause women to be deprived of local support mechanisms.

The Analysis Report of Women’s Murders Data in Turkey and in the World” of Assoc. Dr. Coşkun Taştan and Research Assistant Aslıhan Küçüker Yıldız states that 3% of femicides in Turkey take place in Mersin and Mersin is among the top 10 cities in femicide statistics. This situation reveals that the number of women who have been subjected to violence in Mersin is at a considerable level. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the capacity and number of women counselling centres and shelters and to provide sufficient number of specialists in these centres. With this project that is based on this need, we will advocate for opening of new women shelters and counselling centres in Mersin and meeting the needs of the existing ones.

The measures taken for the COVID-19 outbreak made it compulsory for everyone to stay at home. A report published by the United Nations in 2019 states that the cases of violence against women mostly occur in their own homes. We know that in Asia and Europe there has been a significant increase in the number of violence cases against women. Can you evaluate the situation in Turkey and the impact of measures taken in terms of women and violence against women?

In Turkey, the first cases of the COVID-19 was seen on March 11, 2020. As of April 4, 18.135 COVID-19 patients and 356 casualties were present. We think that the cases will continue to increase over time. However, the COVID-19 outbreak should not only be considered as a health problem; this epidemic is also a major social and economic problem. Cases of violence against women and femicides were already increasing significantly in the recent years.  How safe can it be for women to stay at the same house with a violent man in COVID-19 outbreak process?

The Federation of Woman Associations of Turkey (Türkiye Kadın Dernekleri Federasyonu), recently shared the data of incoming calls to the emergency hotline for the last three months. The physical and psychological violence against women, neighbour notification, shelters and legal assistance request are among the subjects of the incoming calls from 53 cities in Turkey.  A total of 904 incoming calls to the emergency hotline was recorded in March. Of these calls, 578 were cases of physical violence, 80 cases of psychological violence, 113 were of neighbour notification, 60 were requests for shelter, 25for legal support and 48 emergency calls. The distribution of a total of 730 calls made in April was 651 cases of physical violence, 45 emergency cases and 34 neighbour notification. Among the 491 calls received in May; those regarding to domestic violence was 274, the number of applicant women regarding to domestic violence was 182 and the number of neighbour notifications was 35. According to reports in the press, the number of femicides between 11 March and the end of May 2o2o reached 50.

If adequate measures are not taken for women and children, the cases of violence a will continue to rise. Due to the pandemic, the ongoing lawsuits on violence against women have become difficult to follow and the pressure of civil society organisations following these processes has weakened. As the judicial processes were limited due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the continuity of the cases was interrupted. The motto, “Life fits in the house” was developed to encourage people to stay home during the pandemic, but if no precautions are taken, women will continue to be exposed to violence at home because we know that women are exposed to violence and got killed most often in their homes.

In order to fight violence against women during COVID-19 outbreak, the existing mechanisms such as hotlines and mobile applications should be promoted and their visibility should be increased through social media and press. Alternative solutions should be offered for women who are at risk of facing violence. Restraining orders must be made faster and implemented effectively for violent men. In addition, the conditions of women’s shelters should be reassessed vis a vis the impact of the epidemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak changed the work of civil society organizations, as in other areas of life. How did this situation affect your current work? 

Even though some of the precautions are eased as of June 2020, we continue our work under limited conditions. We closed our association centre and continue or meetings online. Some of the main activities of our association, volunteer orientation and the Women’s Human Rights Training Program, has been disrupted due to the pandemic.   We continue to respond to the applications for legal and psychological support and direct the applicant women to the necessary institutions but we do not contact women in person.

It is expected that the measures taken due to COVID-19 outbreak, will result in some changes in the focus areas and operations of civil society organizations in the upcoming period. In this respect, as the Sunflower Women Association do you plan to make any changes?  What will your priorities be for the rest of 2020?

Due to the impact of the pandemic, we will continue to make online meetings and trainings since a large number of people come together in these events. We will continue to carry on our relations with the stakeholders with official correspondence, e-mail, telephone or online meetings. Different meetings attended by the Association and our executive meetings and member meetings will also continue online. We will intensify our efforts through social media to direct women who are exposed to violence to related institutions and organisations. All of the activities we planned for the next period will continue online and there will be no changes in the working areas of our association.