Yüksekova Women’s Association (Yüksekova Kadın Derneği) received grant support from our Gender Equality Fund in 2021 to implement the project Women of Yüksekova Stand Against Violence. The project aimed to establish an Emergency Support Hotline, raise awareness about violence against women, and conduct outreach activities with women in Yüksekova.
Read below our interview:
You recently completed the Women of Yüksekova Stand Against Violence project, which you implemented with our grant support. Can you tell us about the project and its activities?
With this project, we worked to raise the local community’s awareness of violence, provide up-to-date data to our stakeholders, especially public institutions, and support women who were exposed to violence.
First, we designed brochures introducing the project and the Emergency Support Hotline that we established. We printed 1000 brochures and distributed them in 10 neighbourhoods of Hakkari’s Yüksekova district, in over 100 grocery stores, markets, bakeries, tailors, etc. Since most of the people working in these places were men, we mostly spoke to men and got their support.
Following the establishment of our Emergency Support Hotline, we started to work as a centre that women can reach 24/7. While some women contacted us by phone, others applied directly by coming to our association. Simultaneously, we prepared the YUKADER Handbook on Combating Violence with the support of Sema Aksoy, a lawyer and the previous president of the Ankara Bar Association. This handbook includes brief information about violence against women, different types of violence, and women’s legal rights.
We printed 1000 brochures and distributed them in 10 neighbourhoods of Hakkari’s Yüksekova district, in over 100 grocery stores, markets, bakeries, tailors, etc.
Throughout the project, we also visited public institutions and organisations that play a decisive role in combating violence against women. We met with the Governorship of Hakkari, the District Governorship of Yüksekova, the Directorate of Social Service Centre, the Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centre, Chamber of Commerce, Rehabilitation Centres, the District Directorate of National Education, the District Police Chief, Yüksekova Early Diagnosis Screening and Training Centre, the District Health Directorate, the District Directorate of Family and Social Services to draw attention to violence against women in Yüksekova and what public institutions can do to prevent violence from being covered up.
In the meantime, to conduct face-to-face interviews with women subjected to violence, and support them, we needed to improve our capacity. Thus, we received a 3-day training from the KAMER Foundation, which has been working on this issue for many years.
We received 63 applications between 4 August 2021 and 4 July 2022. Thanks to the list of questions we prepared with the support of the KAMER Foundation, we determined which types of violence the applicants experienced and how the support process should proceed. Finally, we included a psychologist in the project and started to provide psychological support to women. We also worked with a monitoring and evaluation specialist to prepare a report about the outputs of our project.
Can you tell us about the difficulties of discussing violence against women and working in this field in Yüksekova? What kind of strategies have you developed to overcome these difficulties?
Violence is hidden throughout Yüksekova, so, data from public institutions do not reflect the existing cases. Thanks to our work, we became an organisation that collects data on violence against women. The services provided by public institutions to women became more efficient. Receiving women’s applications enabled us to see the deficiencies in the mechanisms and make policy recommendations.
Following the establishment of our Emergency Support Hotline, we started to work as a centre that women can reach 24/7.
On the other hand, we had the instinct to see ourselves as saviours of women. However, thanks to the capacity-building training we received, we now work much more professionally and communicate more efficiently with women. Now, women first call our Hotline and make an appointment (if the situation is not urgent and life-threatening). This way, we carry out our activities more systematically and better protect the confidentiality of the applicants’ personal information.
Why is it crucial for women to know their rights? What should be taken into consideration in the activities carried out to empower women?
During the project, we informed women of their rights and the existing social support services in detail. Empowering the women of the region has become one of our priorities.
Working in the field of combating violence against women is very valuable; however, it is also very delicate. It is important to remember to always act according to the applicants’ decisions. You should show that you are always open to communication and never be judgemental. Applicant women go through a difficult path and therefore find it difficult to take steps. It is essential to do what you can to let the women know that what they have been going through is not their fault.
Our communication continued with all the women that we supported to see the effects created by this project. Here are some of the feedback we received from the women:
“When I started receiving psychological support, I realised how superficially I told everyone about myself. It was so hard for me to open myself up. Because no one had ever asked me how I felt.”
“With this support, I learnt not to postpone anything. My feelings and wishes became my priority before anyone else. In short, I feel strong.”
Thanks to the capacity-building training we received, we now work much more professionally and communicate more efficiently with women.
How has the grant support you received from our Gender Equality Fund contributed to your organisation and your work? Why do you think it is important for donors to support work in the field of gender equality?
YUKADER is the first women’s association in Yüksekova. Unfortunately, in this region and Hakkari, official statistical data do not reflect the real violence against women. There are many reasons behind this: The belief that only physical violence is violence, the fact that family and kinship relationships deter women from speaking out since Hakkari is a small city, the fact that women’s complaints are ignored because it is a male-dominated society, and the common belief that ignoring violence will ensure the continuity of family and social order. All these discourage women subjected to violence and those who want to work in this field. With this project, we raised awareness of violence against women among our stakeholders and the local community. Without this financial support, we would not be able to carry out any of these activities.
During our one-year project, we saw that even the smallest donation has a great impact. We had one-on-one meetings with 63 women, informed thousands more about violence against women and told them that they can reach us when they need to. With our project, we became a well-known organisation in the region in the fight against violence against women. We need the support of donors to maintain this; otherwise, due to financial inadequacies, we will be letting down the individuals who trust us.
Can you tell us about the activities and priorities of YUKADER in the coming period?
The activities of our Women of Yüksekova Stand Against Violence project revealed many needs. The issues that public institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs) should focus on can be summarised under a few headings.
Awareness Raising and Dissemination of Accurate Information: Throughout this project, we involved the local community and public institutions in our activities. Some of the biggest problems experienced by women subjected to violence are feeling lonely, the fear of social pressures and, worst of all, the possibility of not being taken seriously. Also, most women do not have sufficient information about their legal rights and the economic and social support provided by public institutions. This lack of information affects women’s decision-making processes and leads to a loss of rights.
For this reason, in the brochures we prepared, we included the contact information of public institutions and organisations that provide support to women. These support mechanisms of public institutions and CSOs should be explained to women more, and the number of trainings and seminars should be increased.
Creating a Database and Regular Data Entry: With this project, we explained to public institutions the importance of collecting data on violence against women, through which, the results and solution methods of the applications can be monitored. The data of our applicants are recorded in our newly established database, and we take utmost care to protect their confidentiality.
Prevention of the Language Barrier: We can say that the language barrier hindrances women’s access to justice. To overcome this, hiring and/or increasing the number of staff who speak Farsi and the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish and conducting awareness-raising activities in these languages will ensure that women feel comfortable when applying to the relevant institutions and will increase the efficiency of the service provided. Also, illiterate women should be encouraged to learn how to read and write through public education centres. Such activities will create a multiplier effect that will increase women’s integration into society.
Need for Psychological Support: Our field studies showed that women are aware of the violence they experience and want to get away from it; however, economic problems and social pressures slow them down. Therefore, women must have the economic freedom to be able to combat violence. Therefore, there is a need to provide more services to women in terms of finding a job, financial and in-kind support, and psychological support.
We also observed that women whose husbands are in prison have anger management problems, are introverted and unable to express themselves. It is essential to increase or review the effectiveness of support for these women and their children.
Need for Legal Support: Although we did not include it in the project at the beginning, we later realised that legal support is essential for women. Of the 63 applications we received, 18 of them requested legal support. Considering that most cases of violence occur within the family (88% of the applications we received within the scope of this project were for domestic violence), it is crucial that women have access to free legal support. As YUKADER, we have decided to allocate a significant budget for legal support in our future activities.
Difficulties Caused by the Restrictions in the Provision of Economic and Social Support: The Social Service Centre needs to change the implementation of its social and economic support services. Although the conditions of these support services do not stipulate that only women whose husbands have died or are in prison can benefit from these, the social evaluation is conducted in such a way that other women cannot receive this support. We think that the conditions of all economic support should be well-defined, and their implementation should be closely monitored.
Promoting Economic Freedom: Many women who are subjected to violence do not dare to get divorced because they think that their families will not accept them afterwards, they will not be able to get alimony and have serious economic problems. Thus, they are forced to continue living in a spiral of violence. For this reason, efforts should be made to increase the participation of women in employment and social life, and at the same time, the quality of existing efforts should be reviewed.
As YUKADER, to formulate an alternative solution to this problem, we established the Yüksekova Demeter Agricultural Development Women’s Cooperative. With the cooperative’s 16 employees, we are currently acting in support of the solution to this problem. The strategies followed by YUKADER are listed as follows:
- To create decent working conditions for women,
- To develop a business model that will free women from social pressures and enable them to work comfortably,
- To contribute to the capacity development of women,
- To enable women to contribute to the family economy,
- To improve women’s self-confidence by increasing the positive effects of economic gain on women,
- To support local economic and agricultural development with women’s power.
Inclusion of Gender Equality in the Curriculum: Education on gender equality should start from childhood and should be supported by school education. Starting this education in primary schools will prevent children to acquire wrong social assumptions from their families regarding gender equality. In this way, raising children’s awareness of gender equality will help to prevent gender inequality that may occur in the future.
Promoting Women’s Cooperatives and/or Women Business Owners: As YUKADER, we provide job opportunities to many women in the region with the Demeter Agricultural Development Women’s Cooperative we established. Demeter, which provides job opportunities to many women who want to work but cannot find a job, especially women who have international protection status and women fleeing violence and trying to gain economic freedom, sets an example in this sense. Based on our own experiences and the interviews we conducted; we believe that women should be encouraged to establish cooperatives or private enterprises and that financial support should be provided.
Increasing the Number of Daycare Centres and Kindergartens: It is essential to increase the number of daycare centres and/or kindergartens to make it easier for women to work and overcome economic difficulties. Women face difficulties in finding a job due to the lack of a place where they can safely leave their children.
Increasing the Number of Women’s Shelters: The number and/or capacity of shelters, which are very important for women who have been subjected to violence, need to be increased. At the same time, there is a lot of misinformation about shelters and women are hesitant to go to them. As YUKADER, we have provided women with accurate information about shelters; however, more information needs to be provided in the region so that widely accepted misinformation can be replaced with the truth.
Establishment of Women’s Units in Municipalities and Involvement of Women in Decision-Making Mechanisms: The participation of women in decision-making mechanisms to break down prejudices in society will pave the way for questioning ideas such as “jobs suitable for women” and change the negative perceptions around women’s employment. Therefore, women’s participation in decision-making mechanisms should be encouraged by public institutions.
Increasing the Visibility of the Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centre: Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centres (Şiddet Önleme ve İzleme Merkezi – ŞÖNİM) under the Ministry of Family and Social Services need to increase their visibility not only in provinces but also in districts and rural areas and take a more active role in the field. In addition, considering the geographical conditions of Yüksekova, women who request shelter in the winter are kept waiting to be sent to the centre of Hakkari, which traumatises women. For this reason, it is of great importance to open women’s shelters not only in provincial centres but also in districts.
YUKADER works to ensure the equal and effective participation of women in all levels of social, economic, cultural, and political life. The association implements activities to influence public opinion and raise awareness about gender equality and women’s rights.