Over the last year, Turkey has been confronted with a series of crises. Ongoing debates regarding the prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) and its relationship to conservative cultural norms have only been heightened in recent months as Turkey has confronted the dual threat of a lagging economy and an ongoing pandemic. As Turkish citizens have spent more time at home and the public health sector focuses on fighting the pandemic, pre-existing social challenges, such as GBV, have been exacerbated. In Turkey, where 38 percent of women will experience some form of violence from a partner in their lifetime (compared to the European average of 25 percent), cases of domestic violence and “femicide,” the killing of women by men, have increased since the outbreak began.
Recognizing the severity of this challenge, the head of the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality’s Women’s Department and the municipality’s Women Counseling Center partnered on an awareness-raising campaign within the city. The department head was a participant in NDI’s “Women’s Leadership during COVID-19” forum in June, which was supported through funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. During this four week event, women municipal leaders from across Turkey, along with several international women leaders, met to discuss the challenges that women were facing as a result of the virus. Through the sessions, women participants learned key concepts of adaptive leadership and crisis communication, and later applied these skills through month-long advocacy campaigns in their communities.
As part of their campaign in the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, the department head reached out to a local tailor shop, which employs women tailors who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, with the goal of producing orange masks with anti-GBV messaging. The Women’s Counseling Center then distributed these masks to men in the community, asking them to pledge their support in combating GBV. The local press covered the campaign and interviewed the tailors, municipal leaders, and male allies. As stated by one of the tailors, “we sew these masks to support women who are exposed to violence. We stand with them.” Overall the Counseling Center distributed 5,000 masks, helping to spark increased conversation regarding domestic violence in the municipality.
This project was one of several implemented by participants in the forum. Among the other projects the program supported were the development of a draft gender equality action plan,the distribution of brochures for women (particularly those from migrant and refugee committees) on their legal rights and resources they could access in their communities related to gender-based violence.
In total these campaigns reached over 12,000 women across four municipalities, spread across Turkey. These campaigns helped to connect women with critical resources related to the pandemic response and GBV and involved the participation of hundreds of community members, the local press, and local advocates.
Author: Ben Moody is a Senior program assistant for NDI's Turkey and Armenia team.