Women's Centres in Turkey

Fleeing the Tormentors

Barbarous traditions and customs still govern the way women are treated in the southern and eastern parts of Anatolia in particular. Many women are raped, abused, and even stoned to death. But resistance to such practices has been growing since the end of the 1990s. Sigrid Dethloff reports

Nebahat Akkoc; photo: Martin Ebbing
Women's rights activist Nebahat Akkoc won the 2004 Amnesty International Award

​​Fatma (name changed), a young married woman from the region around Diyarbakir in south-east Anatolia, is being sexually harassed by a relative. But when the young woman confides in her husband's family, no-one believes her. After all, they reason, there is some truth in the Turkish saying "The dog wouldn't come if the bitch didn't wag her tail."

When Fatma finds out from neighbours that her husband's family intends to punish her by taking her life, the young woman flees. She is eventually brought to the KA-MER women's centre in Diyarbakir.

Here she is given shelter and asked to record her version of the story on a cassette tape. Female employees from KA-MAR make at least six journeys to Fatma's village and play the recording to the men in her family. Eventually, the family believes her story and lifts the death penalty it imposed on her.

Merciless punishment

KA-MER's interventions are not always as successful as this one. Of the 23 women that sought refuge and assistance from KA-MER in 2003, two could not escape their tormentors. According to Nebahat Akkoc, who co-founded KA-MER eight years ago, these women were murdered.

KA-MER is an abbreviation of Kadin Merkezi (women's centre). Its goal is to offer protection and security to women who fear for their lives. Every year, about 300 desperate women call the KA-MER emergency hotline, explains Akkoc.

All of the employees in the women's organisation, and the psychologists, doctors, lawyers, and other voluntary helpers that work with KA-MER have all experienced violence first hand. They consider intervention to be the mainstay of their work.

"When women in danger contact us, we look for people who could have an influence on the family, people like Imams or mayors," explains the tall, confident Akkoc.

Nebahat Akkoc is a widow. After her husband was murdered in the mid 1990s, she refused to abide by tradition and obey her family by marrying again. She decided instead to devote her energy to helping women in similarly difficult situations.

She founded Anatolia's first refuge for women in Diyarbakir in 1997. There are now KA-MER centres in Batman, Bingöl, and Kiziltepe. Three more are planned for Urfa, Hakkari, and Mardin.

Having established KA-MER in Diyabakir, Nebahat Akkoc initiated a study about the situation of women. Between 1997 and 2003, she and her employees surveyed over 5,000 women in south-east Anatolia and asked them about their lives. Some 57 per cent of the women surveyed, said that they were subjected to violence in the home; 15 per cent reported that they had received repeated murder threats.

Shocking findings

"The term 'honour' covers a multitude of things," explains Nebahat Akkoc. A visit to the cinema or wearing make-up can mean death for some women because their husbands and families forbid it and many proud men consider such rebellion to be a violation of so-called family honour.

Akkoc estimates that some 200 honour killings are committed every year. This is a horrifying statistic and one that puts the murder rate in Turkey on a par with the murder rate in Pakistan. Nebahat Akkoc has this to say about the very high suicide rate among women, especially in south-east Turkey: "Were they just fleeing their own murder? Did they jump or were they pushed from the balcony?"

Nebahat Akkoc and her equally courageous colleagues have made it their life's goal to investigate questions like these and save the lives of countless women with the help of a network of women's refuges, lawyers, and educational institutes in south-east Turkey.

"We listen to the women and give them advice about the legal opportunities that are open to them," explains Akkoc. They give the women support so that they can stand on their own two feet independently of their husbands and family. Above all, however, they make it clear to these women that they have rights. Most of the women have no idea that this is the case.

A road leading in the right direction

Because state support is very slow to increase, the centre in Diyarbakir has relied on itself for financial support right from the word go. The main source of income was and still is the centre's own restaurant in which KA-MER employees cook and serve.

The money made in the restaurant is used not only for administration, but also to fund the centre's own kindergarten. To date, the kindergarten has looked after 20 children. These children were sent there by parents who wanted to help change society for the better.

Anyone who sends his or her child to KA-MER knows that the teachers there will tell the children that boys and girls have the same rights and that women are not servile creatures, but human beings that must be respected.

Sigrid Dethloff

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan


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Hiding in Prison from Their Own Family
According to a study by the UN, approximately 5000 girls and women are murdered every year in the name of honor in at least 14 countries. It is assumed that the number of unreported cases is significantly higher. Katrin Schneider reports

Women's Rights in Turkey
Women Are Starting Their Own Businesses
In the south and southeast of Turkey, still around 40 percent of women are forced into arranged marriages, in Ankara the figure is 22 percent. But despite violent opposition, much has changed in the past two years. Lisa Renard reports

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