In our celebration of International Women’s Day and the incredible people who tirelessly fight for equal rights across Turkey, several leading NGOs took the mic in our Grassroots Feminism talk to share the diverse and critical ways they’re advancing women’s rights through feminist principles in Turkey. Yabangee, one of the leading communities and resources for foreigners in Turkey, collaborated with Istanbul&I to host the talk. Moderating the talk was Melis Abacioğlu, the founder of Kızlar Sahada, an NGO that challenges gender norms in physical activity and bridges the gender gap in sports by providing opportunities for girls to play soccer in teams across fourteen cities in Turkey.
Prof. Dr. Fatmagül Berktay, a retired professor from the Political Science faculty of Istanbul University, formed the backbone of the talk with a background on the struggle of women’s rights in Turkey, equipping the audience of over one hundred participants with an important context of today’s situation on the ground.
Melek Arı, a member of the NGO We Will Stop Femicides, then took over to discuss the crucial ways their organization is helping to end femicide and domestic violence. Their main method in doing so is filling in the vast gaps in statistical data on femicide by scouring news sources, articles, and reports. They have been playing this long neglected role since 2010.
Volunteer Ebrar Nefes from the pioneering NGO Mor Çatı detailed the groundbreaking work they do as one of the only private women’s shelters in Turkey. She shared the ways Mor Çatı provides shelter and resources to disadvantaged women, as well as how they support them through providing education on their legal rights. Through this combination, the group helps them move forward in the next steps of their lives. They maintain sensitivity to the individuality and autonomy of the women by providing solidarity and support for whatever the women decide, rather than forcing a life path upon them.
Finally, Gülşah Seral spoke in representation of Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways (WWHR – NW), an NGO that was founded in 1993 after the words “women’s rights are human’s rights” were spoken at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna that year. She detailed the many ways their organization is fighting in solidarity for women’s rights and equality in Turkey. From providing education on women’s rights in Turkey to women in all regions of the country to writing reports that are sent to larger intergovernmental organizations, the impact WWHR – NW has had on furthering women’s rights in Turkey is immense.
The Istanbul Convention remained an important focus for all of the speakers, since it is an important point of relevance in today’s fight for women’s rights in Turkey. Signed first by Turkey and now by over forty countries, it is an international treaty against gender-based and domestic violence, and serves as one of the most crucial foundations in Turkey for the legal protection of women in Turkey. Recently, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, making the work these NGOs do even more critical today.
Turkey, as all nations, is troubled by gender inequality, gender-based violence, and femicide. NGOs play a crucial role where the government falls short, in providing shelter and educating women on their rights, recording data related to gender-based violence and inequality, and reinforcing the Istanbul Convention.
Focusing the national discussion not only on what work must come ahead, but also on the actions that can be taken right now, sheds light on the great volunteers and workers who have dedicated their lives to this cause. Together, they have fostered tangible optimism against what may often seem like an inescapable force working against them.
Amera Abunada – 19/3/21