Interview with Zelal Ayman: Women’ Movement and Local Administration
Interview with Zelal Ayman: Women’ Movement and Local Administration
As Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey) we had an interview with Zelal Ayman who has been in women’ movement, since 90’s, coordinator of Woman Human Rights Education Program in Women’ Human Rights New Solution Association. In the interview, we talked about women’ movement and its relationships with local administrations and focused on the interaction of women’s movement that takes part in local administrations of the current system of Turkey and makes over the elements. The interview which we widely spoke about the meaning of Local Administration for women, the significance of women’ taking role in local politics and administrations and Women’ Human Rights Education Program, presents a short summary of developments in local administration platform in Turkey.
Summary of the Interview
“The most important issue, which women were facing, was the problem of visibility in the 90’s. The second was, raising awareness about violence against women, widely reveal the fact that violence against women exists in Turkey. The third, working for the betterment of law regarding these rights and violence against women. So,we can see that all these turns on the effort of inspiring both capital and local administration and making visible the turnout of women in the administrations”
“Women’s movement is pretty extensive. It is not something like 3-4 or 100 group’s movement. Any single person who works against sexism, discrimination, says NO to abusing women’s right, stands with women, works in support of women is even an element of women’s movement”
“As women are recruited in municipalities, the municipalities are transformed, as municipalities are transformed, they include the women. This is a concentric relation, but I think this is something women essentially launched”
“Women will not stop. They will ask to get involved to everywhere. A population such so subordinated, so humiliated, so deprived cannot be stopped. There are class differences, identity differences as well.But women in society always demand. They want change.They want to restructure.They say, do something. They say, I need it.These might be luxury needs or might be necassary needs. They want it for their children, not for themselves. They knock the municipality’s door”
“This process gives women the following: I am existing, I am an individual. I have rights, I can use it.I can act with self-confidence.I can find job, I can start a family, I can use my fertility rights as I wish, my body is valuable, I can do politics,I can found an independent women’ organisation, or I can participate the existing ones, I can enter the councils in municipalities, I also can be community chief. There are many options for most of them”
Text of Interview
Firstly could you please introduce yourself?
I have been in women’s movement for years. Since 90s. I have always been believed that women can change their lives in Turkey by participating politics and struggle. The converter and changer side of feminism has been meaningful for me. Feminism is something like that but,since there are multiple intepretation of feminism I emphasize on that. I came to İstanbul for the university education, since then I am living here. I have been in feminist politics and women’s movement since 90s. I have been involved in many common campaigns and works also I was involved in women’s organisations. I can say that I spent most of my life in these works.
So, what do you working for nowadays?
As I said I have taken role in various women organisations. Both as volunteer and professional. I have worked as volunteer during the 90s. Then in 2000s, after starting to enter project funds into Turkey, as women’s organization we have increased our knowledge of how to do more professionally, prominently, tangible and long-term work; as well as we found funding. Because whether you received fund or not depends very much on what is wanted to be done. So in this respect, there was a transformation in women’ movement in 90s. If we want to do other works and activities that would reach, affect, and change other women as well, we needed some financial resources. And when you imagine dimension of this financial source, in Turkey, a financial source does not exist for NGOs anyway, for women’ organisations there is no chance, if you are not a sycophant of course. Thereby as women from various groups, we decided to do more sustainable, long term and systematic works regarding this point. I’m one of them. For the first time, in Foundation for Solidarity with Women (KADAV) we did such works. I’m talking about receiving funds and working. Also I have been taking role in Mor Çatı for a while. As I stated, I have taken role in many campaign and works. In recent 7 years and at present, I am working for Association of Woman Human Rights-New Solutions (KADAV) as coordinator of Woman Human Rights Education Program(KIHEP). Our association is very old. One of the first institutions. It dates back to 1993. I can say that the feminist movement is a fruit of the 90s. I always had relation with association and members of association. But since 2010 I have been a Professional, full-time employee.
“We set ourselves to seek and apply answers to question of ‘as women’s organisations, women groups how can we be able to impress the male decision makers?”And it was pretty effective. It was a good strategy, because the laws were going the through the floor.
So, if we take a look at relations of women’s movement with both politics in Turkey in a historical frame and open up the politics under two tittles, how the relationship between central and local administration develop, what happened?
So you ask me the thesis question.
Strategically, for instance it could be possible to say that LGBT movement is tend to take part in local administrations. Is it possible to say the same for women’s movement? We mean, how was the relationship between central and local administration? Women’s movement realized that it is too hard to take role in central administration then lead to local administration? Or leaning to the two fields was a simultaneously development? So it was decided to let’s women take role in central administration, not only represented but also participate? Along with that, said that let’s participate in the local administration?
I think this is something entirely. We can’t think it differently. When I look at it from the perspective of feminist politics, I think we can not seperate.. But a door opens to another.
In the 90s visibility issue was the leading problem we were facing. Second was, raising awareness about violence against women, widely reveal the fact that violence against women exists in Turkey. Thirdly, there was working on betterment of law regarding these rights and violence against women. So,when we look at it holistically, all these turn into an effort to inspire both capital and local administration, as well as to increase the representation and visibility of women around them. When we think about priority in 90s, the demands suchs more women in parliamnet, more women in state departments, more mayors, were so weak. Because the priorities were so different. The laws, for instance, were too bad, very reactionist and were not being applied. Secondary, the women were not aware of their rights. We got tired of these two issues. From the grassroots and locals to ourselves (We also were needing schooling and awareness)… So women’s movement, has passed through a mobilize process as determined its priorities and awareness: while trying to reach other women. I could say it was like that from 90s to 2000s, even to 2005 exactly. Because since the priorities were these, it was not important to participate to central administration. For example, when the Association of Supporting Woman Canditates (KADER) was founded? 1999s, 2000s. But organisations such as Mor Çatı which working for violence against the other women were founded at 1992s, 1993s. This tells many things to us.
Thereby, in 2000s, women stepped in to the issues of representation, impress the central administration. Thus these campaigns were launched. Since 90s now on the period of interpretation of knowledge and experience turned the women on to push the central administration to find a common solution in the periods of 1998,2000,2005. For instance, there were efforts, campaigns etc. for Law for Protection of Family at 1998…Then, Platform of Reform for Civil Law founded. At same time for Turkish Criminal Law… Till 2005s, women gave priority to these campaign. It gathered power in this way, it was the way to impress central administration, parliament, the ministers, the key commissions in Turkish Parliament (TBMM). We involved campaigns and organizings which can impress all of them.
‘In my opinion, women’ movement is pretty extensive. It is not something like 3-5 or 100 groups’ movement. I think that any single person who works against sexism, discrimination, says no to abusing women’ rights, stands with women, works in support of women is even an element of women’s movement’
In regards to your question this is true by 90s. “We set ourselves to seek and apply answers to question of ‘as women’ organisations, women groups how can we be able to impress the male decision makers?”And it was pretty effective. It was a good strategy, because the laws were going the through the floor. I think this prioritazion was true,of course it was lacking of something, but we are not able to do everything. This is what I understood. Women’s movement can do what it is able to do, can’t do what not able. Ultimately, we are civil NGOs depented on various sources. We are facing a horrible government. Sexist, discriminative… But gathering power and setting course of women’ movement during 90s, impress central government in regards to change law and joint campaigns empowered us. As a result of that number of pro-women’ right NGOs increased. Second,awareness in this regard and motivation of organising raised. The belief of “we can do it”, “we can influence”, “we can change this law”, “we can do works that touchs women’s life” raised. Third, it helped to central government to know and understand us. Participating in the local administrations would not be so hard after that.
Because both organizations which element of women’s movement and other women felt that they can take action together. Women’s movement is pretty extensive for me. It is not something like 3-5 or 100 group’s movement. I think any single person who works against sexism,discrimination, says NO to abusing women’ right, stands with women, works in support of women is even an element of women’s movement. I added that the organization, the party, the union, the women’s groups in the parties, the departmant heads, the women in the municipalities, and so on, the women in the municipalities already found it meaningful and good to work in the municipalities. They went towards there. Women who have took some kind of feminist education and have felt feminist or not, who are in the women’s movement and stand by women’s side, and who have felt themselves there, have also started to exist in the municipalities.
So after 2010s we had feminist mayors such as Gulten Kisanak. Or such as other succesful co-chairs of People’s Democratic Party (HDP), who are totally pro-women, very close stance to feminist perspective…This is a huge succes.Actually we can consider this as legacy of 90s. Therewithal, let’s not ignore the leading role of Kurdish political movement. Kurdish movement gave wide support to women. Pave the way. Women from Kurdish movement leaded up and males pave the way. It is not so easy, but at the end, we are talking about a movement that opens way to women. This is a global instance. If Kurdish movement was absent, I think the result would not be that pretty. Recently, this gains being taken back, dismantled and so it is another story. When we look historically, there are always going backs like this. The most important is the point we are on in this discussion.
“I think local administrations, obtain special gains because of women’s movement. This is why, as I stated, the women in movement, women who sympathises to movement convert the municipalities they participated”
Is there a special meaning of local administration for the women’s movement? Is there a special gain that women movement obtained through the local administration so far?
I think local administrations obtain special gains because of women’s movement. This why, as I stated , the women in movement, women who sympathises to movement convert the municipalities they participated. Equality, violence against women, consultancy etc. In this regards there is a bileteral relationship. So as women enter into municipalities, the municipalities change, as municipalities changed they include the women.This is a concentric relation, but I think this is something women essentially launched. This is why I answered your question in this way. If women have not appeared there, not been succesfull in various works, not struggled, they wouldn’t give (rights) to women. Thereby, it is something like “gaining” (instead of giving). It is same for each governmental agency. Same for women in unions as well. Same for women in political parties too. The different about municipalities might be that, they dependent to government, receive funds from government, they are very bureaucratic and working on substantial issues, such as service providing. Thereby, naturally there are some differents, but women didn’t stop, involved in this fields. They reached to decission maker positions, I would not only mention being mayor. Even though it is few, stays a bright result over there. But totally, as managers, head of department, civil servants, their number increased. As employment issues being talked in Turkey, conservatives complain “don’t hire women because men lose their jobs”, women employment in municipalities increased. So yes, they stole men’s jobs. There are examples such as municipal police women, cleaners women. Thereby, if you consider as gain, I think this is gain of women’s movement and succes of latitudinarian decission maker men in local administrations. So not only women’s because it would be hard to advance without these men. Women’s will not enough for everytime. Sometimes enough, the success comes, but sometimes not. A latitudinarian mayor, deputy-mayor or manager or head of department would pave the more way. And at that point, these people might take key roles either possitive or negative.
All right, for example, you say that the working principles of the local authorities operate just as taking services to the public by delivering service after receiving a demand through both bureaucratic and tangible projects or creating the service delivery alone.
It is a state institution after all…
Within context of the local authorities, what are the activities that are offered following the demands of women’s movement and the activities initiated by the authorities themselves?
Towards the women’s movement?
“This is one of the reasons why the women are that interested in Human Rights Education Programme for Women (Kadının İnsan Hakları Eğitim Programı (KİHEP) (HREP). Most of these women are not educated. They see the certificate of participation which we give as a diploma”
Citizenesses in general. This could happen following a demand that is led by the women’s movement or something offered by the municipality in line with its transformation.
I think that Justice and Development Party (AKP) brought a great change concerning municipal work. AKP, as a government, in addition to winning the majority of the seats in many municipalities, utilized them very efficiently. They utilized them in a very smart way. What did they do? They delivered service to the people, whether we like it or not; and acquired votes. Now this was a very smart thing to do. There was no such thing in the history of Turkey. The major municipalities, almost as a subsidiary of the government, started to form close contacts and relationships with people and especially with women. They initiated vocational training programs, such as tens of courses for hobbies. That means taking women out of their homes and drawing them to the services of the municipalities. That is a very important initiative. For example, significant municipalities such as Ümraniye, Altındağ, Keçiören and Mamak in Ankara, and Bağcılar in Istanbul (districts with a population around 700-800 thousand or 1 million), they have thousands of trainees. Altındağ Municipality alone has 55 thousand trainees. They are all women. It is the same situation in Ümraniye and Bağcılar. Major training centers had opened large buildings that are 5-6 stories high. It’s like schools, they are basically opening schools for women and in a country like Turkey where women are subordinated, not taken seriously, and deprived of education, no wonder women become interested and invested in these programs. This is one of the reasons why the women are that interested in Human Rights Education Programme for Women (HREP) (Kadının İnsan Hakları Eğitim Programı –KİHEP). Most of these women are not educated. They see the certificate of participation which we give, as a diploma. We weren’t granting certificates at the beginning, they asked for it. They said that they wanted diplomas. They perceive the materials as books, the center as a school. They insist on addressing the instructor as a teacher, even though we try to change that, they call them “my teacher” or “hocam”. That shows what those women are longing for, deprived of and the AKP government utilized that very well. They utilized the local authorities as a space where they could extend their own politics. I don’t think any government or party could challenge AKP in this matter. Within this context, of course they deliver many services. This was the question, right?
“I believe that most of the parties have realized this visibility of women and the demands that were made by them in the last 10-15 years. And consequently, they had to let the women in so that they could meet these demands”
They provide services in every issue. They provide food and fuel, that were criticized and that we have sight of. It’s true that these things happen. But as I said, they offer vocational training programs. They offer courses for hobbies and art. Then they try to get women to have income. Women then could earn some money; they take care of their children. For example, they organize tours for women; such as tours with ferries, buses, picnics. These mean a lot to women. They seem very little but they are very important to these women’s lives. Accordingly, they had established good relations with women. Therefore, they receive votes. So, there is an exchange here and they provide many services. Other municipalities of parties like Republican People’s Party (CHP), Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); the efforts of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in this issue are very limited; only HDP showed a distinctive municipal work.
I don’t think that the municipal work of CHP has transformed very much. I think they make efforts but they cannot make a transformation. HDP tried to transform but in a very radical manner. This transformation has not taken place yet due to the Kurdish question and the question of Kurdistan. It still exists as a model, as an achievement. But it could not take place. The periods of conflict, existing tension in the area, and the history of significant racism towards Kurds had become an obstacle to HDP in the context of providing service. They couldn’t perform at ease. They didn’t have enough resources and tried to employ models that were too radical. For all these reasons, apart from a few hard-working municipalities, I don’t believe that the municipalities of HDP and CHP are very successful when it comes to service. AKP stands in a very distinctive place. Of course, it depends on what one understands of service but if there is poverty in a country, one should mention the service for the poor. Kurds, for instance, are very poor and I don’t know what HDP municipalities could do about it.
On the other hand, it was very critical when municipalities of HDP formed co-chairmanship and created the departments of women politics in big cities along with directorates of women in small towns. It was very valuable. It couldn’t be implemented very well, there was not enough time. There was too much pressure, conflict. These things were not perceived as a priority within the Kurdish movement. There are many reasons but it is important as a model after all. Women’s counseling and solidarity centers are seen as a model within the women’s movement, I mean the counseling support for the women who face violence and discrimination. This means service to the municipality, and support to the women groups. This was already the model which was carried out by women since the 90’s. Women used to receive counselling service face-to-face or via telephone through this model. They used to receive support that includes counselling and guiding them to the volunteer lawyers and healthcare workers. That model was implemented almost as the same by the municipalities of HDP and CHP. I believe that this is a very important reflection. It is something that the women bear within the women’s movement. That’s what I meant to say just before. This model here was put into practice within the local governments. Women forced it and solidarity centers were built. They organized it, found lawyers, psychologists, and healthcare workers; so that they could continue supporting these women. Before, there wasn’t a single municipality that offered this support. People would ask “Solidarity centers?”, “What does that mean?” in the 90’s and even in 2000’s. They came into being step by step, women made this happen.
Municipalities of CHP and HDP could adopt themselves to this model of women’s movement; the municipalities AKP didn’t adopt it. There are parts that they have adopted but mostly they formed their own model. I mean they already don’t believe in gender equality. There is a very fundamental difference. A structure that doesn’t believe in gender equality would apply a different model. Both CHP and HDP could adopt the model of women’s movement. In fact, HDP applied models beyond the women’s movement. But they didn’t do it because they thought about it, women asked for it. Therefore, in the context of this service, I could say that women had made a revolution in the last 10 years. They demanded it and took it. Women who support AKP also demanded it. It wouldn’t happen if AKP’s women supporters didn’t demand. Now people, women in Turkey are demanding. This is very important, they are demanding from the government, from the central administration; they want somethings from the women’s associations and municipalities, from everyone. In a word, women say, “support me”. They say, “I am in a difficult situation, I am in a bad situation, and I want to improve”. They don’t even have to be in a difficult situation, they say “I want to have a good time, open a hobby course for me”. Or they say, “I want to wander around, take me to a picnic, you have the buses that we could use”. Do I make myself clear? I believe that most of the parties have realized this visibility of women and the demands that were made by them in the last 10-15 years. And consequently, they had to let the women in so that they could meet these demands. These didn’t happen easily, they were possible with the struggle of women and the contribution of some men in there. I said some because there are only a few.
I think that it will continue this way. I mean women will not stop. They will demand from every platform. Such subordinated, humiliated, and deprived mass cannot be stopped. There could be class differences, identity differences. But in total women always demand. They want change. They want rectification. They say, “do something.”. They say that they need. These could either be luxury or very basic needs. Sometimes she doesn’t want it for herself, she wants it for her child. They visit the municipality frequently. This is something good, and it is their right. It is their right to be served. Therefore, I think that all the parties should provide these services to women in the best way possible, without any discrimination.
“In the end, municipalities are a tool of what the government wants to achieve regarding the city. They use public resources. They use the resources generated from the taxes we pay, women have an unseen share in this, its worth is trillions of Turkish Lira.”
What do you think about the services provided by local governments to the demands of women and women’s movement, and the formation of women-friendly cities in conjunction with the physical transformation within the city? What do you think is meant by women-friendly city? How is this concept formed? Do you think it is a useful concept?
It is useful indeed but these concepts still sound unfamiliar to me, I also have issues with these concepts. I have never become accustomed to this concept of women-friendly city. I mean we must find different terms and concepts, the ones that women could comprehend. It is an obvious translation from English and these are the concepts promoted by international institutions. I am not saying that they shouldn’t exist, they should. What I want to say is that there exists a gender inequality; there is a huge gap between women and men, and it functions against women and in favor of men. It exists in every aspect of life. It exists also in the city, which is a part of life. Thus, the organization and configuration of that city, the usage of the resources of the city, even the location of shopping malls or the structures of buildings are not in support of women. This is what concerns me. If this is called women-friendly city, so be it. But these concepts are unfamiliar to me and as I said they are imported concepts promoted by international institutions. It is as when we talk about violence and say that violence towards women is a crime and should be punished, and should be prevented by taking necessary measures, every women and little girl of all ages need an environment where they could feel more equal. This is what concerns me. I want to give an example. The kitchens in Istanbul are usually very small. It is done unconsciously. Let’s not say unconscious, it is deliberately done because women are not considered. The living rooms are usually very big, kitchens are small. Those women feed the whole family at that small kitchen. These are very basic points of view that we stand after centuries of accumulation of the patriarchal system. There is a need for a radical transformation. This is a major issue and a UN project on women-friendly cities was carried out and continued for years, and was applied in some cities. I have heard that this project was beneficial in several platforms. I have seen that it offered a perspective to the women, developed a certain kind of awareness. These are good initiatives. They should continue, the relationship of women with the city should improve in their favor, as it does with men, and municipalities have a lot of responsibilities in order to achieve a more equal city organization.
In the end, municipalities are a tool of what the government wants to achieve regarding the city. They use public resources. They use the resources generated from the taxes we pay, women have an unseen share in this, and its worth is trillions of Turkish Lira. A city organization in which women, both paid and domestic workers, could feel equal and free is mainly a responsibility of the state and the municipalities. I don’t think that they are working very well regarding that issue. AKP has many initiatives when it comes to education on violence towards women, on equality, counseling, and vocational training, and they have increased in the last decade. But I do not see any shift in the most fundamental issues. Municipalities of HDP, for example, there is a serious problem of water scarcity in Kurdistan. Water delivery to the faucets is a big issue. Even though there is water in every part of that region that water cannot be delivered to the faucets. A municipality that belongs to HDP for ten years cannot deliver that water. In a small town for instance, it is unbelievable. They cannot deliver water to a district with a population of two to three thousand people. They could only deliver water for three hours a day to the district I live, Digor in Kars. That is embarrassing. Water is very important for women. If you deliver water only for an hour and a half in the morning and at night, that woman’s life turns to hell. Men are not concerned with the cleaning, housework, taking care of children, cooking, or dishes and laundry. He leaves in the morning, arrives at night, or doesn’t give attention even if he is home. Therefore, women go through that problem, young girls do. I have criticized that many times, have spoken about it in every platform. I don’t know what do the municipalities of HDP do, yes involve in policy making, develop radical models etc. but deliver water as well! Deliver it for 5 hours at least. Don’t deliver it for the whole day, let’s not waste it but it is incomprehensible. What I mean is that there is a significant discrimination and this is how these cities were built, with a patriarchal outlook, men built them and it is difficult to alter it. Municipalities have to act very radically at this point, they should say “that city suffers from water scarcity that affects women and I will prioritize this issue.” They should refer to women and support them. They should apply women-friendly municipal work.
Actually, in this manner, it is crucial that women participate in the local governments and transform them, not only be represented and take on duties. The municipal works and the ways of providing service should also be transformed and changed in order to get closer to the model you mentioned. What is the current policy of women’s movement in this context? Does feminist movement, separate from the association, educate women so that the municipalities would transform, or support their participation in local governments? What is the route to achieve a greater participation by women? How could we achieve political participation? There are educational programs on the importance of political participation, and on the importance of local and central administrations, and programs on ways to transform these structures. Then the people who partake in these programs, learn about local administrations, and get an idea on participation. Then they could nominate themselves if they want. It is important to be nominated, even just for the visibility. Does women’s movement implement such training services so that women would participate more in administrative positions, or as you said in the heads of departments or directorates? If so, how is it implemented?
Let’s only call it women’s movement, because the feminist movement is within and above the women’s movement, from my point of view. Feminists and the feminist movement could set the ideology and tone of the women’s movement. But acts within the women’s movement. At that point I know that feminists and the feminist movement care about the local administrations very much but I don’t think there are substantial actions. These actions rather come from the female party members who are a part of the women’s movement.
Women who want to be involved in politics, for example women from CHP, they want to be active in the municipalities or women from HDP. When we think of the women’s movement as feminists as a part and a result of the process we talked about earlier, there are two things that could be done, directly and indirectly, regarding the municipalities. The one mentioned as “indirect” includes the women, empowered by the women’s movement, taking parts in the municipalities, in various ranks. This is a very indirect and a good contact. That is why I find the women’s movement very broad. I include the women in the municipalities. I believe that we are all in this. But then, there are more specific and concrete initiatives as well. I think the women associations in Turkey have very little initiatives when it comes to trainings and education. One of the initiatives, let’s not call it formal but structured, timed, and which could make an impact is our association’s HREP (KİHEP), there are also schools of politics by KADER (Association for Support and Training of Women Candidates). Some of the women’s associations offer various trainings through EU projects or other sources of funding. But I don’t think they have much impact. They are not sustainable and effective. They are valuable but not effective regarding the outcome. There were many initiatives like that. What happened? What happened to all that money? There are countless funds that were granted to the Central Anatolia. What happened in Central Anatolia? Almost nothing. Couple of organizations emerged, now they are about to be shut down, they barely function. Women were not empowered. Most of the early and forced marriages occur in the Central Anatolia. How did that happen? All these projects involving women were initiated, they were wrong. Therefore we need to address it differently and women really need transformative trainings. That is why HREP (KİHEP) is valuable and protected by women. Because HREP (KİHEP) reaches them.
“HREP (KİHEP) is a feminist program that can be considered as a 16-week education package for locally formed women’s groups. An education program that entirely have a feminist context and formed by a feminist methodology, based on a deep-rooted context and methodology”
What is HREP (KİHEP), could you explain this?
HREP (KİHEP) is a program conducted by Women for Women’s Human Rights-New Ways Association since 1995. It is a feminist program that can be considered as a 16-week education package for locally formed women’s groups. An education program that entirely have a feminist context and formed by a feminist methodology, based on a deep-rooted context and methodology. We do not prefer to call it as an education program, but we cannot find a name for the program and women also want to call it as education. We can also call it a strengthening program. What do we want to say by saying ‘strengthening’? For one thing, it was a striking reality that women were not aware of their rights in 1990s regarding the findings we have just mentioned, and a field research conducted by our association at that time as well as the following pilot schemes have shown that the relevant laws in Turkey are in a very poor condition. Women were not even conscious of laws that exist for them. Women cannot even use their rights to freedom of speech and organization. These several dynamics constituted this program. After the pilot schemes and field researches lasted a few years in the course of time, a Manual for HREP (KİHEP) was written and has been developed section by section. If we take a general overview, this program has essentially two pillars: The first eight sessions of HREP (KİHEP) comprise of women’s national and international rights, constitutional rights, civil rights, rights of women in the Turkish Penal Code, their rights against violence and economic rights. We have been substantially telling about the law for eight weeks. We aim to raise consciousness to the women by giving a critical perspective such as awakening them about ‘‘you have particular rights and you can use these rights; you should criticize unavailable rights in the current judicial system, or you should restore the poor ones’’ through interactive methods, feminist methods, group studies and exercises conducted with women. The eight remaining sessions after the first eight weeks are mostly the modules planned to develop physical and self-confidence of women. Two modules are related to communication. Communication in Turkey is in a terrible condition; it is very important for people to communicate each other through non-violent methods. It is also very crucial for women to communicate with their children, spouses and partners in ways that protect themselves from violence. That’s why we allocate two modules to communication. We also allocate two modules to sexuality. Sex is considered as a matter of taboo, a sin. It is seen as immorality. We emphasize that women have the right to love their bodies and take sexual pleasure in. These two modules are highly effective. We definitely do a group study on fertility rights. The last three modules are about politics, political participation and organization. We teach women that politics is not done only in the parliament and it may not be under the male dominance as well as politics is not a ‘‘dirty’’ game through telling what political participation and politics are, and how extensive meanings politics has. We attempt to raise awareness for this, because most women think that politics is a dirty game. These issues are particularly discussed in this session. Then, we talked about what feminism is, because it is also a demonized issue, who are these feminists? At the end of the fourth month at the sixteenth week, our trainers finish the group studies.
This process brings women in that ‘‘I exist, I am an individual. I have rights and I can use them. I can act in compliance with my self-confidence. If I want, I can find a job, or I can start a family; I can use my fertility rights as I want, my body is precious; I also do politics, I can found an independent women’s organization or join existing one; I can be both elected to the municipal councils and elected as official neighbourhood representative (mukhtar). Many options are provided for women after these sessions. Not a hundred percent of course, but for the majority of them. We periodically hold impact assessment meetings. Lastly, the period between the years of 2005-2011 was evaluated by the independent international experts. The most striking result in this assessment was that more than 90 percent of the women completed HREP (KİHEP) say that their self-confidence has increased. This is very important. An individual gained self-confidence can actually do many things regardless of their gender. It can access this information and data for instance, its view of life changes. In this respect, a transformative approach, which will contribute women to transform themselves and their environment, is very significant at this phase. For this reason, I strongly criticize the short trainings within the context of particular projects such as two-hour nonsense gender equality seminars. I don’t find them moral, because a large part of these projects are partly conducted for funds.
If we pass on to the municipalities at that point, we have worked with the Agency for Social Services and Children Protection (SHÇEK) between 1998 and 2012 for many years. We had a protocol. Yet, the government closed the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs in 2011 as well as the Agency for Social Services and Children Protection (SHÇEK), and since 2012 it posed many obstacles for our trainers, who had previously worked at these institutions, to not to initiate the HREP (KİHEP) group. We have reached women in SHÇEK’s community centres and centres for family consulting for 14 years through personally social workers and trainers of the institution. We provide trainer trainings to the staff of SHÇEK; then they provided these trainings at their institutions. It was a highly sustainable and effective model. We have reached 700-800 women per year on average, and the HREP (KİHEP) has reached more than 14 thousand women in 20 or so years, it will be almost 15 thousand. At this point, we had a bad relationship with the government. We had made a cooperation with the government for 14 years, but unfortunately they annulled the protocol. We could not reach the women who came to the places of the state and get service from the state institutions. Our more than 130 trainers worked at there cannot found a HREP (KİHEP) group. This is a great loss, a loss for Turkey. These women are experts in the issues of the gender mainstreaming, violence against women and the rights. They have formed tens of groups, reached many women; we’ve lost such an important human resource.
So these are important. Yet, it had come to this: It became quite difficult for the HREP (KİHEP) to reach women when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) shut down all these institutions due to its own perspective on women’s rights, women’s issue and the gender equality. We had been already working with the municipalities. We further concentrate on working with the municipalities after 2012, and almost 30 municipalities are currently in the network of HREP (KİHEP). These are mostly the municipalities of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in İzmir. Some of them are the municipalities of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Unfortunately, there are currently no municipalities of the AKP. On the other hand, we have formed a cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) for the last two years. We have also worked with various AKP municipalities, such as Altındağ Municipality, within the scope of the project we conducted with the ILO. So municipalities are significant for us, because we aim to reach women. When the state began to hinder us, we then decided to work with the municipalities. Women from the municipalities have already asked for particular information from our association regarding trainer training programs, how to be a HREP (KİHEP) trainer and requests on organizing HREP (KİHEP) education programs for women in the municipalities. When we disengaged with the state/government, we worked with some of the HDP municipalities in 2013; we began to cooperate with 10 CHP municipalities from İzmir after the trainer trainings in 2016. We have currently signed cooperation protocols with nine of these municipalities. In this context, our trainers working there as the staff will open at least two groups per year, and the municipality will pave the way for it by supporting women in particular issues such as accommodation and transportation.
If we think about it in this regard, I believe that these education programs should increase more. Because women want it. We certainly cannot suffice all demands; we are very much upset for this. Yet, unfortunately our capacity is limited. Other women’s organizations and the state itself also should organize these education programs. Women want these kinds of programs. Thus, the given education programs currently have many deficiencies. In order to rehabilitate these deficiencies, the municipalities are very effective apparatuses. Women flood into the municipalities. The municipalities have places both for accommodation and arranging seminars for education programs, which we do not have. We should use their resources, therefore we attached an importance to the protocol. It might be considered as a piece of paper in terms of symbolic manner, but it is a fact that strengthened the trainer. For example, if a trainer wants to form a group, but there is a difficulty for the formation of a group due to unwillingness of the competent authorities, then we show them our protocol. It is very useful in such situations.
“The other condition is our current capacity. In order to reach more women and municipalities, we should organize more trainer trainings…That’s why I think that the organizations like us should increase. The state should also take part in this process. We cannot afford it alone; this would be something wrong”
Is your prediction within the scope of future plans that the cooperation between the association and municipalities will increase? Because the cooperation with the central administrations is not easy with the termination of the protocol to reach women, but local administrations are still an opportunity in this sense. We know that women still consult the municipalities as you said. In addition to this, women have often much more contact with the municipalities to be able to benefit the services there. Do you think further cooperation with the municipalities, as an association?
We have to. There’s no other choice. I also attach importance to work with the AKP municipalities, because our concern is to reach women. What we dissent from the AKP is that they do not believe in the equality of women and men. We are unfortunately able to get in touch with them from an antagonist stance. Therefore, we cannot reach women under these circumstances. They do not allow us (to reach women). We had tried to cooperate with them several times before. For instance, we had negoitated with many AKP municipalities within the scope of the project we carried out with ILO. They did not accept. They might be right on their side, but this is wrong for us. They cannot treat equally. They want to cooperate with partisan, subservient non-governmental organizations such as KADEM (Women and Democracy Association). Yet, we don’t take a stance supporting a particular political party here. Of course, we ideologically feel closer to some political parties, but we also want to act pragmatically. If we come to the common ground on the approach to the equality of women and men, we also sign protocols with the AKP municipalities, and we organize HREP (KİHEP) for the women getting service from them. We only have such a condition.
The other condition is our current capacity. In order to reach more women and municipalities, we should organize more trainer trainings. Yet, it might be beyond us, because the HREP (KİHEP) trainers carried out our group studies have a crucial position. This project has financial, administrative, institutional and political aspects. There is also human resources aspect. We want to reach more women, but we are only able to do to the best of our capacity. That’s why I think that the organizations like us should increase. The state should also take part in this process. We cannot afford it alone; this would be something wrong. For instance, some organizational models in South Asia have reached thousands of women, but in cooperation with the state. If the state does not have a hand in these kinds of projects with its resources, a women’s organization or organizations cannot succeed this alone. We, therefore, attached a great importance to the cooperation with SHÇEK (the Agency for Social Services and Children Protection), because it was a very sustainable model. Think about it, you carry out your projects with the state resources. You don’t spend money on assembly hall, accommodation, trainers, materials, and you don’t allocate the resources of the association. What else do you expect, women we want to reach are also there! So, the state should be open to cooperation. If not, the workings that the women organizations can do are limited.
In such a case, we should not have great expectations for only women’s organizations. I harshly criticize those who have expectations for only these kinds of organizations. ‘‘You do it then’’, I say. Is it considered easy? We are, here, doing something related to human; this is a great responsibility. For instance, you cannot employ a trainer who has a potential to harm women in the field. Therefore, you have to educate the trainer for a year, monitor it, and be sure whether it is competent or not, and then you will employ the trainer in the field. Because women confide their troubles during the studies in the HREP (KİHEP) groups for 16 weeks. This is not a two-hour study, so as a woman they cannot only sit and listen the trainer. It is a very interactive program. It lasts 16 weeks and participant women meet once a week. They have interaction with both the group members and trainers. A loss in that process can take a woman back for decades. We do not have the right to do that. That’s why we treat what we do seriously and we are fussy about this project.
This is a matter of transformation, a matter of changing a life, a matter of strengthening women; it is never an easy ride. Millions of Euros with EU funds have been wasted, because the authorities considered the women’s issues worthless in Turkey; then what happened? Almost nothing. For example, it is said that 12 thousand gendarmeries and a considerable amount of police officers and judges have been provided one-day training for the issue with the EU funds. Yet, what happened? (Nothing). I harshly criticize these kinds of practices and find them unethical. You give only two hours of training, keep statistics of the courses, and then deem to organize education program. This gendarmerie, police officer, judge, decision-maker or the court you claimed to have provided training do not enforce the Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women No. 6284. They do not return an interlocutory injunction. Even if they return the injunction, they do not pursue the enforcement of the decision. Many women are killed or suffered for that reason alone. Millions of Euros have been wasted to these trainings for 15 years since 2000s. What is such a training supposed to do? (Nothing). It is nothing but a waste of resources, waste of money and unethicalness. Violence against women still continues without ceasing in Turkey, the hatred against LGBTI is terrifying, sexual abuse of children is catastrophic. Yet, while all this violence takes place, the state does not take any measures to overcome it. Neither preventive measures nor protective ones. Therefore, the education issue we urged upon is a critical issue, and we make tiny distinctions about it. We do not want to work with unethical practices; that’s why every components of this process should take the women issue seriously.
Thank you kindly.