We help women access services and know their rights while facing violence. Legal aid is one of the most important services which have become even more difficult to reach after the earthquake. Our lawyer Yağmur Çökmez from Hatay team shares the stories of our 3 female beneficiaries.*

It has been ten months since the February earthquakes, which have directly affected the lives of 9.1 million people in 11 provinces of Türkiye. Around 800,000 people are still living in formal and informal temporary shelters in six provinces: Adıyaman, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kahramanmaraş, Malatya and Osmaniye-[1].

Women are among the most affected groups by these kinds of large-scale disasters. Women who take responsibility for their families in shelters and have restricted access to economic resources are also at an increased risk of gender-based violence. The destruction caused by the earthquake to public institutions, along with the increased workload on the legal system, are the biggest obstacles preventing these women from accessing the support they need.

The number of non-governmental organisations providing protection services in the earthquake zone is currently insufficient, especially for women who have survived violence. The data by the gender-based violence (GBV) sub-sector working group found 21 registered organizations as of July[2] 2023.  Six of those organizations provide essential complementary services that enhance access to protection services provided by public institutions3. One of them is Support to Life.

In this article, I would like to talk about our protection and legal aid support in Hatay, one of the provinces affected the most by the earthquake, which we have been providing in cooperation with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) thanks to the European Union humanitarian support.

Providing a Safe Place

Ayza, a mother of six children, was subjected to psychological and physical violence by her husband for years because she had nowhere to go to and did not know what to do. She heard about Support to Life from a friend and contacted us. After attending our information session on 'Law No. 6284 on the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence against Women', Ayza wanted legal aid. We assessed her financial status and informed her that she could get a protection order against her husband and referred her to free legal aid service. Only 15 days after Ayza applied for legal aid services, the February earthquakes took place. Having lost her house, Ayza began to live in a tent she set up in her neighbourhood with her children.

Following the earthquakes, all legal periods were suspended until May 1st. Lawyers and courthouse employees were also affected by the earthquake and Ayza could not file for a divorce. Upon the expiration of the court's two-month restraining order against her husband in March, Ayza became an open target and began to fear for her safety. After negotiations with the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), our team working in the emergency area ensured that Ayza was placed in a safe container with her children. The legal process of Ayza, who was finally able to file for a divorce in August owing to the challenges associated with the legal aid processes, is still ongoing.

Remote Support

Sariye, a mother of two children, is one of the women who reached us to get out of the vicious cycle of violence by her husband. When her family moved to a tent after their house was destroyed in the earthquake and Sariye's husband lost his job, the severity of violence escalated even more. While Sariye was looking for a way out, she was introduced to our organisation through a friend. Sariye wished to get custody of her children but had no safe place to stay in Hatay, so we provided her with information about her rights online. Sariye filed for divorce from Hatay, but her case was scheduled for four months later due to the delays in the legal procedures. Sariye has to wait a little longer for her new life, but she is in a safe place with her children for now at least.

For Children

While fighting against gender-based-violence, obtaining a protection order against the perpetrator is not restricted to married women only. Zafire, who had engaged her 14-year-old daughter to an older man before the earthquake, decided to break off the engagement based on her daughter’s request. Still, the fiance’s family started harassing her and her daughter, especially that they were all living in the same collective site. It started with insults and threats, and developed to physical violence. To support Zafire, we first got a restraining order against the perpetrators and then filed a criminal complaint. But the beneficiary and her family could not be safe since many services, including law enforcement and police, were not always available after the disaster. The family had the option of moving to another city to live with relatives, but refugees were subject to travel restrictions. As a result of our meetings with the Provincial Directorate of Migration Management, we managed to obtain a travel permit for them. Zafire and her family are currently living in a safe place.

Since disasters can leave women in vulnerable situations, we, as Support to Life, work to 'leave no one behind' in the times of earthquakes. We will continue to work to ensure that women know their rights in the face of violence and to be able to access their rights and all essential services.

* Name of the beneficiares was changed to protect their personal rights.

Authored By: Yağmur Çökmez
Lawyer / Hatay

Editor: Gözde Kazaz
Communications Expert / İstanbul

[1] https://www.supporttolife.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/231120_STL_SitRep27.pdf
[2] https://ibagur.github.io/flexdashboard_test/#page-2
3 https://reliefweb.int/report/turkiye/unfpa-turkiye-earthquake-situation-report-7-9-november-2023



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