Mine Çelik Çökmez, who has been working as a field worker in the Support to Life Hatay outreach team for 4 years, explains the changes in the support to women after the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye on February 6.
Seven months have passed since the February earthquakes that affected the lives of more than nine million people. Before the earthquakes, the main goal of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC)’s and humanitarian project in Hatay funded by the European Union was to empower groups in vulnerable situations, especially refugee women and children, against gender-based violence. Therefore, as the implementing partner of DRC, we, STL used to organize awareness-raising sessions on both civil rights and gender-based violence. The disaster changed the way we work and the content of our information sessions after the earthquake made Hatay an emergency area. In the past seven months, supporting the entire population affected by the disaster with shelter, basic needs, food, and non-food needs has become our number one priority.
INFORMATION IN DISASTER FOCUS
While trying to meet these needs, we started to hold information sessions on topics that were not part of our agenda before the earthquake, such as applying for rent support, earthquake damage assessment processes, and new socio-economic support mechanisms. We also expanded our activity locations from our office in Iskenderun to also serve the most affected areas by the earthquake, including rural areas. Sometimes we had to hold our sessions in a temporary shelter in a neighborhood. Other times, we had to look for solutions to minimize the risk such as meeting with beneficiaries in single-storey and undamaged buildings.
THE IMPACT OF EARTHQUAKE ON GENDER INEQUALITY
The goal of raising awareness against gender-based violence, which was the most important component of our project before the earthquake, has become more important in this process. Women who have to live with large families in temporary shelters and hold the entire burden of housework in areas where even basic needs can hardly be met, are subject to the risk of both psychological and physical violence. Some of the beneficiaries who participated in our information sessions reported experiencing psychological violence not only from their husbands, but also from other family members such as in-laws. We try to prevent the risk of violence in addition to anxiety and trauma caused by the disaster through informing women about the support mechanisms they can use in case of violence.
Although we have received positive feedback on the information sessions, beneficiaries’ motivations to come to these information sessions are now different. Our beneficiaries used to come to our sessions to learn about women's rights, but now they attend these sessions to express their basic needs such as water, shelter and food. We had to adapt our work according to these needs. After the sessions, we conduct needs assessment to identify the needs such as hygiene kits, dignity kits and food packages. Afterward, we deliver those kits to our beneficiaries through our distribution teams.
Unfortunately, the needs in the earthquake zone keep growing. The fact that many of our team members have been directly affected by the earthquake made us realize the healing power of solidarity through our own experiences and the eyes of the people we provide humanitarian aid to. We will continue to provide support to the lives destroyed by the earthquake until they are able to stand on their feet again.
* We are implementing the project on protecting refugees against gender-based violence, funded by the European Union, together with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).
Writer: Mine Çelik Çökmez
Field Worker / Hatay
Editor: Gözde Kazaz
Communications Expert / İstanbul