Economic Violence Against Women in Turkey On March 20, 2021, Turkey announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty focused on combatting violence against women. Violence against women is a significant problem in Turkish society. Violence against women takes many forms, but economic violence against women in Turkey is one type of violence that is particularly problematic for poverty reduction.

Defining Economic Violence

Also known as economic abuse, economic violence against women is a form of violence where women have no financial autonomy. Another person, often a husband or father, controls the women’s monetary resources and leaves her in a state of dependency. The Istanbul Convention includes economic violence in both its definitions of violence against women and domestic violence. Examples of economic violence against women include:

  • Barring women from accessing work and educational opportunities.
  • Preventing women from accessing the necessary funds for resources such as food.
  • Excluding women from decisions about their household’s income.

Economic Violence Against Women in Turkey

Economic violence is an issue many women face in Turkey. Women generally complete a disproportionately high amount of their households’ domestic work. According to the United Nations, Turkish women spend approximately “19.2% of their time” on wageless domestic work in contrast to the 3.7% of the time that men spend on unpaid domestic work. Placing women in a position where they spend so much time on unpaid work makes women likely to become dependent on male family members and susceptible to economic violence.

Social expectations and perceptions of the roles of men and women play an important part in economic violence against women in Turkey. Perceptions of women as performers of domestic work and men as laborers create an expectation for women to engage in unpaid labor, making them susceptible to economic violence. When Turkish women are members of the workforce, which only 35% of Turkish women currently are, they accept the seizure of their income by their husbands due to cultural norms of male “dominance in the domestic environment.”

Working to End Economic Violence Against Women

Ending economic violence against women is critical to ending other forms of violence against women. While exposure to economic violence does not guarantee that women will experience other forms of violence, dependency on a male family member or partner makes women more susceptible to other forms of abuse from that person.

One significant challenge to preventing economic violence against women in Turkey is that the country currently lacks adequate systems to monitor most aspects of its progress toward Sustainable Development Goals concerning gender equality. Consequently, data about Turkish women is incomplete, which makes it challenging to determine the extent of the economic violence against women in Turkey.

With the data that is currently available, researchers have identified factors that reduce rates of economic violence against women. One critical factor is education. Research shows that men with high levels of education are less likely to perpetrate economic violence against their wives or female partners than less-educated men. Factors such as expanding employment opportunities for women and preventing substance abuse among men are also associated with lower rates of economic violence against women.

Organizational Efforts to Economically Empower Turkish Women

Several organizations focus on improving Turkish women’s economic rights. The International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) is one of these organizations. BPW Turkey implements several programs in Turkey to improve economic opportunities for women. Its Pace to Employment and Assurance for a Respectable Life (PEARL) program teaches women skills they need to be financially independent. Furthermore, BPW Turkey’s Civil Initiative Strategic Research Center (SISAM) improves awareness and understanding of the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles and provides educational programming on these principles to entities such as local governments and human resources staff.

Economic violence against women in Turkey is an ongoing issue, but it is not unpreventable. Working with both men and women can help women obtain and maintain autonomy over financial resources and break the cycle of violence against women.

Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

mint countries Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, also known as the “MINT” countries, are the fastest-growing emerging economies in the world. While COVID-19 has socially, physically and economically impacted the MINT countries, the nations are still playing a tremendous role in helping alleviate poverty for millions of people.

Mexico

Mexico is the perfect example of an emerging economy. Due to its strong trade relationship with the United States, its GDP is higher than almost all developing countries. However, Mexico’s overall GDP is not yet enough to meet the standards for a developed country. Similarly, while the poverty rate remains high in Mexico, the percent of people living on less than $3.20 has dropped from 12.8% in 2010 to 6.6% in 2018.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mexico’s economy has declined sharply. In fact, the Mexican GDP decreased by 8.3% during 2020, its largest drop since the Great Depression. While the country has partially recovered from its economic downturn due to increased trade, it still has a long way to make up for its GDP drop from 2020.

Indonesia

Indonesia is the fourth-most populous nation in the entire world and ranks 56th in economic freedom. This statistic is a result of low tax burdens and increasing political participation. Similarly, the country is one of the top-ranked Asia-Pacific countries in terms of its economy and the country has seen steady financial improvements since 2017. In fact, Indonesia cut its poverty rate by more than 50% from 1999 to 2020.

While COVID-19 had major effects on the country, economic activity has rebounded significantly. For example, in July 2020, the government eased lockdown restrictions, which allowed for increased exports and stronger government support. Without the burdens of the COVID-19 recession, Indonesia can continue to develop its economy and reduce poverty.

Nigeria

Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa. However, the country saw relatively minimal growth during the last few years because of high oil prices. The drops in oil prices are significant because Nigeria is Africa’s biggest exporter and contains Africa’s largest natural gas reserves. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had disastrous effects on the country. The economy contracted by 6.1% in the second quarter of 2020 with 27% of Nigerians unemployed.

However, the country has made recent strides to tackle poverty and improve its economy. Due to eased lockdowns in the country, Nigeria’s oil prices have improved. Furthermore, its economy has grown by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2021, helping the country exit its COVID-19 related recession. In fact, the president of Nigeria inaugurated the National Steering Committee of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) in June 2021. The inauguration marks Nigeria’s commitment to raising 100 million people out of poverty within 10 years, fueling optimism about the country’s future.

Turkey

Turkey, one of the wealthiest MINT countries, has had an impressive economic run since the 2000s due to open trade with other countries and cooperation with the EU. Similarly, the Turkish government has implemented government reforms in most impoverished regions of the country. These reforms successfully cut poverty rates in half.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey has been able to recover, and its economy remains strong. While the leaders of Turkey have been accused of political corruption and Turkey saw a COVID-19 spike in April 2021, the number of infections has dropped by 72% since then because of a total lockdown measure. Similarly, Turkey’s recovery from COVID-19 is expected to boost the country’s GDP by 5% by the end of 2021.

Even with the factors of COVID-19, political instability, corruption and more, the MINT countries have shown resilience and progress. By decreasing poverty, implementing reforms and recovering from the pandemic, the MINT countries move toward a bright future.

– Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in TurkeyAfter the 2018 currency crisis impeded Turkey’s downward trend in poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented another major setback for the country’s poverty reduction goals. When Turkey suffered its first wave of the pandemic, the country lost 2.6 million jobs, which made up 9.2% of total employment. Populations living above the poverty line, but with high vulnerabilities to economic insecurity, have endured the brunt of these job losses, accounting for six out of 10 of the job losses. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey has been severe as COVID-19 disproportionately impacts the impoverished.

The Economic Impacts of COVID-19

The short-term effects of the pandemic on limiting job prospects and on low-income families are immense. In a survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than seven out of 10 respondents from Turkey said they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about their ability to make ends meet in the short term.

Further, the fear of job insecurity has reached a high in the country. In September 2020, a record 1.4 million people were too discouraged to search for work, up nearly threefold from the previous year. A poll by Istanbul Economics Research found that nearly half of those with jobs were “very afraid” of losing them by winter.

A notable rise in the prices of basic goods and services has also added to the concern of low-income families. Items such as bread and cereals, unprocessed foods and transportation rose by 16.3%, 19.8% and 14.7% respectively.

The true extent of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey may be much more than first anticipated. Turkey’s official unemployment rate hovered at 12% to 13% during the pandemic. However, alternative calculation methods, which consider those who stopped actively looking for jobs out of despair or due to COVID-19 restrictions, claim a 40% unemployment rate.

COVID-19 Impacts Informal Workers and Working Women

Another impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey is the disproportionate impact on certain segments of the low-income population compared to other segments. The pandemic has resulted in a bulk of job losses for informal and lower-skilled workers. At the peak of the pandemic, informal workers suffered a -0.25% change in year-on-year employment, more than five times what formal workers have endured.

In addition, female workers were three times more likely to become unemployed during the pandemic compared to their male counterparts. This is especially due to Turkish female workers’ higher concentration in jobs that lockdown measures highly affect, such as hospitality, food and tourism.

Recovery Strategies and Results

Turkey’s government swiftly and decisively implemented notable mitigation policies to deal with the crisis, which consisted of increased unemployment insurance benefits, social transfers and unpaid leave subsidies amounting to a welfare shield of about $6.2 billion.

Without these mitigation policies, projections determine that the rise in poverty could have been three times higher. These mitigation policies fostered a significant job recovery in the country. As of September 2020, the country has regained 72% of the lost jobs with the help of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which contributed monthly allowances to approximately five million laid-off employees.

Room for Improvement

Despite the government’s efforts to minimize poverty stemming from the pandemic, there is room for the government to do more to overcome the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey. While the relief packages of similar countries have reached up to 9% of their GDPs, Turkey’s total relief packages have amounted to less than 1% of its estimated GDP in 2020.

Increased comprehensive government intervention to deal with the rise in poverty is an idea that appears to resonate well with the public. About 80% of Turkey’s citizens think the government should be doing “more” or “much more” to ensure their “economic and social security and well-being.”

Greater investments by the Turkish government, as well as the short-term and long-term development of more comprehensive social safety nets, would mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey. Additionally, upskilling, training and other active labor interventions by the Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) could be key in closing the worker gaps that the pandemic has widened.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan
An Azerbaijani woman called Gulnara took a job in Turkey to support her daughter and her sick father. Upon her arrival, Gulnara’s contact in Turkey took her passport and forced her into prostitution. After a year, Gulnara was able to escape and return to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani Government Department on Combating Trafficking in Persons referred her to a shelter for human trafficking survivors. The IOM-implemented shelter is part of an initiative that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds. Azerbaijan has been working tirelessly to combat human trafficking to ensure vulnerable people like Gulnara receive protection.

5 Ways to Combat Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan

  1. Decrease the Gender Gap. Azerbaijan has one of the highest gender inequality gaps of the countries that left the Soviet Union. Women lack the economic opportunities that men have. The women’s workforce participation rate in 2018 was 68.7% in contrast to 73.9% for men, a statistic that has barely changed since 2012. Further, females form 96.6% of people who do not work due to household and caregiving responsibilities. Minimal economic prospects can lead to people being lured into sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Providing women with more and improved economic opportunities could help prevent these situations.
  2. Provide Long-term Assistance. In 2018, the Anti-Trafficking Review published a study in which it interviewed 22 Azerbaijani survivors of human trafficking. The survivors believed that long-term help, including assistance with “job placement and family reunification,” could better help them rebuild their lives. Only nine of the 22 interviewees had full-time paid jobs at the time, while nine others had no paid jobs at all. Secure employment provides a steady income flow to economically empower women.
  3. Reunite Survivors and Families. Victims of human trafficking in Azerbaijan often end up disconnected from their families. By reconnecting with their families, victims can return to some semblance of normalcy. However, there is a stigma surrounding sex work that can impact familial relations. If organizations work to combat this stigma, survivors can repair relationships and gain much-needed emotional familial support that will reduce the chance of victims falling prey to human trafficking again.
  4. Address the Root Causes. People struggling economically, like Gulnara, are prime targets for human trafficking. Using foreign aid to create more programs to combat poverty could decrease human trafficking in Azerbaijan. In a 2020 report, the U.S. Department of State noted that Azerbaijan had increased the funds allocated for victim protection and shelters from $86,760 to $114,530. This is an important increase, but it only helps after the fact. Greater funds could go toward helping people living below the poverty line before traffickers lure them into human trafficking.
  5. Prosecute Human Trafficking in Azerbaijan. The U.S. Department of State encourages Azerbaijan to convict more traffickers and issue harsher sentences as many Azerbaijani judges issue suspended sentences. In 2018, 20 traffickers received suspended sentences. The Azerbaijan government can create a powerful deterrent by more effectively convicting human traffickers.

Azerbaijan’s Progress

In 2020, Azerbaijan remained on the Tier 2 Watch List of the U.S. Department of State. This designation means the country “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” From 2020 through 2024, the government of Azerbaijan’s National Action Plan on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings will target and address the root causes of human trafficking while improving support services for victims.

USAID Assistance

Since 2015, USAID has supported three shelters in Azerbaijan. These shelters “provided direct assistance to more than 100 confirmed and presumed victims of trafficking” between 2015 and 2018. The shelters also helped more than 1,000 people who were vulnerable to trafficking. The shelters provide “psychological, medical and legal support” services.

Azerbaijan created a human trafficking hotline center to provide information on services and relay necessary information to law enforcement officials. As of 2021, the hotline aims to incorporate an online system to allow workers to screen calls in a more efficient and detailed manner.

Human trafficking in Azerbaijan is progressing in the right direction. With commitment and continuity, Azerbaijan can improve its human trafficking tier ranking, protecting thousands of vulnerable people in the process.

Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tuba Büyüküstün with UNICEF
Tuba Büyüküstün is one of Turkey’s most famous and highest-paid actresses. Büyüküstün’s work in television and film has brought her both fame and critical acclaim. In fact, Büyüküstün has received five prestigious Televizyon Dizisi awards, in addition to a nomination for the International Emmy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “20 Dakika.” Moreover, the actress has a large social media following with 5.2 million Instagram followers. In recent years, Büyüküstün has used her celebrity status and online platform for humanitarian advocacy. More specifically, Tuba Büyüküstün has partnered with UNICEF to advocate for children’s health and development.

UNICEF’s Mission

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) began in 1946 to provide aid to countries recovering from World War II. The organization’s primary goal is to provide humanitarian aid to children around the world. Its celebrity ambassador program began in 1954 with actor Danny Kaye. The program aims to bring attention to the organization’s mission through celebrity platforms. Today, more than 200 celebrities from around the world, including Selena Gomez and P!nk, currently participate in this awareness program.

Büyüküstün’s Involvement with UNICEF

Tuba Büyüküstün began her partnership with UNICEF in 2014. Since then, Büyüküstün has participated in a number of campaigns and relief programs with the nonprofit organization. For instance, for her first official UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador mission, she visited children at a camp for Syrian refugees in Kilis, Turkey. Büyüküstün spoke to the children and engaged with them in their daily learning activities. Afterward, the actress and ambassador participated in the opening ceremony of the first UNICEF school located near the camps. In 2018, Büyüküstün also joined in the “One Day at a Museum” initiative, which brings Turkish and Syrian children to various art exhibits and interactive experiences at the CerModern Museum in Ankara.

In July 2020, Tuba Büyüküstün and UNICEF joined forces with the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate the public about the risks and implications of COVID-19. Nearly 35,000 people tuned in to hear from Büyüküstün and WHO professionals.

Why Büyüküstün Partnered with UNICEF

The actress and mother of two have spoken about her dedication to UNICEF’s work. Büyüküstün stated that she is greatly honored to work with UNICEF as a mother. She claimed that “Children are always innocent, no matter where they live.” Büyüküstün explained that she is part of UNICEF because “[children] are all our children regardless of their religion, language, ethnicity and gender. And I think it is the responsibility of everyone to create a world where all children can have equal opportunities.”

Büyüküstün’s outreach is a great example of a public figure using social influence for good. Thanks, in part, to Goodwill Ambassadors such as Büyüküstün, UNICEF is able to advocate for the well-being of children throughout the world.

Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Turkey's Invisible Gypsy Population
The Dom community has been present in Turkey and the Middle East for thousands of years. Like their more popular Romani counterpart, the Dom people have roots in the Indian subcontinent. Throughout the ages, the Dom people have faced exile and oppression. The Dom people are Turkey’s invisible population. However, the villainization of historically nomadic peoples is more prevalent now than ever. The growing disdain for ethnic non-Turks has made the situation worse. Many Dom people are now at severe risk of food scarcity and homelessness. Dom communities face much of the brunt of xenophobia in Turkey today.

The Dom Throughout the Ages

Thousands of years ago, India and the surrounding regions were home to dozens of different languages and nomadic peoples. One of these languages was Domari and the speakers were the Dom. The name “Dom” is also the name of one of the lowest castes in the Hindu religion. However, it is unclear whether the two groups relate due to sparse historical documentation and sources.

While the more popular Romani nomads migrated out of the Indian subcontinent in the ninth and 10th centuries BCE, the Dom migrated in the 13th and 14th centuries, primarily into the Middle East and Anatolia. Most Dom populations reside in Syria, Turkey, Palestine, the broader Levant region and potentially Iraq and Iran.

Within these regions, the Dom and other nomadic Indo-Aryan groups have faced centuries of ethnic discrimination, even after having adopted sedentary lifestyles. Many Dom communities maintain the same religion, cultural practices and languages of the regions in which they reside, with the Domari language becoming less and less known in Dom communities.

The Dom in the Present Day

In the present day, the Dom population in Turkey primarily resides in the south-eastern region of the country, near Iraq and Iran. Before the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, there was also a sizable concentration of Dom living in Aleppo. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan currently leads Turkey, representing the conservative, Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (abbreviated to AKP in Turkish). The AKP is known for its opposition to both the growing Syrian Refugee presence and the country’s Kurdish population. One 2019 poll found that 68% of AKP supporters expressed disdain for the Syrian refugee presence in Turkey, with similar figures coming from the party’s political allies.

In the same year, Erdoğan brought his disdain for ethnic Kurds to America, culminating in the presentation of an anti-Kurdish video to then-President Donald Trump. To add fuel to the fire, these two groups often coincide with one another, with many Syrian Kurds seeking refuge in Turkey.

In the middle of these tensions lies the Dom population of Turkey. The Dom population often goes unseen entirely among the regional turmoil. However, the Syrian Civil War and Kurdish tensions in Turkey are also affecting the Turkish Dom. Coincidentally, the regions that are home to Kurds and refugees in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, are where the Dom live.

The Dom: Turkey’s Invisible Population

As a result of the historical marginalization of the Dom, there is ambiguity in regards to Dom communities today. For instance, there is no official census for the Dom population in Turkey. Many Dom community members also reject the “gypsy” label as it could potentially result in further alienation, instead opting to refer to themselves as Arab or Turkmen.

The Dom experience some of the highest rates of homelessness, food scarcity and illiteracy among Turkey’s marginalized groups. Dom families struggle to find housing, with entire communities relegated to living in makeshift shelters or tents. Many Dom living in refugee camps have attested to ethnic discrimination in food distribution by NGOs. Those not inhabiting refugee camps lack access to food. The Dom population has far lower rates of literacy and formal education than their ethnically Turkish counterparts.

Organizational Relief for the Dom

Luckily, organizations providing aid and relief for the Dom population in Turkey are working hard to improve the situation. Many regional organizations, like the Tarlabaşı Community Center in Istanbul, are committed to providing much-needed resources to Dom communities and refugees in need.

Additionally, one Turkish-based organization, Kırkayak Kültür – Dom Research Workshop, is gaining traction as one of the leading organizations for the Dom population in Turkey. Founded in 2011, Kırkayak Kültür is an advocacy group fighting for policy change and raising awareness. It has taken an active role in bringing awareness for the Dom people among NGOs and governmental institutions.

With the physical hardships and the centuries-long social ostracization of Dom communities, relief for Syrian and Turkish Dom is necessary. If Dom’s culture, language and identity are to survive, preservation and advocacy efforts like Kırkayak Kültür are essential. Through their work in this area, community organizations in Turkey are leading the charge with aid for Turkey’s invisible population.

– Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash

 

Zero Waste Project in TurkeySustainable development in low-to-middle-income countries can significantly reduce poverty by increasing jobs, boosting the economy and providing better access to services. Major developments in infrastructure and policies have greatly improved poverty rates in Turkey. The relative poverty rate has been reduced from 23.4% in 2007 to 20.1% in 2017. One step in sustainable development that will result in environmental and economic benefits is the Zero Waste project in Turkey.

The Zero Waste Project

The Zero Waste project was established in Turkey by the country’s first lady, Emine Erdoğan, in 2017. The project added $2.3 billion to the Turkish economy due to a large amount of material and food saved from the reduction of waste. The goals of the Zero Waste project in Turkey are to reduce waste by recycling byproducts of agriculture activities and repurposing hazardous waste. It also works to encourage recycling among citizens by implementing separate recycling bins in cities.

In addition, the government assists farmers under the project to implement zero waste practices. As a result, this maximizes their profits and boosts the economy. Another goal of the project is to bring the recycling rate to 35% in the next two years. This will result in employment opportunities for 100,000 people in recycling and an annual income of $2.7 billion. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, the project aims to expand across the entire country by 2023.

Education

Education is fundamental in encouraging communities to participate in recycling to improve living conditions. A Zero Waste education program was implemented in Turkey schools to educate children on the importance of waste reduction. More than 25,000 public buildings implemented the zero-waste system in 2019.

In addition to reducing waste from food and material, an initiative was created to decrease waste in the ocean and expand the recycling of wastewater. The Zero Waste Blue program launched in 2019 within the Zero Waste Project in Turkey. The program mobilizes the public to keep the water clean by discouraging waste in the seas.

Additional Successes

In 2021, first lady Emine Ergoğan was presented with the first Sustainable Development Goals Action Award of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Turkey. The Zero Waste project received the award because it achieved the goal of “Responsible Consumption and Production.” This focuses on success in sustainable development through programs to improve waste reduction and recycling. “Responsible Consumption and Production” is one of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This goal aims to reduce waste generation significantly by 2030. The Zero Waste project in Turkey continues to produce environmental changes that will result in economic growth in the next nine years.

Recycled material boosts the economy by requiring less money to produce products and creates new job opportunities. Reduction of food waste also improves food insecurity and scarcity. With continued action, poverty rates in Turkey can continue to decrease.

– Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Turkish Educational InequalityWith the COVID-19 pandemic creating economic distress in Turkey, the need for NGOs, nonprofits and organizational aid is bigger than ever. One NGO, the Darüşşafaka Society, is providing much-needed support for one of Turkey’s most vulnerable populations: children. As Turkey’s oldest non-governmental organization in the field of education, the Darüşşafaka Society has served as a model for combating Turkish educational inequality and remains one of the most prominent NGOs in Turkey today.

Low Enrollment Rates in Turkish Schools

In comparison to the majority of EU countries, Turkey has a larger issue with educational enrollment. In 2016, Turkey hit a peak in terms of the percentages of out-of-school adolescents since 2012. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics found that approximately 523,363 Turkish adolescents were unenrolled, surpassing the previous year by almost 100,000 youths.

While this number has declined in recent years, 2019 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the percentage of Turkish 15-to-19-year-olds who were unemployed and out of school was 17% still far above the average 6.6% for OECD countries.

Academic and Socioeconomic Inequality in Turkey

A contributing factor to these numbers is Turkish educational inequality, which impacts technological access, enrollment rates and academic performance overall.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue of Turkish educational inequality. Reports indicate the true severity of the situation, stating that 20% of Turkish students had internet connection issues in 2020, limiting online learning accessibility and resources for students across the country. Additionally, the financial stress of the pandemic put many families in a tight spot, unable to afford necessary tools like school supplies, computers and technological resources. Households were also unable to pay for data and the internet to connect to online classes.

The History of Darüşşafaka Society

For many needy children and families, relief has come in the form of the Darüşşafaka Society. Darüşşafaka Society is the oldest Turkish NGO in the field of education, originally founded in 1863 as a part of Cemiyet-i Tedrisiyye-i İslamiye or the Islamic Education Society. High-standing intellectuals in Turkey founded Darüşşafaka Society in order to establish formal education channels for needy children and orphans, teaching basic skills like reading, writing and math when governmental efforts fell short.

In more than 100 years since its founding, Darüşşafaka Society has become an integral part of the fight against Turkish educational inequality, providing educational and financial support to needy and orphaned students and expanding on its original mission by constructing a physical campus in Istanbul. The Society offers full scholarships to students as well as complete coverage of all healthcare, living and academic expenses. These costs are covered through donations made to The Society. The initiative also strives for scholarship support to its students during their tertiary studies.

Success Stories

The Society’s impact on Turkish educational inequality can be seen through the stories of students, faculty and alumni. One such story is that of Dr. Nahit Çakar, a professor of anesthesiology at Istanbul University who was admitted to Darüşşafaka after struggling to pay for education. Çakar, while not an orphan, was a student with significant financial hardships that prevented accessibility to prestigious schools.

Çakar says, “We learned about friendship, camaraderie. We were a group of people coming from the same deprivation and poverty.” After graduating from Darüşşafaka, Çakar went on to become a doctor and professor, aiming to pay forward the gift of education.

Funding for Darüşşafaka Society comes primarily from local community donors, but The Society has also found itself in the sights of international corporations in recent years. A 2011 interview with Saffet Karpat, chairman of the Procter & Gamble Turkey Board of Directors, highlighted the “Dream to Reality” flagship project with the Darüşşafaka Society as part of the company’s social responsibility campaign in Turkey. The program has helped more than 10,000 students with projects in the fields of science, photography and music, throughout the course of one year.

Darüşşafaka Society Today

According to Darüşşafaka’s website, the current student cohort amounts to a little less than 1,000 students, many of whom were previously learning in disadvantaged classrooms with up to 60 other students. The success of Darüşşafaka’s students is in part due to the improved learning environments that it provides. For instance, as a result of its rigorous focus on science, Darüşşafaka’s robotics team has become a significant contender in the FIRST Robotics Competition, an annual international STEM and robotics championship held in the U.S.

Comprised entirely of orphaned and disadvantaged students, the team has won championship-division awards since its start in 2009 and was most recently presented with awards in both the Long Island and Houston championships in 2019.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

According to the Global Partnership for Education, an equal chance at education for students of all backgrounds could reduce international economic disparities by 39%. With the continued efforts of organizations like Darüşşafaka Society, youth in need, disadvantaged and orphaned students will continue to be provided with opportunities to rise out of poverty through education.

Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Flickr

Istanbul ConventionIn 2010, the Council of Europe drafted the “Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence” treaty, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. The Convention aims to address violence against women and femicide. In total, 45 European countries signed the convention and support for the treaty was nearly universal. However, the withdrawal of Turkey marks a turning point in the perceived political meaning of the convention. Concerns are that if other countries follow suit, this would potentially leave millions of women without essential legislative protections.

The Development of the Convention

According to the EU, violence against women is a universal phenomenon, pervasive among all classes, nationalities and cultures. Data collection on gender-based violence has long been an issue due to underreporting and societal pressures for women to remain silent. Prior to the legal implementation of the Istanbul Convention in 2014, violence against women in Europe was a significant worry, even with incomplete data. In 2012, a survey of women between 18 and 74 who experienced violence at least once in their lifetime revealed that Denmark, the United Kingdom and Finland ranked the highest in this regard in the European region. Nearly 50% of the Danish women surveyed endured physical violence at least once in their lifetime, with that percentage being closer to 40% for both the United Kingdom and Finland.

After rising political pressure from multiple EU Ministers of Justice, especially with regards to partner and relationship violence against women, the Council of Europe decided in favor of forming a committee of experts. The committee called CAHVIO would go on to draft and finalize the Istanbul Convention in late 2010. In May 2011, the treaty was adopted. The convention was signed by 45 European countries. The signing of the convention took place in Istanbul, with the city becoming the namesake of the convention. After the 10th ratification of the convention by Andorra in 2014, the Istanbul Convention went on to become legally binding that same year.

The Protections of the Istanbul Convention

More than 60 pages long, the Istanbul Convention states a wide range of protections for women, particularly women who are victims of domestic abuse. The Convention mandates governmental aid for women in need, ranging from financial aid, shelter and professional guidelines for workplaces. Additionally, the Convention mentions supportive action for children living in abusive environments and encourages further holistic research into the issue of violence against women.

Chapter five of the Convention is where firm policies and legislation come into play. The Convention specifically states legislative action that member nations must take. Psychological violence, sexual harassment, stalking, physical violence, female genital mutilation, honor killings and more, are all considered forms of violence against women. Countries that ratify the convention are then responsible for developing hotlines, women’s shelters, medical resources, counseling and other essential services to protect women. The Group of Experts on Action Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence investigates whether or not ratifying countries are upholding the Convention.

Since entering into force in 2014, the Istanbul Convention has prompted many policy changes in Europe. With particular regards to Turkey, the parliament adopted serious policy changes in 2012 largely based on the wording of the Istanbul Convention the country signed in 2011.

Turkey’s Withdrawal and its Subsequent Impact

In March 2021, Turkey suddenly withdrew from the Istanbul Convention. Turkey’s president claims that the treaty threatens traditional family values. Responding to the sudden decision, many international organizations expressed dismay. In a statement from the United Nations,  senior experts on violence against women and domestic violence labeled the decision a “misinterpretation” of the text of the convention, insisting that Turkey reconsiders the stance.

Additionally, the statement emphasizes that women are even more at risk of domestic violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to Turkey’s rising femicide rates in recent years. With news of Poland also reconsidering its position regarding the Istanbul Convention, women in both nations are now faced with the reality of weakening legislative protections.

Critics from around the world have pointed out that it is a significant step back from the standardization of basic women’s rights. The Deputy chairperson for Turkey’s main opposition party, Gokce Gokcen, tweeted that the decision means women will in essence continue to be classified as second-class citizens.

Organizational Efforts in the Fight Against Violence

With the withdrawal has come a wave of movement from international and domestic women’s groups, NGOs and governmental organizations alike. Turkish organizations like the We Will Stop Femicide Platform contribute to public awareness in Turkey through social media campaigns and exhibitions. The platform takes legal action on behalf of victims, in addition to organizing community events and protests in local branches across Turkey. With continued support, platforms and organizations will persist in calling for the legal protection of women in the hope that Turkey will reconsider its decision.

Maddie Youngblood
Photo: Flickr

Rescue Stories from the Nazarene Fund
The Nazarene Fund is an organization that focuses on rescuing people in captivity. This includes victims of sex slavery, the labor trade, organ harvesting and trafficking. The Nazarene Fund trains operators to lead these missions. These operators travel to the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and other regions of the world to rescue people. Here are some of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories.

Sonia’s Story

ISIS captured Sonia and her entire family when she was only 4 years old. Her family lived in Wardya, a village in Sinjar. ISIS abducted them from their home in 2014. Sonia became separated from her siblings. Later, traffickers imprisoned her in Mosul. Additionally, a family bought Sonia in Mosul nine months later. This family treated her as a slave during the five years they held her captive. The family and Sonia disappeared after ISIS’s defeat in Mosul. Thus, the Nazarene Fund launched a search mission for Sonia. Eventually, the organization found her in an orphanage in Mosul and reunited her with her already rescued family.

Halima’s Story

The second of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories has to do with Halima, a 22-year-old Yazidi woman. Traffickers abducted Halima in Turkey. She spent six years in captivity until The Nazarene Fund rescued her in July 2020. ISIS fighters kidnapped Halima and 18 relatives from her village in northern Iraq. Halima was only 16 years old. She was then enslaved and suffered from violence, abuse and exploitation for five years. ISIS made its last territorial stand in Baghuz, Syria in 2019. Moreover, Halima resided there along with other Yazidi women and children. Later, traffickers planned to sell her as a slave or harvest her organs. Fortunately, The Nazarene Fund intervened and reunited her with her family.

Mayada’s Story

Mayada Abo Chehwan is a 50-year-old Syrian woman born in the District of Hama. Her husband is a pharmacist and she has two daughters. However, everything changed when ISIS attacked. Bombs destroyed Mayada’s home and her husband’s pharmacy. As a result, they fled their home and sold their belongings to survive. The family spent months in neighboring towns and in Lebanon. They eventually returned home. However, the shelling of the town forced the family to flee again. Thus, they sought refuge in Iraq.

One of her daughters was diagnosed with diabetes and the other with severe anxiety. Meanwhile, her husband became partially paralyzed from heart disease. The daughters experienced sexual harassment and threats that others would sell them sex slavery while they searched for jobs. Mayada was becoming desperate. Thankfully, The Nazarene Fund operatives successfully relocated the family to housing in a safe area and provided them with the care and assistance they needed. The Nazarene Fund operatives continue to support the family and are helping them immigrate to Australia.

These are just a few of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories. The organization strives to help people who are in desperate need of assistance. Its goal is to rescue people who cannot help themselves and assist them in maintaining a safe, healthy life.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr