A general overview of gender based violence against migrant and refugee women in Turkey.

A general overview of gender based violence against migrant and refugee women in Turkey.

Despite the fact that Turkey is hosting the largest migrant population in the world as of the displaced Syrian people flee to Turkey since 2011, there is no comprehensive mechanisms and action plans yet prepared for preventing GBV developed by related state institutions. Except a few local and International NGO’s (like UNFPA), most of the related stakeholders tent to treat the issue as an emergency and security case only, hence gender sensitivity is pushed to the end of needs hierarchy.

The migration management authorities address Family and Social Policies Ministery and their Violence Prevention Centers in terms of protecting Syrian women from gender based violence; however, these centers are not sufficient even for women from Turkey. The necessary capacity improvement has not done yet, consultancy services are not specialized for refugees and the capacity of the shelters is not enough for even Turkish violence survivals. The number of Syrian women who provided support in the shelters managed by Ministry of Family is only 80 since the beginning of refugee flee. This figure evidences that the services are not enough but shows also that refugee women do not report GBV. Another figure evidencing less reporting is, the number of women who asked support from one of the major UNHCR İmplementing Agent’s community center, which is centered in one of the most crowded province of Istanbul with Syrian Population, that is only 15 in 2015.

Indeed, the rate of reporting domestic violence among citizen women who stated that they expose to is only 11 percent, even though they know where to go and what to do in case of domestic violence, according to Ministry of family’s research conducted on 2014. The reasons why they do not report is amplified for Syrians living in Turkey.

On the other side, there is not compiled data and verified figures that shows the range of GBV and SGBV toward refugee women and girls. The source of information is media, limited records of some NGO’s, very few academic research, and the witnessed cases. The most observed forms of GBV are; forced and early marriages of women and girls, domestic violence, forced sex work and sexual assaults. But mostly only the women who exposed to severe physical violence ask support from health centers, UNHCR-UNFPA implementing agents and/or to few NGO and INGO’s.

There are many reason for preventing refugee women from reporting GBV. These are;

  • They are not able to reach to centers where they can ask for support due to poverty, care burden, language burden, male dominated family, settlement in the far districts of the cities (big cities like İstanbul), feeling of alienation and fear and not being allowed to go out of home without a male accompanier.
  • It is very well known fact that reporting GBV requires a specified safe place and services. Except few “safe space for women” built by few NGO and INGO (UNFPA, KAMER, KADAV, IKGV, few Syrian self organizations) there no dedicated and announced “women and GBV only” services and action plans for preventing and protecting migrants and refugees against GBV yet. And also no officially defined referral mechanism to NGO’s exist.
  • They do not report due to the culturally defined preconceptions that domestic violence in the family is private and family secret. In addition to this un-reporting SGBV depends mostly on loosing “womanhood honor” among the community. This two basic cultural effects is of course amplified by being in a foreign environment.

The other migrant groups also do not report, because they are not provided with full information and they are afraid of deportation even when they have permission documents. In most of the cases Security forces violates the woman who asks support also, and they are unwilling to accuse the male perpetrate.

The situation is worse for undocumented women. They are almost out of minds but the risk of SGBV toward them is much more high than the Syrian women because they are not included to any kind of  protection process and neither family protection. They do not ask support because of the risk of criminalization and deporting as well.


Required legal regulations were not made until 2014, two years after the Syrian crisis although Turkey was an intensively immigrated country since 90’s. The Law on Foreigners and International Protection issued in 2014 does not consist of any gender based protection measurement except for the security focused measurements about human trafficking.

There’s not even any effort being paid to put in practice İstanbul Agreement’s relevant issues. Being the first country which signed İstanbul Convention and issuing a local legislation (Law of Protecting Family and Preventing domestic violence and VAW, Nr: 6284) compatible to the Convention did not bring intentness in its implementation. We are not able to talk about any diminishing effect on the rates of VAW in Turkey. On the contrary rates are increasing in all forms of GBV since then. We also witnessed many speeches made by the top officers which was clearly violating the Convention. There is not publicized specific action plan, strategy document or an attempt evidencing referenced to the İstanbul Convention by the related state offices about its implementation not only for preventing GBV toward refugee and migrant women, but also GBV toward all women in Turkey. Women and LGBTI NGO’s are in a position of defending the Convention.

On the other hand, İstanbul convention defines GBV as an asylum criteria but as it is known that many countries ratified the convention with reservations on the related items and yet there is not an attempt from the contracting parties to implement these items. There is a problem in monitoring GBV toward refugees and migrants because they are being supported basically by humanitarian action and migration based NGO’s who are not advocate İstanbul Convention yet.

Women NGO’s should be supported to take action in preventing GBV and SGBV toward Refugee and migrant women

There is no difference between nationality, citizenship and so on in terms of the source of male  violence. Male violence comes from universal reality of patriarchy and unequal social structure.  Cultural differences is a matter of coping methods only. So preventing and protecting GBV is an issue where women organizations who struggles for gender equality and combats against GBV since long years are actually competent.

For this reason the humanitarian action system must be re-designed where women and feminist NGO’s take efficient and effective part. Funding system should be revised as to support combating gender related problems. And also funding processes should be more easier for grassroot organizations.

It is very urgent now; funding should be provided for shelters and other kinds of accommodation for rape and forced sex working survivals managed by one or more women NGO’s. Also cash assistance and income generating facilities should be provided. Women NGO’s should be encouraged to work in the area because struggling against GBV is not a practice of Humanitarian Aid oriented NGO’s yet. And it may not be forever.