In the words of Büşra Sünetci: “During lockdown, the world experienced what women have experienced for years due to the patriarchal system”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, women in Turkey and around the world have faced serious safety risks as the quarantine exacerbated violence, according to representatives of the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity in Turkey. The organization has been working to combat gender inequality and violence against women for the past 27 years and supports women who are exposed to violence by their partners through the Women’s Counseling Center. Büşra Sünetci, representative of the Foundation and a social worker, told UN Women about the support they provided to women during lockdown under the framework of the EU-UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey, “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.”

Date: Thursday, July 30, 2020

Büşra Sünetci, representative of the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity in Turkey and a social worker. Photo from personal archive
Büşra Sünetci, representative of the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity in Turkey and a social worker. Photo from personal archive

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During the COVID-19 lockdown, people around the world experienced the psychological struggles that women have experienced for many years because of the patriarchal system that keeps women at home under threat of violence. It was like a simulation in this sense. However, the quarantine has increased safety risks for women even beyond what is considered ‘normal’ – the quarantine has exacerbated the cycle of violence. Women’s obligation to stay at home 24/7 with their perpetrators posed a serious risk to their life, and this risk still continues.

During this period, we saw that the pandemic highlighted the weaknesses in the official mechanisms to prevent and combat violence against women. We have observed that fewer women are seeking help from relevant institutions compared to previous years due to factors like health concerns and unexpected lockdown measures. The climate of fear created by the pandemic reduced the possibility of women sharing their experiences with other people.

Women’s organizations that combat violence against women have been the first places women turn to, both worldwide and in Turkey. As the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity, we moved our Women’s Counseling Center to our homes and continued carrying out our activities.

More than 140 women contacted the center in March, April and May. We provided our services through online platforms and via phone. We talked about the security measures they can take at home and how to apply to a shelter. We informed women who lost their jobs about economic support programmes. We offered legal aid. We gave psychological support to reduce the effects of trauma caused by violence and helped women make decisions about their lives.

The Women’s Counseling Center is a support mechanism where women can talk about their experiences without any judgement and blame and express themselves freely. It has been really empowering for us to see the positive impact of our work on women who are taking steps to move away from violence and establish their own independent lives, while benefiting from their rights.

Our experience over 27 years has shown the importance of combating violence against women together. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we struggled together with women and turned this struggle into a story of solidarity where we empowered each other against the patriarchal system.”