In the words of Aşkın Asan: “We are committed to making a difference in rural women’s lives every day of the year”

Professor Aşkın Asan is a member of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO). Previously, Professor Asan was the Deputy Minister of Family and Social Policies in Turkey. She is also the founder of “Women’s Centers,” aimed to empower rural women, and the “University Transfer Program,” designed for women with only a primary school diploma. Professor Asan was a key speaker for the webinar “Intersectional solutions to eliminate violence against women and girls in rural areas,” held on 15 October 2020, on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women, within the framework of the EU-UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.”

Date: Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Professor Aşkın Asan, member of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Photo: Personal archive

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I grew up in a village and personally experienced the difficulties of a woman living in a rural area. The distance to city centres was always the biggest problem. It was almost impossible to access the services provided by the authorities, like social and healthcare services, including access to school.  While I was lucky and able to pursue my education, many of my friends living in the village could only graduate primary school. As I moved up the education ladder, I always looked back and remembered my friends who could not attend school because they didn’t have a school nearby. In my opinion, it is important to establish the best schools in the most rural and disadvantaged places.  This is why, today, women from rural areas are not only less educated and more likely to be illiterate, but also less healthy and more likely to suffer from domestic violence. Poverty and inequality among rural women are substantially higher. 

Although rural women play a very critical role in the rural economies of developed and developing countries – making significant contributions to agricultural production, food security and land management – their contribution often go unrecognized. They still do not have equal access to financial services, social services, education, and information and communication technologies that can help them realize their full potential. They are also exposed to violence that compounds these inequalities.

Over the last few years, GREVIO has looked specifically into the issue of violence against women occurring in rural areas, including in the Western Balkan region. We found out that women living in rural areas, especially older women, are particularly exposed to violence. Women living in remote or rural areas also have restricted access to protection services, as the organizations providing general and specialist support services to women who experienced violence, including sexual violence, are usually concentrated in big cities. During our evaluation visits to Turkey, Serbia, and Montenegro, we witnessed stark contrasts between rural and urban areas.  Women living in rural areas have less access to information about available resources, which exacerbates the aforementioned problems in service provision. They also face discriminatory stereotypes about traditional gender roles, which constitutes a further obstacle for them to report violence.  To address these issues, GREVIO urges state parties to provide access for all women to specialist support services and to set up rape crisis and/or sexual violence centres. According to the Explanatory Report of the Istanbul Convention, one such centre should be available for every 200,000 inhabitants, and their geographical spread should make them accessible to women who suffer from violence in rural areas as much as in cities. 

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the existing inequalities faced by rural women.  Distancing and quarantine schemes may have negatively affected the provision of specialist support services, and economic problems caused by COVID-19 put an additional strain on the already scarce resources allocated to these services. Women living in rural areas also experienced heightened difficulties in reporting violence and accessing adequate information.

However, certain measures can be taken to overcome these issues. For example, the capacity of existing support structures, including shelters and helplines, can be adjusted to address emerging needs. Alternative ways to deliver services can also be considered, including via online and technological means, while making special efforts to ensure that the needs of vulnerable women are met. During COVID-19 confinement measures, making information available in places not affected by the restrictions, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, is also instrumental to reach particularly vulnerable groups of women.

Rural women have the right to live a life free of violence and have a voice in decision-making processes. But this will never be possible unless we include and support them. That’s why we’re committed to making a difference in their lives not just on International Rural Women’s Day, but every day of the year.”