Post-earthquake challenges persist for women in affected regions of Turkey

This report was published by Medya News on 4 February, 2024

As the first anniversary of Turkey’s devastating February earthquakes approaches, women in the earthquake-stricken areas continue to face a spiral of violence and poverty, with calls for organisation to address these issues, report Mezopotamya Agency’s Yüsra Batıhan and Şilan Çil.

A year on from the devastating earthquakes centred around Kahramanmaraş (Mereş) in southeast Turkey, Hatay and other regions affected still bear unhealed scars, with women particularly vulnerable to ongoing hardships.

Many women are trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence, compounded by the challenges of life in temporary shelters, a dearth of job opportunities and increased burdens of care for children, the elderly and the sick, as detailed by Mezopotamya Agency’s Yüsra Batıhan and Şilan Çil on Sunday.

The initial solidarity witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes has waned, making basic hygiene necessities less accessible for women. The shift from domestic violence in the home to domestic violence within the confines of tents and containers has left many women trapped in abusive environments. The economic downturn after the earthquakes has forced women to resort to collecting and selling scrap metal from the debris of affluent construction firms.

Resident of Hatayİlknur Kazan found solace and purpose with the feminist Mor Dayanışma (Purple Solidarity) Association during these challenging times. Kazan, who became a volunteer during her own ordeal as an earthquake survivor, is actively involved in community work for women in her locality. She highlighted the unmet needs of women in the area, stating, “The streets that were unsafe for women before the earthquake have become even more dangerous amid the ruins and lack of street lighting. The burden of care, initially tied to tent maintenance, has now shifted to the maintenance of containers, placing a further burden on women. Domestic violence in the home has transformed into domestic violence within tents and containers.”

The inability to escape from the locations where they experience violence is a significant issue for many women in the earthquake zone. Kazan noted that many women who wish to divorce cannot do so due to economic constraints and the lack of alternative housing, forcing them to continue living with their abusers. She stressed the lack of employment opportunities for women and the inadequate provision for their hygiene and health needs, adding, “Everything designed from a male perspective works against women, affecting them negatively in terms of hygiene, housing, security and physical and mental health. The responsibility of caring for children, the elderly and the sick at home, coupled with the inability to work, exacerbates their poverty.”

Kazan emphasised the importance of organising as a key need in these times, citing the powerful example of a march on the 40th day after the event, which made a significant impact globally when women voiced their collective outrage and demands publicly.