On the occasion of the 65th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Set Them Free organizes a virtual parallel event entitled “Combating all Forms of Violence Against Women: Turkey Case” on 18 March 2021, Thursday at 12:00 PM EST.
Since the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in violence against women in all forms: physical, emotional, economic and social. Domestic violence and femicide have risen to highest numbers in Turkey. Dissident women, especially in civil society, media and judiciary, who are promoting human rights and raising awareness on the oppressive government policies, have been facing violence in different forms. Many women leaders in the Turkish society are being arbitrarily arrested and discriminated against based on their political opinion, culture and ethnicity.
In this panel session, while informing the audience on the latest status quo against women in civil and political space, we would like to discuss how could this violence be combatted and a peaceful society with women`s meaningful participation in every sphere of life can be re-established.
Set Them Free gathered experts together to discuss child abuse on February 13, 2021. Set Them Free Board Member, Psychological Counselor Hatice Kubra Donmez Sarihan hosted Assistant Professor Sumeyra Tosun from CUNY, Psychologists and Life Coach Reyhane Daglar.
The discussion defined what the child abuse is, in what forms this children`s right violation takes place, and what are the consequences of this incident on children`s development and well-being. Experts also addressed the signals of child abuse and shared tips on what the parents can do to prevent child abuse of any sort.
Bogazici University Protests in New York and Las Vegas
21 January 2021
Set Them Free advocates have gathered in New York and Las Vegas on January 21, Saturday to stand in solidarity with the peaceful students practicing their right to protest. Set Them Free strongly condemns the arbitrary detentions of tens of Bogazici University students. Being one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey, Bogazici University`s students are subjected to brutal police blockage. For over a month, students and faculty members have been protesting the undemocratic appointment of Melih Bulu. Despite the police interventions, Bogazici faculty is still resisting and demanding their right to choose the rector. As academic integrity is under the state control, Set Them Free calls on international organizations and academic institutes to unite their voices to support the democratic rights of Bogazici University students and faculty members.
Strip Search in Custody and Detention 16 January 2021 | YouTube Panel Discussion
On January 16, 2021, Set Them Free hosted Kiran Nazish, Founding Director of Coalition for Women in Journalism (CWJ) and Hafza Kesinci, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Movement for Unconditional Justice to discuss “Strip Search in Custody and Detention”.
Even though it has been an unfortunate common practice of Turkish custodies, the strip search, a serious violation of human rights, came to the fore when 30 young women were unlawfully detained and strip searched while in police custody in Usak, Turkey in August 2020. Besides this degrading incident, detainees were subjected to ill-treatment in custody.
Lately, strip search was again brought to the attention of the general public as several prominent human rights advocates, journalists and Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, HDP Member of Parliament, encouraged victims to share their personal experiences of this violation and mobilized the civil society to urge government officials to take an action to end strip search in custodies. The movement became viral in a couple of days as countless women, as well as men, shared their stories on social media.
The UN Bangkok Rule 20 indicates “Alternative screening methods, such as scans, shall be developed to replace strip searches and invasive body searches, in order to avoid the harmful psychological and possible physical impact of invasive body searches”.
At this virtual discussion, Hafza Girdap, Co-Founder of Set Them Free and Executive Director of AST hosted Kiran Nazish, Founding Director of Coalition for Women in Journalism (CWJ) and Hafza Kesinci, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Movement for Unconditional Justice to raise awareness on the degrading treatment of strip search and discussed how to combat such violations in collaboration with global human rights organizations, and advocates.
Kiran Nazish first discussed that an increasing number of women journalists are subjected to strip search, especially in authoritarian countries where the space of free press and media is shrinking. Ms. Nazish said “there is an inaccessibility of the human rights organizations to intervene in countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia”. She also added “even if we have lawyers and resources on the ground, once a journalist or an activist is taken to detention, there is not much you can do. You are at the hand of the authorities with the ultimate power”. Ms. Nazish underlined the role of local civil society organizations and women’s rights movements to cover strip searching more intimately and put a pressure on the governments.
Hafsa Kesinci presented an overview of the violation of strip search in Turkey. Ms. Kesinci said “the regulations indicate that the search of body cavity can only be performed by the presence of a prison doctor in the necessary conditions”. She said “strip search has previously been conducted during the Gezi Park protests, and most recently at the Bogazici protests”. According to Ms. Kesinci, “the discriminative search that is incompatible with human dignity violates both the constitution and international law”.
On November 21, 2020 Set Them Free organized a virtual discussion about children’s rights in partnership with Cage Free Voices on the occasion of the World Children’s Day. Youth speakers elaborated on different violations of children’s rights as participants shared their perspectives from the USA, Nigeria, and Germany. The panel was live on Set Them Free’s YouTube channel.
The discussion started with Feranmi Davies, from Cage Free Voices, discussing women’s and girls’ rights as she focused on child marriage. Feranmi said, “Many human rights are violated as a result of child marriage including rights of education, freedom from violence and reproductive rights.” Feranmi mentioned that child marriage also causes several health problems due to early pregnancy. She underlined that poverty, cultural practices, poor infrastructure, and violence are the factors that lead to the violation of the right of education. Feranmi ended her speech by saying “Girls need to learn, they need to feel safe and contribute to society. Let’s stand up against discriminations of girls globally.”
Next discussant Hansa Girdap,13, is 7th grader living in New York. She spoke on the children’s rights violations in Turkey. As of today, there are more than 800 children in Turkey’s prisons with their mothers from newborns to age six. Hansa mentioned that mothers have the right to take care of their children during postpartum. This right is systematically violated in Turkey. Hansa underlined that “Children of Turkey are paying the price of injustice.” She talked about Ahmet Atac who died not long ago because of the Turkish regime`s violation of right to travel for his cancer treatment. Hansa also added “On the occasion of International Children’s Day, I want to raise awareness about the children in Turkey. Children are the future of the world so they need to be cared for, they should be given rights they deserve and live a prosperous life that they deserve.”
Drake Brown is an 8th grader who lives in Maryland. He talked about the implications of COVID-19 and right to life. Drake focused on domestic violence. “Violence at home or out of the public eye has reached new heights” he said and added “At times like this, children’s rights are so important.” According to Drake, children who are abused at home cannot find someone to tell the incident and it affects their mental health. He also mentioned that COVID-19 causes several educational challenges as well. Due to the lack of access to the internet, COVID-19 will lead to a limited or no education causing children falling behind their peers. Drake also underlined that solving these problems is the schools and government responsibilities.
Last speaker of the panel was Zeynep. She talked about immigrant children, the difficulties that they have to face, and their rights. Zeynep immigrated to Germany because of the discrimination that was enforced by Turkish government on dissidents. As an immigrant child, Zeynep explained the importance of this topic by saying that “In recent years, the number of immigrant children has increased dramatically. It forces us to think again about what their needs, rights are and how we can help.” She discussed the right to education, discrimination, right of children to live with their parents, and safety. She also added “Compared with nonimmigrant children, immigrants face additional physical and mental difficulties—regardless of their country of origin. It is critical that the governments are responsible to support those children. I want the rights of all children to be protected.”
On October 12, 2020 Set Them Free organized a virtual panel discussion entitled “My Voice, Our Equal Future” to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. In this panel, Set Them Free D.C. Representative hosted three successful and promising young women, Tuana, Esra and Nilufer who talked about their life, education, expectations, and dreams.
Esra, 13 y/o , is a middle school student who has been living in Greece for the past three years. She talked about her life in Greece and her academic success as a refugee girl. Esra shared her enforced migration story and integration process to Greece with these words; “When we first came to Greece, Greek was really difficult for me as the alphabet is different from Latin. I started to take courses. At the beginning of the school, I did not understand the lessons and my friends. After a couple of months, it got familiar and I started to communicate better with my friends. I like to learn a new language and culture. In Greek culture there are many special foods and festivals. I especially like ‘souvlaki’”. As a refugee girl, Esra achieved significant success in the National Mathematics Competition in Greece. She defined success and happiness as making her dreams come true, being free, healthy and with her family. Esra has gone through difficult paths and she supported other young women by saying “Girls are too strong, and they can do whatever they want. As a girl, I have big dreams and I am working on them. Being a refugee is not a barrier for me. I want to study at Oxford.”
Following Esra, Nilufer took the floor. She is 16 and lives in California. Nilufer is getting ready for the Mathematics and Coding Olympiads. Nilufer explained how she motivates herself to work in the challenging fields as she said “You feel proud and you know you are doing something even if you feel tired sometimes, you know eventually you are going to be successful.” She also added “Being a girl in the coding field is important because there are not many girls and if you study well it puts you ahead of others. I do coding like a girl. Most people think usually boys are better at mechanical fields. It is not true; girls can do it even better” and supported other young women who want to study STEM. Nilufer is a really good chess player, and she has started a chess club in her high school. She mentioned that she is working on a new project which is an online platform for students.
The last speaker of the panel, Tuana Sari is 19 years old. Tuana is a young activist who has many initiatives. She spoke on her projects and gave advice about being an activist. Tuana talked about her project “DoNotHate.org” which she started at the age of 15. She elaborated on why the world needs youth activism by saying “Change is happening, but we have a long way. Being part of a change does not mean talking about it. We really have to be part of it and put effort into it”. Currently, Tuana is working at an IT company and she added that “I highly recommend everyone, every young girl to have basic coding skills. Be part of STEM!”. Tuana also underlined that adults should give a space for failure and growth to younger generations.
Set Them Free discussed Turkey`s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention on August 18, 2020 with Journalists Sevinc Ozarslan, STF Board Members Lawyer Vera Guzelsoy and Psychologist Hatice Kubra Donmez Sarihan.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, is a landmark human rights treaty focused on four pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies to protect women and girls from all forms of domestic violence.
Lately, Turkish authorities have been discussing withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention with groundless claims arguing that the articles of the treaty are against the traditional Turkish family norms. Lawyer Vera Guzelsoy talked about the importance of the domestic implementation of the Istanbul Convention to protect women and girls from domestic violence. Journalist Sevinc Ozarslan put an importance emphasis on the record number of femicide in Turkey and underlined that full implementation of the Convention is necessary to combat all sorts of gender-based violence against women.
Cage Free Voices Radio Podcast: Refugee Children, Migration and Integration
15 August 2020 | YouTube Panel Discussion
On August 15, 2020 Set Them Free partnered with the Cage Free Voices to organize a youth panel discussion on the occasion of the UN World Refugee Day to talk about the challenges that refugee children encounter, their migration experience and the successful integration processes.
Set Them Free and Cage Free Voices organized a virtual panel discussion on the occasion of the UN World Refugee Day to share the stories of the refugee children, the challenges that they faced in their journey to a new homeland, their migration experience and the integration processes.
In this virtual youth event, Makayla Calhoun and Alistair Berry, Cage Free Voices students, interviewed Zeynep Girdap and Yusuf Burak Akay, volunteers of Set Them Free. Zeynep and Yusuf Burak had to leave Turkey after the failed coup-attempt of July 2016 as their families faced systemic discrimination, and social persecution.
Women`s Contributions to Combatting Racism and Discrimination
3 August 2020 | YouTube Panel Discussion
On August 3, 2020, Set Them Free organized a YouTube panel discussion on the “Women’s Contributions to Combating Racism and Discrimination” bringing women from different ethnical and religious backgrounds together to discuss their personal experiences with the racism and/or discrimination, and underline how can women contribute to combatting this worldwide injustice by offering perspectives from their own view points.
The protests since the killing of George Floyd has, once again, have left our global community outraged at the injustice that racism and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and culture causes to hinder the culture of peace. We, the human rights organizations, women’s rights initiatives should speak up, share our experiences, stand in solidarity and advocate for an inclusive global society. We must continue to combat any kind of systemic racism and discrimination. Equality and peace are interlinked to one another to foster inclusive societies. Women, as a stakeholder of development, have a very important role in peacebuilding.
At the “Women`s Role in Combating Systematic Racism and Discrimination” virtual discussion, experts elaborated on variety of topics moderated by Dr. Sophia Pandya, a Professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies at the California State University at Long Beach, California. Shea Graham, a Licensed Psychotherapist at Shea Graham LCSW, informed the audience on the psychological roots to racist behavior and discussed how we can respond more effectively to these causes. Graham said regardless of our differences “we are so close to each other that when my city burns, the smoke will hit your neighborhood. We need to realize that our faiths are tied to each other.”
Following her remarks, Vera Guzelsoy, a lawyer and a data scientist, discussed the current situation of forced Turkish migrants, who had to leave their homeland to escape persecution and discrimination created by the Erdogan`s government. Guzelsoy said persecuted individuals do not have freedom but we have; so, we have to speak up on behalf of them. She also added that in today’s world, populizm is as dangerous as discrimination.
Ellen Stromberg, the Regional Co-Coordinator of Sisterhood Salaam Shalom, talked about important contribution of sisterhood in combating discrimination. Stromberg said “I think there is a strong call for women to stand up for each other, to fight against the systemic racism that prevents quality housing, quality education and quality housing. I would like to think that building a strong coalition of women from many different communities, many different cultures can collectively speak out and find common actionable items that would make a difference. It won’t be easy but it is possible.”
Last speaker of the panel, Eylul Gunduz, a PhD student at the Dalhousie University, talked about the systemic discrimination that Kurdis people face in Turkey. She informed the audience with her own observations from the eastern and western region of Turkey to elaborate on the violence against Kurdish women in Turkey. Gunduz said Kurdish women`s coping mechanism against the discrimination they face is to strentghen their community gatherings and practice their culture.
CSW64 Panel – Women and Forced Migration: Challenges and Consequences
10 March 2020 | YouTube Panel Discussion
On August 3, 2020, Set Them Free organized a YouTube panel discussion on the “Women and Forced Migration: Challenges and Consequences” on the occasion of the 64th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Internal conflicts, wars, and political, religious persecution have been increasingly urging people towards forced migration. The recent UN Global Trends report indicates that over 70 million individuals have been forcibly displaced, which is a record number in the last 70 years. For the marginalized groups in the society, the right to leave is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of several other human rights, such as torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Women and children are suffering the most during the forced migration.
In the parallel event “Women and Forced Migration: Challenges and Consequences”, experts discussed the several country cases where the right to leave is violated and the following consequences of such circumstances, psychological aspect of the forced migration on women and mothers, and the long-term challenges of forced migration on women.
The session was moderated by Hafza Girdap, Co-Founder of Set Them Free and Executive Director of Advocates for Silenced Turkey. Following her opening remarks, Irfan Engineer, the Director of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism from India discussed an overview of the challenges, present current status-quo, psychological aspect of the forced migration on refugee women and mothers and the role of CSOs to overcome the long-term challenges of forced migration on women.
Vonya Womack, Professor at Cabrini University, discussed the challenges that enforced Turkish women and children migrants in Greece faced and elaborated on the social discrimination that these dissident women encountered in Turkey, which left them with no choice but to leave their homeland.
Following Womack`s remarks, Associate Professor Zeynep Ercan from Rowan University discussed the psychological aspect of the forced migration of refugee women and mothers. The last speaker of the discussion, Ayhan Cetin, the Executive Director of Turquoise Harmony Institute presented their best-practice of language empowerment program for the refugee women in South Africa.