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This article by Burcu Karakaş published in Turkish in Deutsche Welle Türkçe on February 25 2020 had escaped our notice. We publish it in translation now because women in Turkey are facing increasing violence every day.

And when you realize that this question has been entrusted to Diyanet, the authority on religious affairs, you come full circle. You are not dreaming, this article is based on tests of call numbers supposed to deal with violence on women.

Diyanet‘s advice to women in order to fight against violence

So, the Presidency on religious matters, Diyanet, has recently become active also in the fight against violences to which women are subjected. Since signing a protocol with the Ministry of the Family in 2011 aimed at raising awareness on the violence exerted on women, collaborative activities have multiplied. Diyanet offers advice to women victims of violence, through the religious orientation bureaus it has instituted in order to resolve intra-family problems. But according to defendors of women’s rights, answers provided by Diyanet render the fight against violences on women even more difficult. Let’s examine this advice.

Our first call is to the religious orientation bureau of the Konya Mufti1, as a woman whose companion has violent tendencies. The voice at the end of the line attempts to guide us toward ŞÖNİM the “Center for the prevention and surveillance of violence” created under the authority of Law 6284 on the protection of the family and the prevention of violence toward women. But she is not certain of the center’s name. “It must be ŞÖNİM, if I’m not mistaken, the center on women’s stuff…I’m not sure of what the acronym is, exactly, but…” says the voice.

When we convey to the female preacher that we are thinking of divorcing because of the violence and seek her advice, we are told about the importance of patience, dispensed under the light of religious knowledge: “If it’s becoming unbearable, speak to your elders. In the An-Nisa Surat2, Allah the Allmighty says that the woman and the man must resolve issues with an elder. Sometimes, young people act hastily. We say, try to work through the problems with the wise ones in the family.”

“If he strikes, don’t accuse him, distance yourself”

Our next call is to the office of Çorum’s Mufti. This time, we call as a woman who has been subjected to insults from her husband, “he raised his hand but hasn’t hit me yet, I’m worried.” According to the female preacher in this office, we should ask ourselves what are the reasons for the violence. She says: “Ask for the reason, in an appropriate language. This isn’t a very big problem, you can solve it by talking. For example, prepare his favorite foods, speak to him calmly, along with some tea.”

When we ask what we should do if subjected to violence, we are told “if he strikes, don’t react, distance yourself. Go to your room. Try to end the incident by saying ‘as you wish’ but re-open the topic at an appropriate moment. Don’t use accusing language. ‘I didn’t know what you preferred or I would have done as you wished’, speak to him in this way.”

So, should we call the police? The person on the phone answers “No, you will solve this kind of problem incha’allah. May Allah be with you…”

407 religious orientation services are in activity: “men and women preachers inform”

Our request to the presidency of religious affairs in order to gather information on the institution’s role in the fight to counter violence against women received the following reply: We are told that “Diyanet plays an active role in contributing to the resolution of violence targeting women” and, additionally, “family and religious orientation services provide advice on the foundation, protection and strengthening of the family, within 81 directorates and 326 offices of neighborhood Mufti.”

Which means that overall in Turkey, there are 207 units attached to Diyanet and aimed at resolving women’s problems. Who works in these offices? “Preachers graduated from religious schools, religious services specialists, instructors in classes on the Coran and imam-preachers are employed as staff.

The required field training for projects of prevention of violence against women is provided by expert staff and the employees in these functions are preferably preachers.”

Diyanet staff also works in shelters

The preachers are not only employed in offices of family and religious orientation. Diyanet staff also works in shelters. Gülsun Kanat Dinç, a volunteer in the Mor Çatı shelter for women believes that in Turkey where many people have religious principles, the religious affairs presidency must also participate in the countering of violence against women, but the methods employed are not equalitarian.

Gülsun Kanat Dinç says that “the imams must also share information against violences because people come to them for aid. But unfortunately, the cadres at Diyanet steer the women toward an approach which attributes the violence to women.”

According to official figures, there are 145 women’s shelters in Turkey. According to Gülsun Kanat Dinç, budgets attributed to religious orientation services should rather be given to the shelters and to social services: “In the shelters, the preachers are salaried workers. If need be, they can be called upon to intervene on the outside, as is the case for psychologists. The presence of psychologists in the shelters themselves is not considered indispensable, so that of preachers shouldn’t be either. There is need for social workers.”

“If we put our Islamic life in order, everything follows”

We continue with another call, this time to the office of the Mufti of Niğde. As no female preacher is present in the office when we call, we are passed on to the male preacher. The man asks questions concerning the reasons for the violences: “For what reason does he exhibit violence? What does a man expect from his wife? To find a smiling face, a ready meal when he comes home from work… If despite the fact that you do everything you can, you don’t manage to be appreciated, there can be different reasons. Could he possibly have another relationship?”

We ask “Sometimes, he pulls my hair. I’m afraid. Should I call the police?” He advises to think carefully before calling on the police “if it has reached a point you can’t stand anymore, you can. But usually they impose a three to five months distancing measure on the man. This is why before involving the police, we will try to resolve the issue. Perhaps you behave in an unpleasant way?”

The preacher goes on, attempting to understand what kind of husband is involved from a religious belief point of view…”Do you say your prayers? What about your husband?” then he ends the conversation with the following advice: “Let’s make the effort of saying the five prayers every day. Let’s read the Coran. If we put our Islamic life in order, the rest will follow.”

Sedide Akbulut, President of the family and religious orientation Department attached to the Diyanet recently announced they were planning an education based on religious references: “We can fight against violence with the principles of the Coran”. In the Diyanet‘s 2018 Activity Report, we find advice on “the need to increase the number of religious and family orientation services.” In the same report, we note that Diyanet has published 3 000 books on the theme “the protection of the family and the prevention of violence against women.” Moreover, the document mentions internal training seminars for 476 staff members in order to prevent violences against women and to contribute to this aim with staff from the faith.

Woman, a possession entrusted to man, must obey, this is her original nature

The Istanbul Convention of which Turkey is a signatoree aims at totally suppressing violence based on social genders and has a vital importance in the matter of violences against women. But certain conservative circles defend an exit from the convention and there are strong disagreements in public opinion. Funda Ekin, a lawyer who specializes in women’s rights says “on its report card, Turkey has a very low score when it comes to fighting violences against women. And the messages expressed by Diyanet only make the struggle more difficult.”

Funda Ekin continues: “In the Diyanet messages, the three main terms used for women are ’emanet’ (a possession entrusted to someone), ‘itaat’ (obedience) and ‘fitrat’ (fitra, original nature). There is no mention of equality, only khutba (sermons). Equality being absent from the approach, blows and humiliations are considered unimportant. An honest struggle is required.” She draws attention to the fact that when women victims of violence sollicit the help of security forces, their request often do not end in a protective measure and, if the victim does obtain one, the decision is not applied. “Nothing is done in accordance with the Istanbul Convention despite the fact it was signed in 2014. Even as a minimum, there still doesn’t exist a crisis center. And have any new shelters been opened since 2014? No.”

Burcu Karakaş
© Deutsche Welle Türkçe

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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