However, women between the ages of 18 and 25, just starting out in life, cannot access this support or these services.
This is where the Young Women’s Shelter Association comes in, helping young women who may be fleeing forced marriages or abusive families, or who have been turned out of state orphanages upon turning 18. It provides them with shelter and gets them back on their feet.
The association’s president and founder, Uğur İlhan, who has been involved in organizational activities since her youth, told Sunday’s Zaman that she established the facility in 2006. While it is Turkey’s first and only young women’s shelter, there are many similar examples around the world. Visiting young women’s shelters in Germany back in 1990, İlhan devised plans to establish something similar in her home country, where, sadly, women facing domestic violence abound. The shelter, named Güneş (the Sun), has the capacity to house 10 young women aged between 18 and 25.
İlhan points out the false logic of women’s shelters that provide accommodation for women who have been subjected to violence or sexual abuse without envisioning a long-term solution for them. What these shelters lack is a means to encourage victims to continue their education, to increase their skills and even adopt a profession. It is only in this way that these women can rebuild their self-confidence and gain hope, İlhan notes.
“A girl or a boy under 18 who is subjected to violence or sexual abuse from their family can go to Social Services and Child Protection Agency [SHÇEK] hostels. Married women suffering from domestic violence can go to women’s shelters. Older people can go to nursing homes, if they have enough money, of course. And what will a young woman or man do who is over 18 years of age, unmarried and trying to acquire a profession, when he or she is subjected to violence from his or her family? This is a rather neglected issue, but of great importance. This young woman, facing violence from her own family, will probably face more violence from her husband and will resort to a women’s shelter, and she will probably be an old woman in the future who will not have a proper profession or skill to earn a living and so will be sent to a nursing home,” says İlhan, emphasizing the importance of women acquiring a profession.
The Young Women’s Shelter Association, which is run with the support of volunteers, offers more than just shelter; it also promises a “golden bracelet” for young women, which is a common phrase in Turkey referring to a skill, profession or knowledge that women can use to support themselves. To date, the shelter has housed almost 300 young women.
According to İlhan, if a young woman sets a goal for her life and is determined to reach it, the association will throw open its doors to her. She explains that the association needs more than cash donations. Other types of support are also welcomed, such as the offer to take shelter residents on holiday, the teaching of courses for free and the use of spare buildings.
İlhan sometimes contacts arts and crafts training courses and tells them about the plight of women living in the shelter, requesting that they be allowed to enroll in courses for free. Most of the time they respond positively, she says.
The shelter provides an array of services for the young women and offers them the benefits of free legal and psychological counseling, in addition to vocational training, foreign language and driving courses and job placement. It aims to provide women with the support they need until they can move into their own apartments, after securing jobs.
İlhan has compiled the stories and struggles of the young women her association has helped in her book “Onlar Güneşin Kızları” (They Are the Sun’s Girls).
One woman who has made use of the shelter told her story to Sunday’s Zaman. She was forced to leave her home in eastern Turkey at the age of 14 as her stepfather had discontinued her schooling and was pushing her into an unwanted marriage. Fortunately, her mother was brave enough to secretly send her daughter to study in İstanbul. She was staying in her aunt’s tiny apartment with 15 other relatives when she heard about the shelter from one of her teachers. Nowadays, she is in her third year of university, and attending classes in make-up artistry free of charge. The shelter’s website URL is www.genckizsiginmaevi.org.