Women left vulnerable to physical and sexual violence in earthquake zones, say activists

Activists have said twin earthquakes that hit southern and southeastern Turkey in early February left women vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, the Duvar news website reported.

Several women’s organizations went to the earthquake zone immediately after the quakes struck to deliver aid to victims and show solidarity with women who were left homeless. The volunteers visited tent cities to determine women’s needs and take note of the problems they were experiencing.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit near the Turkish city of Gaziantep – home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria – as people were sleeping on February 6 was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

Rüya Kurtuluş, a volunteer who worked with earthquake victims, said women acted as primary caregivers to family members and other survivors even though they too were affected by the disaster. “Women neglect themselves while they take of others,” she said. “They don’t have access to basic hygiene products and can’t even wash their clothes. Although a month has passed since the earthquakes, these problems have not gone away.”

Kurtuluş said some women had to stay in tents with abusive partners and that there was no support system for them to seek help. “When we talked with these women, we found that some of them had to share a tent with partners whom they were in the process of divorcing or with abusive partners. These women are under a lot of stress, which is not good for their mental health,” she said.

Kurtuluş said authorities needed to provide tent cities with security to prevent gender-based violence and financial support to women who were taking care of their families. Moreover, activists in the region observed that migrant women did not have access to tent cities and were left to live in the streets.

“They ran away from war, but now they are living under war-like conditions,” she said.

According to reports, women are too shy to ask for basic products such as underwear and period and contraception products. Volunteer doctors have set up makeshift clinics to help women access such products but say that women are still in shock and too traumatized to think about their own needs.

Moreover, women are still shouldering the brunt of daily burdens and chores while dealing with personal pain and an acute sense of insecurity that comes with life in the streets. In an attempt to provide some sense of security, volunteers have been keeping vigil outside toilets and shower stalls.

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!