Women’s rights organizations have been calling on the Turkish government to undertake a legal regulation for women residing in shelters to be able to vote without their identities being revealed.
Thousands of women who are victims of domestic violence seek refuge in shelters in fear of being found by their abusers. This has led the authorities to hide their information from the address-based registration system. But although this makes it harder for their abusers to find them, the women are deprived of their basic right to cast their votes as the election law requires that a citizen notify their address to a civil registry office to be qualified as an eligible voter.
The issue had come to the fore before the March 30, 2014 local elections. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had submitted a legislative proposal to tackle this issue to parliament, but the then-Family Minister Fatma Şahin had said “since their [women in shelters] registration in the voting system would mean their places being exposed, we unfortunately cannot register them to any polling station.”
Women’s rights activists have called attention to this again ahead of the upcoming March 30 elections. Officials from women’s rights organizations are of the opinion that the Family Ministry and the Supreme Election Board (YSK) can undertake legal regulations without the women’s places being revealed.
“There is a ruling that the women whose identities have been hidden [in the system] can vote in the province where the relevant decision [of identity protection] has been undertaken. But this causes [some] women to go back to the place where the violence happened, whereas those who give up and do not vote are deprived of their citizenship right,” said the head of the Turkish Women’s Organization Federation, Canan Güllü.
“The deprivation of citizenship right while fighting for the right to live causes the person to think ‘the state ignores me, just like the perpetrator of violence,’” Güllü was quoted as saying by the online news portal Duvar.
“The problem is that the rights of women who have been exposed to violence, whose right to live safely has been violated, are violated for a second time,” said Gülsüm Kav, the founding member of the We Will Stop Femicides Platform.
“Women’s shelters are not considered by the YSK as a ‘ballot box region,’ and the state explains this based on security reasons over address disclosure. But this problem, which has been brought to the agenda very rightfully, can of course be tackled without putting women in danger,” Kav was quoted as saying by Duvar.
“The solution is very simple and that step is not being taken. The address of the shelterswhere women are staying need not to be given; it is possible that since each of these sheltersare run by a specific state institution [the Family Ministry], it is possible that these women are shown in the [voting] registry system through the address of that institution. What needs to be done, just like in other countries, is that the relevant institutions take an action and do their jobs,” Kav said.
The president of KADER, a women’s organization which advocates equal representation of women and men in all fields of life, urged the government “not to forget that women in shelters are also voters.”
“According to data from Mor Çatı, there are 144 women’s shelters in Turkey. We find it against the principle of equality and justice that thousands of women staying in these shelters are deprived from their most basic rights,” said Nuray Karaoğlu.
Mor Çatı is one of Turkey’s oldest charities working to protect women from abusive husbands, partners and male relatives.
“We think that the obstacle in front of the women [in shelters] using their voting rights can be easily lifted with the will of decision-makers,” she also reportedly said.