ORDU, 18 May 2022 - Everyone is equal before the law but not everyone has equal opportunities when it comes to access to justice. Women face various barriers, which may be economic, social or cultural, limiting their capacity to enjoy their rights as equal citizens. Women do not usually report being victims of violence, nor seek support from institutions for reasons that may be related to fear of retaliation, not knowing how and where to ask for help or lacking trust in judicial authorities. Legal aid and assistance, therefore, play an important role in eliminating barriers to women’s access to justice.
With this in mind, the European Union and the Council of Europe’s Joint Action on “Fostering women’s access to justice in Turkey” held the first of a series of multi-stakeholder meetings in the province of Ordu on 18 May, to raise awareness of barriers to women’s access to justice and facilitate exchanges among key stakeholders on how to improve their access to legal aid and assistance.
Representatives of the Union of Bar Associations of Turkey, Ordu Bar Association, Ordu University, public agencies and civil society organisations attended the meeting and shared their views on challenges regarding women’s access to justice and possible solutions for improvement.
In her opening speech, Vice President of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations Atty. Sibel Suiçmez noted that “One of the aims of this project is to improve women's access to justice by increasing gender sensitivity and eliminating barriers, while at the same time providing quality legal aid services. For this purpose, “Women's Access to Justice” training was provided to 270 lawyers in our four pilot provinces – Ordu, Muğla, Diyarbakır and Nevşehir – through the Council of Europe HELP (Human Rights Training Program for Lawyers) programme. The trained lawyers will use their knowledge and awareness on these issues whilst providing legal aid services for women. In this process, I hope to continue working together to ensure gender equality and eliminate violence against women in Ordu, where cooperation between the public authorities, civil society and the bar association is strong.”
Also speaking at the opening session, Cristian URSE, the Head of the Council of Europe’s Programme Office in Ankara, highlighted the importance of eliminating existing barriers to access to justice and supporting local co-operation and multi-stakeholder partnerships to enhance the availability and quality of legal aid and legal assistance for women, in line with European standards.
Prof. Dr. Kadriye Bakırcı from Hacettepe University drew attention to the problems in women’s access to justice, such as deficiencies in accessing quality legal aid, inadequacies in data collection, challenges in accessing rights, and the current legislation being applied differently among provinces. She commended the current good practice and stressed the importance of widespreading this good practice and increased collaboration in the field.
The meeting was an important step in building local strategies and partnerships in Ordu, which is one of the provinces where the number of cases of violence against women is highest, and to improve access to judicial services, including legal aid for women, especially victims of violence.
Similar meetings will take place in three additional provinces (Diyarbakır, Muğla and Nevşehir) before the end of October 2022.
The action also helps to develop the capacity of lawyers to provide gender-sensitive legal aid services for women in these four pilot provinces, and to provide small grants to projects implemented by civil society organisations aiming to increase women’s legal awareness and capacities as rights-holders.
The action entitled “Fostering women’s access to justice in Turkey” is part of the European Union and the Council of Europe’s joint programme entitled “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022”.