Inclusive and integrated projects ‘bring better outcome for refugees’
Founded by Turkish, Syrian and Afghan women, the SADA Women’s Cooperative has been selected one of the most successful 10 projects out of 100 at last month’s Paris Peace Forum.
Located in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, the SADA Women Empowerment and Solidarity Center aims to empower both Syrian and Turkish women by providing gender-sensitive services.
An inclusive and integrated approach is behind the success of the center, said Seda Dolaner, from the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD), which is one of the partners of the project.
The SADA center is important also in terms of making refugees feel at home, said Gayed Sened, representative of “Tomorrow’s Women Committee,” who attended the courses at the Center.
Can you tell us your story?
Sened: I was a university student and mother of two children when the war broke out in Syria. I stayed for three years, but due to deteriorating conditions, I came to Turkey.
I first went to a camp and stayed there for around two-and-a-half years. But following the decision to close the camp I came to Gaziantep and went to the U.N. center. There I came across volunteers. At that time, I was feeling devastated. As I started to talk with the volunteers, they said, “Let’s go home.” I thought they were inviting me to their homes. But actually, we went to SADA center. It was indeed like home. We shared our problems. There were lawyers as well as psychologists to help out.
I had attended a training course in Syria to be a hairdresser. When they find out about it, they send me to one.
I have to tell you that after I went to SADA I felt less the feeling of living abroad.
Turkish and Syrian women attended together the training courses, and even those who did not speak Turkish could understand each other with their looks.
I later joined the group the Women of Tomorrow and got training in leadership. We were also told about the laws in Turkey; we learned about the negative consequences of marriage at an early age. And we also started to work on the field, started making home visits.
In some cases, we were successful in dissuading families to marry off their daughters at a young age.
What are the other activities of the Women of Tomorrow?
Some families stopped sending their children to school, and instead are sending them to work. With our initiative we started seminars for these women, while they got the training they were also paid. Some of them stopped sending their children to work and instead enrolled them to schools.
How does this system work? Do you also pay the women who come for training?
Dolaner: We work with the most vulnerable women, and to secure their continuation to the courses where they learn Turkish and get vocational training, we provide financial assistance for their lunch and transportation. This is also an effort to ease their economic difficulties.
Can you tell us how SADA was set up.
We first started with the needs assessment of Syrian women and girls in Turkey. We met with more than 2,000 women in seven cities and asked about their needs on different issues, such as health, legal, psychological or economic issues. The project was based on answering these needs. The center has been active since 2017.
It is a multi-partnered project. U.N. Women is the leading institution and the International Labor Association (ILO), SGDD and the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality are the project partners. Our fundamental mission is to have a “women-only” protected space reaching out to the most excluded and marginalized women that have little or no access to existing services.
Why “women only?”
There are vocational training courses in Gaziantep and other cities for refugees as well as locals to go to, but it is difficult for women and young girls whether they are Turkish or refugees to enter these spaces because they are not familiar with these public spaces, they do not feel at ease. This is also due to the general conservative culture in Gaziantep and elsewhere.
There are too many refugee women who want to learn Turkish. But they do not know where to go, with whom to speak, and it becomes difficult to access the services provided in Turkey.
That’s why we set up a place where they can feel at ease. We wanted them to have access to the services but also help them develop their skills to be able to join the labor force.
But providing merely language courses or vocational training is not enough especially when you work with vulnerable groups. You have to have an integrated approach. They have psychological needs, they suffer from war trauma or being in a foreign land. They suffer from legal problems starting from the day they get registered in Turkey, so they have to be aware of their rights. But this is not just valid for Syrian refugees: The project is open to all women. We do not want to set an ethnic barrier for access to the center, otherwise, we cannot realize the social cohesion.
Sened: The best thing with SADA is that we are still in communication with the Turkish women and girls we went to courses together with.
How do you see the general situation of the lives of Syrians in Turkey?
Sened: Let me use a metaphor. You are at home and you can receive 10 guests. But you wake up one morning and you have 50 guests. It is normal that you will have some chaos. You have your own habits and principles. Indeed, these guests could have similar habits and traditions. Indeed, in the courses Turkish girls kept saying we have similar cuisine. But too many came to Turkey all of a sudden so there are many negative aspects both for you and for us. What Turkey has done however cannot be done even by richer countries.
There is news that the Turkish community is complaining a lot, they seem to be unhappy with the burden that came to be added to the education or health system. What is your view, how worried are you?
Sened: My children are going to school, but for some time they have been growing up with other children. So, they suffer less from the bullying in the initial days. The level of acceptance is better compared to the past. There is pressure on both sides. The classrooms that used to have 20 students have now 40 students.
Dolaner: We believe we can deal better with these prejudices with the right social cohesion approach and right local, national and international partnerships. You see tensions and prejudice in every country which lives with the concept of migration.
But we have seen with our project that we can realize social cohesion and fight with prejudice. More than 30 percent of the participants are from Turkey. They learn together and we have heard too many times comments like “we knew different things about refugees, we did not know them well.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Do you think you will go back to Syria?
I am looking for security. If there is security I will, of course, go back. Who would want to be away from their homeland? You have seen it in the Istanbul earthquake (Sept. 26). Everyone rushed to the streets, whether they were Turkish, Syrian or Afghan. That’s like our situation. Of course, I dream of going back, but I will not if I don’t find it secure enough for my children. But I have to say that even if I were to go back, the interaction will continue.
As a Syrian, what do you think should be the current priority in terms of addressing the needs of Syrians in Turkey?
Sened: It is good to have projects for women and children, but we are neglecting the men. Children are going to school and women are working, but it is difficult for men between ages 40 -60 to find employment.
The SADA Women’s Cooperative kicked off last March and is just back from Paris with an award. What do you think differs the projects at SADA that make them win these awards?
The difference is inclusion and participation. At every phase, we gave representation to the refugees, to the locals, to young women. We listened to them and took into consideration their views and warnings. That’s how we went forward. Instead of victimizing women, undertaking work in accordance with their capacities brings better outcomes.
The second most important factor is the integrated approach, it is not enough to provide training, you have to bring answers to their other needs.