An international conference in Ankara on 27 November brought together key representatives of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, the Presidents of eight local bar associations (from Adıyaman, Malatya, Kahramanmaraş, Hatay, Sinop, Bilecik, Bursa, Tunceli) and representatives of the Council of Europe, the European Union, public institutions, civil society organisations, and the international and diplomatic community with an interest in women’s access to justice.
Access to justice is a multi-faceted concept linked to effectively ensuring equal access to fundamental rights and justice for all without discrimination, including gender discrimination. It requires promoting legal awareness and literacy for women to be able to demand and defend their rights, in addition to the state's obligation to ensure the accessibility, quality, and accountability of justice services. These messages were among the key takeaways of the international conference held today within the framework of the European Union and Council of Europe joint action on “Fostering women’s access to justice in Türkiye”, which has been implemented together with the Union of Turkish Bar Associations since the beginning of 2023.
An indispensable element of ensuring access to justice is the legal aid system, which contributes to removing barriers for individuals who lack the financial means or ability to defend their rights. For many women in Türkiye, engaging with the justice system and accessing legal aid can be a challenging and overwhelming experience. Economic, social and cultural barriers diminish the equal protection of women's rights, their ability to resort to legal remedies defined by law and their access to legal aid. It is therefore equally important that justice professionals, including legal aid lawyers, are aware of these barriers in order to further enhance women's access to justice.
In this respect, the conference delivered the key message that strengthening the legal aid system is crucial in enabling better access to justice, and the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Union of Turkish Bar Associations will continue to work together on this issue. During the conference, the following keynote speakers underlined the significance of the subject:
William Massolin, Head of the Council of Europe Programme Office in Ankara, highlighted that the conference stands as a testament to the shared dedication to advancing gender equality and empowering women in all spheres of life. Caterina Bolognese, Head of the Gender Equality Division of the Council of Europe, underlined the importance of the project in building local capacity among legal professionals to achieve women’s effective access to justice, establishing local networks to support and inform women on their access to services and justice, and empowering women, including those from vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, to claim their rights and report violations.
The Head of the European Union Delegation to Türkiye, Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, said: “I congratulate the Union of Turkish Bar Associations and trust that its project will assist a large number of lawyers in providing effective legal aid to women and in combating violence against women in Türkiye. Eliminating violence against women and advancing women’s rights and gender equality is at the top of the EU agenda, both internally and in our partner countries.”
The President of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, Atty. R. Erinç Sağkan, emphasised the difficulties that the earthquake in Türkiye has caused for women's access to justice and stated that "legal aid is not just a matter of solidarity or an option; it is the obligation of society as a whole towards disadvantaged groups. Unfortunately, the needs in this field far exceed the existing resources. Considering the dimensions of the earthquake and the multifaceted suffering it has caused, the need for women has reached much larger proportions."
The conference also launched a grant scheme for legal aid services provided to vulnerable women in eight pilot provinces. The launch was marked by a signing ceremony during the conference. Through the grant scheme, the action will contribute to promoting women’s access to gender-sensitive and victim-oriented legal aid services, as the lawyers empowered to deliver these services have all been trained within the scope of the action. Special attention will be paid to covering cases related to women from disadvantaged groups, such as victims of violence, refugees, asylum seekers, Roma women, women with disabilities, women in rural areas and women in poverty.
The recommendations formulated during the event, if implemented, are expected to be a turning point for the development of more effective mechanisms for women’s access to justice in Türkiye.
This event was organised within the scope of the European Union and Council of Europe’s joint action on “Fostering women's access to justice in Türkiye”, implemented as part of the joint programme "Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Türkiye”.