Turkish NGO wins Finland's gender equality prize

Representatives from We Will Stop Femicide accepted the 300,000-euro prize in Tampere on Monday.

We Will Stop Femicide founders Fidan Ataselim (Left) and Gülsüm Önal accepted the prize in Finland on Monday Image: Antti Eintola / Yle

We Will Stop Femicide, a Turkish NGO dedicated to tackling violence against women, was awarded Finland's International Gender Equality Prize 2021 on Monday.

The award (siirryt toiseen palveluun), which was first established by the Finnish government in 2017, is given to a person or organisation that has "advanced gender equality in a globally significant way." This year's prize was worth 300,000 euros.

Gülsüm Önal and Fidan Ataselim, founders of the We Will Stop Femicide platform, accepted the award from Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Tampere on Monday. This was the third time the Finnish government handed out the prize.

"I'm very happy to receive the award on behalf of women who struggle for their lives," Önal, who is also the president of the organisation, said at the ceremony.

Önal said it was "empowering" that women's struggles in Turkey had been acknowledged by the international community. She added that it was especially an honour to be felicitated by a country like Finland, which is known for promoting gender equality and women's rights.

Önal also stressed on the crucial role of international support in empowering women across the world who are struggling against inequality.

We Will Stop Femicide (siirryt toiseen palveluun) seeks to combat violence against women in Turkey, and offers support and aid, including legal assistance, to women in the country.

Prize money to fund NGO's activities

The Finnish Government awarded the prize on the basis of a presentation by an international jury. The jury included Finnish MPs Eva Biaudet and Bella Forsgrén, former Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, Dean Peacock, director of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's initiative to confront militarised masculinities, and Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University.

"This prize is one way of showing our strong support to brave human rights defenders, endeavouring to make women’s rights a reality and fighting violence against women," Biaudet, who is chair of the jury, said in a press release.

According to Önal, the 300,000 euros We Will Stop Femicide received will directly go towards funding the platform's activities, which include offering legal aid and support for families of murder victims, pushing for changes in legislation and training women about their rights.

The group says they will also use the money to expand their operations in cities across Turkey.

According to Biaudet, the jury wanted to draw attention to the dramatic increase in violence against women across the world during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Turkey's deteriorating situation

The jury also selected the We Will Stop Femicide platform as a means of highlighting the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention.

Turkey chose to withdraw from the convention, which uses a legal framework to protect women from violence, earlier this year in July. The move sparked protests across the country.

Turkey has witnessed a steady rise in gender-based violence since We Will Stop Femicide was founded in 2010. According to Ataselim, secretary general of the organisation, 2011 proved to be the only exception, as that was the year the Istanbul Agreement was signed.

The Covid-19 crisis has apparently made matters worse. "It has been difficult for women to get help during the pandemic. While there has been talk of helplines and support organisations, these have been overwhelmed with other pandemic-related issues," Ataselim revealed.

"Women have had to decide between facing the threat of the virus or seeking help," she added.