On February 6, 2023, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit near the border of Turkey and Syria, just 20 miles from the city of Gaziantep in southern Turkey. This disaster was particularly devastating for people living in northwest Turkey who are already facing multiple crises, having fled conflict in Syria. Now, this new disaster has compounded their situation because, again, most families have lost everything.
Within hours of the earthquake, we launched our emergency response in partnership with Violet, an organization specializing in protection. Together, we immediately provided food, warm clothes, and temporary shelter to survivors and supported them with rescue efforts. We also provided first aid to those injured and transported more severe cases to a nearby hospital for urgent medical attention.
In times of crisis, women and girls are the most vulnerable because existing gender inequalities are compounded in a way that often prevents them from accessing life-saving services and being part of decision-making that affects their lives. That’s why safe spaces are also a critical part of our response. It is here that women and girls can access mental health services to talk about their fears and concerns and receive emotional support. And it is in these safe spaces that they can also learn how to protect themselves from gender-based violence and exploitation.
Sujoud is one of the group therapy session leaders for women at one of the ActionAid-sponsored safe spaces. She shares how difficult the moments were after the earthquake for women and why safe spaces are so important:
“The safe space is very important after a disaster. Women and girls come here and talk openly about topics such as: ‘how [do we support] our children at the time of the earthquake? How do I [process the trauma] of what happened to me? How do I [reassure] my children not to fear [another] earthquake? How do I pass through this crisis?’
“We met a woman saying: ‘I am in the ninth month, I had prepared the baby supplies, but now the house is destroyed, and I don’t have baby supplies now for the child, nor do I have anything [else] and I am about to give birth.’ Pregnant mothers have been greatly affected.”
The need for safe spaces increases significantly during difficult periods, and this disaster was no exception. Amid chaos and uncertainty, safe spaces serve as a beacon of hope, a sanctuary where people can gather and find solace. In these safe spaces, women are given the resources and support they need to recover from the impacts of a disaster and build resilience.
Thanks to the outpouring of support from donors and supporters, our local teams were able to mobilize and support thousands of people in urgent need as soon as the disaster struck. We will continue to support and provide safe spaces for communities affected by the earthquakes as they recover and rebuild their lives.