Where is the Place of Woman in Women-Oriented Services? An example of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality

Feyza Akınerdem

There are a few striking images when you just enter the web page of Istanbul Metropolian Municipality (İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi, İBB) Women Coordination Center . On the right corner, there is a mother woman in the background of this slogan, “We support our women in every situation.” On the left side, on the orange background, there is the number of the “families” who have applied to the institution, have phoned the call centers, and have been aided. The statistical data is quite impressive: hundreds of applications and a considerable number of families being aided. What does it tell us about the place of woman concerning the services of municipal administrations in Istanbul that the concepts of woman, family, mother, and aid are used side by side like this and that they are the subject matters of statistical data? In order to answer this question, it would of course be useful to examine the women-oriented services closely.
 We can summarize the discourse of the municipality in its social services and specifically in its women-oriented services like “giving a caring and helping hand” . It can be observed that social assistance activities constitute the backbone of the social service packet of İBB since the end of ‘90s. The risk groups defined by World Health Organization; the aged, women, children, and the handicapped have also led the municipality to categorize its social services. Some services are: rehabilitation centers for children in the streets, houses for the aged and the homeless, free health care and equipment for the handicapped, health care in the districts for families who do not have any social insurance. For women: both health care in women’s health centers located in the districts and social assistance to women and to their families through the medium of themselves in Women Coordination Center. İBB always makes these services visible by sharing various related data with Istanbul people. How many women, families, handicapped people, houses have utilized from these services? We frequently see all this information throughout Istanbul on cloth posters or bills.

There are a few points this picture reveals. As I already mentioned, statistical data is very significant for these services to be defined and presented. From this perspective, it is very important how many hundreds or thousands of women have been serviced, in how many districts women’s health centers are opened; in short, the numerical value. I do not think that the significance given to talking with numbers is something about administration, so to say, about a practice of modern state – counting, calculating, estimating or assigning number – as a way of establishing institutional hegemony. However, I think it can rather be understood with such a perspective that the municipalities function both like public and private sectors and like political party centers. The numbers operate for the municipality as a performance of public relations, as a means of gaining vote. In this respect, women who have “received service” from the municipality are not only subjects to be controlled by being numbered but they also have numeraical value. Such numbers, apart from many meanings they carry, just constitute statistical data in order to reach the target number: how many mammographies or bone measurement women had in women’s health centers; how many women received social service, etc.

Another point to emphasize here is that we can question the distinction between service-giver and service-receiver, willingly used by the liberal discourse lately in the discussions concerning whom the citizen is in Turkey. Because it could be seen in this picture that the poor women are adressed by the municipal administration as ‘aid-receiver’ rather than ‘service-receiver’. In other words, liberal perspective accepts service-receivers as a distinct group of individuals from the service-giver breaucrat class, receiving the services in return for the taxes they equally pay within themselves. This perspective ignores the fact that service-receiving is a privilage and a considerable number of people who are not within the reach of services apply both to municipal administrations and to other charity organizations as ‘aid-recievers’.

Here we come across with other questions: Why are there poor women on the focus of the women-oriented services of the municipality? Or why do women constitute a very considerable number of ‘aid-receivers’ which is the target of social services of the municipality? What does the municipality want to do: to examine women’s getting poor more closely and to find a solution to it? Or do they perceive women as intermediary actors in helping to define and determine poverty and in representing poverty in the name of the family?

Looking both at the statistical data and at the way of working of Women Coordination Center, we can clearly see that it is aimed women would most of the time stay within the family and would be the aid-receiver of the family. The way of working of the Center could be summarized as such: they visit houses throughout the city in accordence with the applications from women; they determine what they lack in the houses (furniture, clothing, needs concerning children, etc.) and supply them. What is striking here is that the traces of poverty are pursued within the household as the place of the family. Determining poverty within the household, in my opinion, is a significant strategy: one one hand, the services are defined as women-oriented; on the other hand, they are limited within the borders of family-oriented aid. Thus, the reason why this service is named as women-oriented seems to emphasize the intermediary role of women through reaching the family, the place of the family, and the poverty practiced within family. Moreover, that the statistical data is kept as family data (like how many families applied, how many have received aid, etc) shows the fact that women are expected by municipal administrations to be the representatives of poverty, forming the link between the family and the institution. Maybe we can think of the problem of the feminized poverty with such perspective: poverty is defined within womanhood, and womanhood within family.

So long as the woman is perceived as the demander and the aid-receiver in women-oriented work of the municipality; is it possible to make these visible: what kind of problems does poverty cause in women’s lives and owing to what kind of problems do women suffer? Under these circumstances, how can women make their voices heard on the local level; for instance, a woman having no family, or another woman herself having problems with her husband, her children, her parents owing to poverty? To what extent the household-oriented aid can bring solution to women who are exposed to violence, who are hindered in reaching the material resources of the family or are exploited to bring home money.

I think that municipal administrations which work on women-oriented services associating woman with poverty on the local level should certainly look into these questions, as well. On this point, I must state that it is relieving to know that the work of Women Coordination Center is not limited to house visits or to women having families. Altough municipalities under Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) are very reluctant in founding new women’s shelters, pecuniarily supporting women after the shelter life is considered within the activities of İBB Women Coordination Center. In this, with no doubt, there is the contribution of Women Coordination Center workers, of the connection between women’s organizations, and of women’s solidarity.

The municipality is determining the body with visualizing technologies, that is, cutting, calculating, estimating; by locking women up within family when the household poverty is considered and by locking the problems related to womanhood up within health issues. Instead of this, I think, the municipality should adopt a way of service in which women could be the agents of their own demands. Consequently, it could support women’s growing stronger both inside and outside of the district, and both inside and outside of the family; it would really be supporting women then.



My knowledge and observation on the topic depends on my work experience in various departments of İBB between 2002-2006.

Have a look at the first principle of institutional missions of Directorate of Social Services . The translation of the principle is like following: “To function as the ‘caring’ and ‘helping’ hand of İBB for poor people” (T.N.).

The emphasis in these two sentences belongs to me in order to state them more correctly. (T.N.).


From Amargi- Issue 11

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