For childcare and problems such as violence that women experience “in the family”, women are left to the devices of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet hereafter), the muftiates, Diyanet’s pre-school education, and the Family and Religious Consultation Bureaus–that is, women are directed to the mechanisms of an institution which does not take equality between man and woman as its basis, defines inequality as a natural disposition, describes divorce, which is widely used by women as a way of getting rid of violence and oppression, as “a problem to be prevented” just like abuse.

I started to discuss, think about, and research the role of Diyanet in social policy in general as well as the family-based policies that became widespread and institutionalized in this context while we were working on the campaign organized by the Women are Stronger Together group to stop the “muftiate law” that passed last year. In other words, my interest in the subject sparked during the process of looking at and opposing this law not as a singular, sui generis phenomenon but rather as a part of a systematic process, as a part of an institutional infrastructure which is established on the basis of policies of family-Diyanet dyad and which subordinates women, our lives, and equality. Later, we, the Çatlak Zemin team, prepared “AKP’s [Justice and Development Party] Report Card” in which we traced and kept the account of the government’s women policies since 2002. This Report Card was organized around various categories and I prepared the “Family” category. This work made me think that especially after 2011, although it is difficult to call it a transformation –after all, the argument that the government has always been acting in this direction has been very well substantiated–, an institutionalization at a completely different level has taken place in family-oriented policies, making the family the ultimate determinant of the social sphere.

Under the light of all the data we collected in the process of reviewing and revising the Report Card, I can say that the domain in which we fight against male violence, strive for our rights and lives –that is the domain of social policy– is now largely absent –of course, we also need to discuss the extent to which it existed earlier. Today, in the place of this absence, there is a rising “social assistance” regime which is based on rendering women in need. Well, but in need of what? Of two institutions: the first is the family and a series of relationships entangled with it; the second is the Diyanet, that is, the muftiates, a variety of institutions affiliated with them, and foundations and associations. While the family serves to delimit and locate women as “helpable people” –that is, on the basis of the question of according to which criteria will women receive aid? As a widow, as women who take care of the elderly or the children–, Diyanet and other affiliated institutions play the role of the protector of the “family” which provides services when no one else can. Because, while all other mechanisms and their budgets shrink or melt away, all resources are funneled to Diyanet. How does that work?

The first issue pertains to the budget. I can easily say that since the early 2000s, the budget of Diyanet has been increased more than those of many other ministries. In 2004, the Diyanet budget was 997 billion TL in the monetary unit of the time (997 million TL today). It increased to 3 billion 891 million TL in 2012 and to 4 billion 604 million TL in 2013 (surpassing the budget of 11 ministries, including those of the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Health![1]) The 2018 budget of Diyanet is 7 billion 774 million TL, that is, nearly 8 times what it was in 2004…

A comparison of the budgets of Diyanet, Ministry of the Interior and other public institutions.

It is also noteworthy to discuss this today at a period when the 2019 budget law proposal has been accepted in the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In the proposal, Diyanet’s share seems to have increased by 34% (by one third) to 10.5 billion TL. Budgets of some ministries were cut off within the scope of budget savings. For the ministries with increased budgets, the increase rate is 15-20% whereas for Diyanet the increase rate is almost twice. Among the ministries whose budget is lower than that of Diyanet are the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology (2 billion 544 million TL) and the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization (2 billion 573 million TL) –their sum is half of Diyanet’s budget. In addition, for example the budget of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure which received 31.3 billion TL in 2018, is planned to be reduced to 13.6 billion TL in 2019 because of budget savings. In other words, the Ministry of Transport which spent four times more than Diyanet last year, is levelled down roughly to the same level as Diyanet this year. Therefore, we need to ask where the so-called budget saving applies to and where it does not (as you can guess, there is no saving for the Presidential budget either: it increased from 845 million TL to 2 billion 818 million TL, that is, more than double.)

When I estimated the budget of the  Directorate General on the Status of Women it turned out to be to small to be included in the graphic

Of course, the budget of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies (ASPB) is considerably higher than that of the Diyanet. While it was 14 billion 732 million 738 thousand 500 TL in 2013, it was 17 billion 24 million TL in 2014 and 26.7 billion in 2018. But this information shouldn’t be misleading. What actually increased in all these years is the budget of one-off or multiple-time “social assistance” such as conditional cash transfers, maternity benefits, grandmother projects, home care for the elderly and the disabled, and childcare. There is also a serious temporariness and project-orientedness (in fact, pilot projects) here. When you look at the projects that are widely advertised yet funded by the European Union funds, you see that they are usually 1-2 year-long projects implemented in 3-5 provinces or that reach 5000-6000 people and do not continue. For instance, the grandmother project which was much talked about had finished. The EU-funded “Project for Supporting Women’s Formal Employment through Home-Based Child Care Services”, which involves the payment of caregiver allowance to working mothers who employ insured babysitters, was a project implemented in 5 provinces (between March 2015 to October 2017) and had ended, but it is remembered as if it was a permanent support. Anyways, as I said, what actually increased is the budget of these projects and social aids. The budgetary rate of women’s shelters,which is dubbed as “women’s guest house” has been more or less the same and has always been below 0.5% (not even 1%!). Besides, one can see the decline in the budget of the Directorate General on the Status of Women, which defines its aim as ensuring equality between men and women, strengthening the status of women in all walks of life, and developing policies to prevent all forms of discrimination against women. Moreover, we should not also forget that a portion of the ASPB budget is allocated to programs such as “Pre-Marriage Training Programs”, “Family Education Program” that were implemented in partnership with Diyanet.

The budgets allocated to social assistance expenditures in recent years are as follows: 86.5% of the ASPB’s 2016 budget is allocated to social assistance; this rate is 84% for 2017 and is record-high 94% for 2018. According to the statement, the total sum of social assistance which will be undertaken by all the ministries will reach 50.8 billion TL in 2018. In the same year, the budget allocated to the women’s shelters is 102 million 601 thousand TL. There is a jaw-dropping difference between them. The Directorate General on the Status of Women could only receive 11 million 585 thousand TL in 2013. This amount fell to 9 million 661 TL in 2014 and to 8 million 181 thousand TL in 2015. In other words, there is not enough budget when it comes to finding durable solutions for women’s empowerment or combating gender inequality which is also the source of violence. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that women –when they are subjected to violence or for their children’s education– can access institutions such as Family and Religious Consultation Bureaus, Turkey Diyanet Foundation branches, Hayrat Foundation, Service Foundation (Hizmet Vakfı), Ensar Foundation, and Muradiye Foundation instead of institutions which are founded on gender equality, women’s equal life, and children’s rights. Because Diyanet every year transfers cash from its budget to such foundations, associations, and organizations. In 2017 Diyanet’s cash transfer amounted to 103 million 678 thousand TL, surpassing notably the budget that ASPB allocated to the women’s shelters –87 million 63 thousand TL.

The second issue after the budget pertains to how the social assistance, which became one of the primary articles of the budgets, turned the “family” institution into a social service subcontractor. So much so that women’s poverty and needs were rendered identifiable and remediable –albeit temporarily– only within the family. Here, I don’t want to give the impression that social policy in Turkey has just become family-oriented; it has a long history. Nonetheless, the fact that the concern of “combatting violence against women”, which emerged especially with the EU Accession process, gradually evolved into “struggling with factors damaging the integrity of the family” must be telling us something. Perhaps the most significant change here is the establishment of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies in June 2011 in replacement of the Ministry of State for Women and Family. When removing “women” from the ministry’s name, Erdoğan, the then-prime minister, said, “We are a conservative democrat party. Family is important to us.”

“Family”, used in many cases as a euphemism for saying woman without naming woman, is turned into a social service institution disburdening the state; that is, women are those who are expected to provide services, but the name of these services is “home care” or “domestic care”. Moreover, this is not solely a practical extension of the discourse of “traditionally, families look after the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and children, and this is the role of women” as in other times; it has a very strong legal-institutional infrastructure. Even though this actually means for women getting paid and being part of the employment, both the wages are very low, that is, the “lowering of the costs”, and it indicates an impossibility –the impossibility of living outside of the family. And, I think, we all know what this impossibility means in struggling against violence. Let me give some examples:

The main point here is the definition of social assistance to which almost all of the budgets are transferred. For instance, in 2011, the Social Aid and Solidarity Promotion Fund decided to give regular cash assistance to widows. The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services started this In-cash Social Support Program in February 2012. Accordingly, women whose officially married husbands have died will be given 250TL cash assistance per month. The assistance will be terminated in cases that the woman marries again or starts living together with her partner without being officially married. Later this cash assistance was raised to 275 TL/month and has been listed as one of the government’s accomplishments during the last election campaign. In December 2015, the government launched a “Dowry Account” program for promoting early marriages. It is like a form of “private pension scheme”. If the account holder gets married before the age of 27, he/she can receive a government contribution of 20%. For those under the age of 18, their parents can open a “dowry account” on their behalf. There is also “Birth Assistance” starting immediately after. Accordingly, families who have children born alive on and after 15 May 2015 will receive a one-time maternity benefit of 300TL for the first child, 400TL for the second child, and 600 TL for the third and subsequent children. There is another project launched in 2017: The Grandmother Project. Accordingly, grandmothers under the age of 65 who will take care of the children of working mothers (that is, their own grandchildren) will receive 425 TL, which is 30% of the minimum wage. Although the amount is low, 105 thousand grandmothers applied to the project; although 27.000 applicants were found eligible, only 6500 women could have received the support because it was a pilot implementation. The project was finished because it was temporary anyway, and it is unclear whether it will start again.

Another similar policy is the “home care policy”. The state pays a certain monthly payment to the caretaker (women) in families that are below a certain level of poverty (such as those living in the households earning less than the minimum wage) for home care of elderly, disabled, and sick people. The average of this pension in 2018 was just under 1000TL –the minimum wage at the time was 1600TL. Categorizing this payment not as “wage” but as “social assistance”, the ministry, hence, does not employ people below the minimum wage”. According to the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services General Directorate of Services for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly data, in 2007, approximately 30.000 people with disabilities benefited from the home care services, this number increased to around 408 thousand people in 2013. That is, the number of people with disabilities who benefit from the home care services increased 13 times between 2007-2013; over 8 billion TL has been spent on this service in seven years. Therefore, today, the basic premise of social policy is not generalizing professional care, making it accessible, developing durable solutions, lessening the burden of care work for women and enabling them to participate in employment outside the house. Social policy is rather based on fixing the caregiver role to women by the state in exchange for payment less than the minimum wage.

As you can see, the criteria for women, most of whom live in poverty, to benefit from social assistance is to be a widow, a prospectus spouse, mother who has given birth, grandmother caring for grandchildren, women caring for the elderly or persons with disabilities in their families. The poverty of women who do not fall under any of these categories is largely ignored. In fact, if a woman lives together with her partner without being officially married, the aid that is barely 300TL is cut off. In other words, these women do not have any option outside the family to be able to benefit from temporary social assistance, not to mention durable solutions. Therefore, today, what constitutes the “absolute integrity of the family” policy at the state level is not only making divorces more difficult, discussing arbitration, or giving advice such as “do not destroy your family” at Family Support Centers, it has a strong economic base. That is, outside the family, it is very easy to become invisible in terms of social policy. This means not only being stuck in home as a “caregiver” but also the obligation to stay within that family despite the violence which is the case most of the time.

Well, what is the role of Diyanet in protecting “the absolute integrity of the family”? In this respect, the third point I want to emphasize is the following: mechanisms such as women’s shelters, counseling centers, violence hotlines, and daycare centers, which should be widely available and accessible for women to apply whenever they need, are gradually replaced by institutions affiliated or related to the Mufti offices. For instance, towards the end of 2018, it was stated that there were “Family and Religious Consultation Offices” affiliated to the Mufti offices in 81 provinces and nearly 400 districts while there were only 73 Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers and 144 women’s shelters in the same period. In other words, the sum total of the prevention and monitoring centers and women’s shelters are less than the number of “Family and Religious Consultation Offices” in the country. On top of that, 11 women’s associations and the women organizations/units of more than 40 municipalities were shut down in the last two years (since the state of emergency) whereas 140 Family Support Centers were opened in the last 16 years. Among those that were shut down are municipality shelters and counselling centers. That is, today there is not even two shelters for each province. There is not a Violence Prevention Center in every province. Although there are 237 municipalities with the population of over 100,000, which therefore are obliged to open a women’s shelter, only 32 municipalities have women’s shelters. Instead, there are Family Support Centers affiliated to the Ministry of Family and Social Policies and Family and Religious Consultation Offices affiliated to Diyanet the stated purpose of which is “to contribute to the happiness of family members and the protection of the family institution from a religious perspective”. The directive of these bureaus was amended in 2015; the new directive reveals the extent to which Diyanet’s domain expanded in line with its increasing budget. According to the new directive, imams are commissioned to “provide moral support” in many areas from children’s homes to student dormitories, from factories to youth centers and women’s shelters. It also states that imams will undertake “spiritual education” for family members “against social and economic crises”.

The same –actually even worse– applies to daycare centers. 60% of workplaces which are obliged to open daycare centers do not have daycare centers and are not properly monitored. The number of public daycare centers was 497 in 2008 and it fell to 56 in 2016; that is, in 8 years 441 daycare centers were closed. The reason behind the closing of public daycare centers is that they started to be described as “economic loss” at the state level. The government, with a circular issued in 2012, announced that it would not allocate resources to public institutions which want to open daycare centers. In 2013, the Ministry of Finance issued the “Notification regarding Public Social Facilities” and public spending on daycare centers was prevented. On top of that, in 2013 the Court of Accounts ruled that municipalities could not purchase children’s home and daycare center services for the children of civil servants working in municipalities, meaning that the daycare could not be defined as a “municipal need”. On the other hand, for the first time in 2015-16, community-based institutions including courses for 4-6 age group affiliated to Diyanet and daycare centers opened by related associations were listed in the Formal Education Statistics of the Ministry of National Education. In a sense, Diyanet became a recognized actor in the field of pre-school education. The number of children attending the pre-school Qur’an courses for 4-6 age group, which were opened following the annulment of the age limit of 12 in April 2012 and are allowed to teach 6 hours a day and 30 hours a week, is increasing every year. In the 2015-2016 Academic Year, this number was 55,321. In 2016, while there were only 56 public daycare centers, between 2016-2017 the number of Diyanet courses for 4-6 age groups increased from 692 to 1552. In other words, on the one hand, women are encouraged to have 3-5 children; on the other, public services are slashed. Willingly or not, for childcare and problems such as violence that women experience “in the family”, women are left to the devices of  Diyanet, the muftiates, Diyanet’s pre-school education, and the Family and Religious Consultation Bureaus –that is, women are directed to the mechanisms of an institution which does not take equality between man and woman as its basis, defines inequality as a natural disposition, describes divorce, which is widely used by women as a way of getting rid of violence and oppression, as “a problem to be prevented” just like abuse.

Finally, it is important to underline that the role played by Diyanet, which is ever-growing and determining the entire field, is not a de facto situation that has occurred only with increasing budgets and institutions spreading across the country. That is, it has a legal infrastructure consisting of a series of protocols. This legal infrastructure has been developed since 2007, but more intensively between 2011-2013, long before these days when we extensively discuss this issue which has been a primary topic in our agenda. Especially since 2012 and ever-increasingly since then, it has involved not only Diyanet but also a number of religious foundations and associations.

I will first touch upon the protocols signed directly with Diyanet, I will then try to summarize the rest. First of all, on 26 February 2007, Diyanet and the Agency for Social Services and Child Protection signed a protocol. The aim of the protocol is defined as follows: Availing of Diyanet’s effectiveness on society; to ensure that women, children, the youth, the elderly, people with disabilities, etc., who are cared for by the Agency, “be raised in accordance with Turkish customs, beliefs, and national morals, as self-confident people with full of love and respect for human, and in accordance with Kemalist thought and Atatürk’s principles and reforms”. In 2009, Diyanet signed another cooperation protocol with the Directorate General for Family and Social Research as a result of which a commission consisting of the officials of the two institutions set out to prepare a booklet called “Marriage Guide”. In 2010, a protocol was signed for the Project on Ensuring the Contribution of Religious Officials in Preventing Violence against Women and it was renewed in 2013. Later in 2011, the protocol signed in 2007 was updated and expanded in scope since the Ministry of Family and Social Policies was established. The aim of the updated protocol is described as follows: “Protecting the family and family values […], rendering the society sensitive to the problems threatening the family”. This protocol identifies migration, divorce, domestic neglect, and abuse as problems that destroy the family while listing the areas of cooperation as “to develop education, counseling, and social service models for families; to underline the characteristics of the Turkish family; to carry out activities which aim at enhancing moral, national, and religious feelings.” In 2013, the Ministry of Family and Social Services Directorate General for Family and Community Services and Diyanet’s Directorate General of Educational Services signed a cooperation protocol regarding “Family Education Program”. Accordingly, the personnel of Diyanet will be able to work as trainers in family education programs. After a couple of days, the Ministry of Family and Social Policy signed another protocol with Diyanet titled “Cooperation on Foster Family System”. In the meantime, Mehmet Görmez, the President of Diyanet, stated, “Diyanet will make a great effort in every corner of the country in order to protect the family and minimize the divorce rates”. The protocol aims at authorizing Turkey Diyanet Foundation and religious officials in the implementation of the foster family program in local areas.

It is not limited to family policies; it works similarly in the field of education. On 24 March 2016, the Ministry of National Education and Diyanet signed the “Protocol for Cooperation in Education”. Accordingly, all the written and visual materials produced by Diyanet are included in the Education Information Network. This paves the way for Diyanet’s publications for pre-school and primary school children to appear in the Education Information Network, the Ministry of National Education’s social education platform with 11 million 700 thousand users. Later, with a new protocol in 2017, the videos titled “I’m Learning Qur’an” which were normally broadcasted on Diyanet TV started to be broadcasted on the Education Information Network.

Not only does the Diyanet in general sign protocol; the Mufti offices sign countless protocols in the local areas. To give a couple of examples: in 2015, Manisa Directorate of National Education assigned imams in addition to school counselors in the “Toward Success with My Life Coach” project, that is, imams were commissioned to give high school students a “sense of respect for values, morality, and responsibility”; in 2017, the Mufti Office of Burdur and Burdur Directorate of National Education signed a protocol for “the internalization of national, moral, spiritual, humanitarian, and cultural values by primary and secondary school students and informing students about the activities carried out by the Mufti office”; a similar protocol was also signed in Muğla; the Mufti Office and Directorate of National Education of Trabzon signed a protocol for giving “Values Education” to pre-school children; in Bolu, with the protocol signed by the Mufti Office and the Directorate of National Education, it was decided that education on religion and values will be given to pre-school children and students of second and third grades which are normally exempt from the compulsory religious culture and moral knowledge classes.

In addition to Diyanet, there is an endless number of protocols signed with foundations and associations related to Diyanet, especially in 2017. These protocols frequently cite “Values Education” and we see that faith-based associations and foundations have come to play a primary role particularly in opening Children’s Homes, which replaced the Agency for Child Protection, and in placing children with foster families. For instance, in April 2012, ASPB signed a protocol regarding opening and management of children’s homes with Happy Home Happy Life Association (Mutlu Yuva Mutlu Yaşam Derneği)   –an association which organized an event during the Holy Birth Week where the President of Diyanet attended as a speaker. In 2013, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies General Directorate of Child Services signed a protocol with a faith-based foundation called Human Foundation (İnsan Vakfı) to open children’s homes for providing a shelter to orphans and integrating them into society, and to carry out all kinds of projects and social activities that will contribute to their psychosocial and physical development. Similar protocols were signed with Izmir Humanitarian Aid Foundation, affiliated to The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief  (İHH), and Association for Peaceful Family and Life (Huzurlu Aile ve Yaşam Derneği), and others. At the end of 2013, when the Ottoman Turkish course, which is mandatory in social sciences high schools, started to be offered as an elective course in all high schools, the Ministry of National Education signed a protocol with the Hayrat Foundation, which is known for its affiliation to Nur Community, for training teachers due to lack of sufficient teachers to teach Ottoman. The governor’s offices in 81 provinces were officially notified on the matter. Again in 2013, a 10-year-long protocol was signed with Muradiye Foundation known to have close ties to Naqshbandi Order to open “‘children’s home’ for children who have been victims of neglect and abuse”. In 2014, a protocol was signed with the Önder Association of Imam Hatip High Schools Alumni and Members for the psychosocial, physical, and mental development of children under state care. After the protocol signed with Service Foundation (Hizmet Vakfı) for “Values Education” in 2014, a booklet is prepared and accordingly, extra-curricular seminars are given in schools. Then the seminars were expanded to cover the school hours in 2017 and it was announced that this title was to be included in the curriculum. In 2017, the Ministry of National Education signed a series of protocols first with the Society for Spreading Religious Knowledge (İlim Yayma Cemiyeti) and, later, with Ensar Foundation for artistic, sports, social, and cultural activities and summer school and camps for students.

These are just a few examples, but what they show us in general is that in the field of social policy and education, Diyanet and religious institutions affiliated to it play a significant role that has a serious foundation. In this respect, Diyanet both plays an active role in defining and spreading what sort of an institution the family should be (with family education and marriage guides) and it renders permanent the unity and integrity of the family when the family “falls apart”, by giving advice –that is, to women in women’s shelters and to children in children’s home (as indicated by the directive of Family and Religious Consultation Bureaus). Besides, Diyanet both defines the “values” a society as a whole should have (by way of “Values Education”) and it becomes one of the primary actors in the field of education from preschool to high school as well as in the care of destitute children (with all these protocols). In this period where institutions that do not have ties with Diyanet are shrinking and other support mechanisms for women are gradually decreasing, Diyanet as an institution, which –to reiterate once again– does not take gender equality as its basis and aims to reduce divorce rates, keeps growing. Therefore, the domain within which we have been and will be struggling with male violence changes accordingly. It is obvious that in this new domain, we cannot continue this struggle only on an abstract/ideological level and with the terms such as “religion” and “reactionism” which more often serves nothing but pitting women against each other. My hope is that we will find our ways together… [2]


Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için


[1] When the budgets of Public Hospitals Administration and the Public Health Institution are added to that of the Ministry of Health, of course it exceeds this amount: the total sum of the budgets of these three institutions is 16.7 billion TL in 2013.

[2] The text I shared above is the updated version of the presentation I gave at the 21st Women’s Shelters and Counselling/Solidarity Centers Congress, which organized under the title of “Where to Find Male Violence against Women in New State Policies?”. The text is revised to be presented as part of the Friday Meetings at the Feminist Mekân (Feminist Space).



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