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One of the deadliest earthquakes of the decade in Türkiye and in Syria and its impact on women and girls

Woman sitting on the rubble while emergency rescue teams search for victims or survivors in Nurdagi town in southern Türkiye. Source: © The Canadian Press/AP, Khalil Hamra, 2023.

One of the deadliest earthquakes of the decade in Türkiye and in Syria and its impact on women and girls


Written by Idil Igdir (Women’s Rights Team)

Global HUman Rights Defence


On February 6th, 2023, two devastating earthquakes of magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 struck southern Türkiye and northwestern Syria, leaving tens of thousands of people under rubble (AFAD, 2023). On the 14th day of the earthquake, the death toll exceeded 40,000 in Türkiye and 5,000 in Syria (CNBC, 2023). The United Nations (UN) estimates that about 9 million people in Syria have been affected by the earthquake, while the figure in Türkiye stands at around 13.5 million (OCHA, 2023). Yet this earthquake, which has gone down in history as one of the most severe and catastrophic natural disasters of the last 100 years, did not come out of the blue or as a shock, as many experts had long stressed the need to take precautionary and protective measures and thereby  make the necessary adjustments in the affected regions.


So when the earthquake hit the country and the battle against the time began, Türkiye declared a level 4 alarm, which is an international call for help (Doctors Without Borders, 2023).  As a result, the international community -about 80 different countries- have been sending their professional rescue teams and other resources and equipment to the affected areas since day one. From neighbouring countries to those across oceans and continents, the world became one on February 6th, 2023 for Türkiye and Syria. Greece and Japan, for instance, were among the first countries to come to Türkiye’s aid with their professional rescue teams and equipment, while Azerbaijan, with its 725 professional rescuers on the ground, became the country that sent the most people to help (Aktan, 2023). On the other hand, France stepped in to build a 100-square-metre land-based hospital in Adiyaman, one of the worst-hit cities in southern Türkiye (Sondakika, 2023).


In addition, assistance came in many forms, ranging from financial aid through numerous donations, to aid packages sent from all over the world and from every corner of Türkiye. New Zealand, for example, donated 632 thousand USD to the Turkish Red Crescent and 316 thousand dollars to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (Aktan, 2023). AHBAP, a trusted non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Türkiye, has so far raised one million Turkish Liras, half of which has been spent on shelter, food, rescue vehicles, clothing, hygiene, animals and other urgent needs of earthquake victims (Cumhuriyet, 2023). Furthermore, Metallica, among the well-known names, announced a donation of 125 thousand dollars to three different aid organisations to help the victims in both countries (Kaufman, 2023). These are just some of the many examples of solidarity shown by the world.


However, while the people of both countries have welcomed the aid and solidarity, the disastrous and destructive effects of the earthquake are far from being healed or alleviated. It is noteworthy that February is one of the coldest times of the year in the two affected regions and cities, so the uncoordinated, sluggish and inadequate aid endangered people’s lives to the same extent as the earthquake. Although it is encouraging that many people and animals have been rescued alive from the rubble, what is more important is the extent to which victims will be protected and assisted after the earthquake. However, reality has shown us that once again, governments are failing their people when they need them the most. For example, in some cities in Türkiye, such as Hatay/Antakya and Adıyaman, it has been reported that many people died not because of the earthquake but because of the extreme cold, due to a long time it took to reach them.


Women and girls in the earthquake of Türkiye and Syria 

According to Disaster Philanthropy, women and girls are exposed to risks in natural disasters differently than men and boys (Center for Disaster Philanthropy, n.d.). That is, violence against women and girls has been found to be a post-disaster factor in all countries. From sexual harassment to physical abuse or human trafficking, in the midst of suffering and chaos, women and girls are not only trying to save their lives but also to protect themselves from potential threats. The prevalence of violence and harassment is not the only critical problem. Lack of hygiene products, such as menstrual pads and tampons, is also a major health concern for many women and girls in the aftermath of natural disasters. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) continues to support governments and international organisations to tackle this persistent problem for women and girls (OKAI, 2023).


In Türkiye and Syria, the safety and health situation for women and girls is becoming increasingly alarming as the turmoil continues in the affected areas. ActionAid, an NGO, has revealed that on the ground, no provision has been made so far to meet the needs of women and girls who are menstruating, pregnant, breastfeeding and in need of special assistance. The number of women who gave birth in the aftermath of the earthquake is also not at a level that can be ignored. According to DW’s report, as of February 10th, there are 214,315 pregnant women and 23,814 women expecting to give birth within a month in Türkiye (Karakas, 2023). This number is reported by the United Nations Population Fund to be 133,000 in Syria. A 22-year-old Hatice in Sanliurfa, in Türkiye, had to give birth prematurely due to stressful circumstances (Reliefweb, 2023). Fortunately, thanks to the assistance and maternal kit provided by the United Nations Population Fund, she and her baby were saved. On the other hand, in Adiyaman, Dilek Basalan, a volunteer doctor, said that the needs of women in this chaos have been neglected and that there is a great lack of medicine that requires urgent intervention (Karakas, 2023).


Furthermore, another current alarming situation in the affected areas is periodic poverty. According to the United Nations Population Fund, periodic poverty means a lack of access to sanitary products, a safe and hygienic place to use them, and the right to manage one’s period without shame or stigma (Abueish, 2023). Access to menstrual products is therefore a right and a vital necessity for women and girls. However, the perspective of the society that was affected by the earthquake must also be taken into account in order to ensure that the products and any other means are effectively accessible to women and girls. In other words, it has been reported that many women and girls feel uncomfortable taking hygiene products from aid packages in front of people in Türkiye (Kazim, 2023). The stigma and taboo culture around menstruation is a widespread problem throughout the world, but especially in less developed and underdeveloped countries like Türkiye and Syria. Thus, the controversy opens up as to whether feminine hygiene products should not be sent openly or explicitly for the benefit of women and girls. Yet, looking at the comments and criticisms, ironically, it is men who have been most offended by the word menstrual pad or tampon. Furthermore, as the lack of periodic poverty constitutes a violation of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which refers to the attainment of the highest attainable standard of health, the stance taken by Türkiye and Syria places them in violation of international human rights law and requires them to take immediate action.





What do women and girls need in the aftermath of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria? 

As mentioned earlier, periodic products, maternal kits, medicines, adequate care during pregnancy and sufficient nutrients for breastfeeding are the crucial and most urgent issues to be addressed in both regions. 


Sabine Abi Aad, communications officer for the charity ActionAid Arab Region, said that women must be at the centre of emergency responses. Because a woman understands what a woman needs, she can advocate for her needs. We need to give more money to women-led organisations, and we need more women aid workers on the ground” (Canavan, 2023). 


In addition, psychological assistance and support is just as crucial and important as physical assistance. Also, Women and children are among the most vulnerable groups in disasters, as it has been also proven that they are 14 times more likely to die than men in such situations (Uplifers, 2023). It can also not be denied that Trauma can manifest itself in different ways for different people. For instance, Children are more likely to experience the trauma internally, which means that they may find it harder to open up and express their feelings. Thus, the important thing here is to integrate victims into society and make sure they do not feel left behind, as quickly as possible, while taking precautions not to expose them to overwhelming treatments. For example, even though the intentions may be good, many people on social media post videos and photos of victims or their loved ones during or after the earthquake in such a way that we can recognise their faces. However, one must take into account the fact that these posts can have a very negative and traumatic impact, especially on children. 


Also, according to Uplifers, separate mobile toilets and hygiene facilities for men and women, which are critical for preventing disease outbreaks and providing menstrual care, should be established immediately. It is indeed important that all latrines can be locked from the inside for the safety and comfort of women and girls. Aid distribution points, on the other hand, especially for women’s essential needs, should be within easy and convenient reach, not far away and in the dark. And last but not least, the number of women volunteers should be increased so that women and girls can communicate and discuss their specific needs.





Natural disasters, or in this case earthquakes, can be deadly and have a devastating impact on people’s lives. However, it should not be forgotten that the burden of these heavy consequences cannot be placed solely on natural disasters, but should also be placed on the people who insisted on not taking precautions and thereby exposed thousands of people to danger, by not following life-saving controls and procedures.


So, as millions of hearts beat together, at the same time, every minute, day after day, for the people who have been affected and remain under the rubble in Türkiye and Syria, one must not overlook or forget the consequences of this earthquake for the victims. 




Abueish, T. (2023, February 16). Syria, Turkey earthquake: Menstruation doesn’t stop in times of crisis, NGOs warn. AlarabiyaNews. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from


Aktan, S. (2023, February 13). Türkiye’de deprem: Hangi ülkeler yardım ediyor?. Euronews.  Retrieved February 20, 2023 from


Canavan, C. (2023, February 9). Women and girls will be at the sharpest end of Turkey and Syria’s earthquake impact. WomensHealth. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from


Center for Disaster Philanthropy. (n.d.).  Women and Girls in Disasters. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from 


Cumhuriyet. (2023, February 19). Haluk Levent: Ahbap topladığı yardımlardan 504 milyon TL harcama yaptı. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from


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Karakas, B. (2023, February 10). Depremden etkilenen kadınlar ne durumda?. DW. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from 


Kazim, A. (2023, February 14). Yardım Duyurularında “Açık Açık Ped” Yazılmasını Yanlış Bulan Kişilere Gelen Tepkiler. Onedio. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from 


Kaufman, G. (2023, February 15). Metallica Foundation Donates $250K for Turkey/Syria Earthquake Relief Efforts. Billboard. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from 


OCHA. (2023, February 14). Nearly 9 million people in Syria affected by Türkiye earthquake, UN launches $400 million funding appeal. February 20, 2023 from


Okai, A. (2022, March 24). Women are hit hardest in disasters, so why are responses too often gender-blind?. UNDP. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from


Sondakika. (2023, February 19). Fransa’nın Adıyaman’da kurduğu sahra hastanesi faaliyetlerine devam ediyor. Retrieved February 20, 2023 from 


Uplifers. (2023, February 13). Afterlerde kadinlar ve kiz cocuklari odakli yardim neden ve nasil olmali?.  Retrieved February 20, 2023 from

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