Turkey’s first women’s shelter

// 30 June 2008

Muslimah Media Watch points us to a really interesting feature on Turkish Daily News, about the first women’s shelter in Turkey. When was it established? The late 17th century.

The exact location of the world’s first women’s shelter is unknown, but historic data suggest that one was founded in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul in the late 17th century and remained in service until the mid-19th century. Ottoman women escaping from violence from their fathers or husbands took shelter in the Hatunlar or Hatuniye convents, also known as the Karılar dervish convent, where they learned various art forms and survived independent of men. About 100 women aged between 16 and 80 lived in the Hatuniye shelter.

I’ve got to admit that I was guilty of thinking women’s shelters were a 20th century, western European invention. The more I learn, the worse educated I feel (although apparently I’m not the only one under this misconception).

“I am not an advocate of women rights,” said Sedes, but she was impressed by the existence of such an organization centuries ago. “There is a misperception that everything starts in the West. But we see that the Ottomans also had similar institutions. The difference between the West and us is that we do not know how to claim our historical heritage,” she said.

Comments From You

zohra // Posted 30 June 2008 at 11:17 pm

So maybe the title of this post should be ‘world’s first women’s shelter – was in Turkey’, ’cause otherwise it sounds like the post is about Turkey’s first women’s shelter. If you see what I mean.

I’m sad that there was a need in the 17th century too.

Jess McCabe // Posted 30 June 2008 at 11:25 pm

Yeah, except I have no idea if that really was the first women’s shelter… ! The story only says it was the first in Turkey, so perhaps there were others, too?

Molly // Posted 1 July 2008 at 12:43 am

““I am not an advocate of women rights,” said Sedes, but she [etc]”

How a woman can say that—I mean, I know this is my cultural privilege speaking, but I just cannot imagine saying that I am “not an advocate” of women’s rights.

I suppose we (in the States) have Log Cabin Republicans and Jews for Jesus, but still, it just blows my mind.

Rumbold // Posted 2 July 2008 at 11:47 am

In Catholic Europe women tended to shelter in nunneries, as many of them were off limits to men. However, some women were never completly safe, as if the people pursuing her had sufficent troops, they could seize her by force. Unless the nunnery was patronised by someone very important, which tended to put would-be attackers off. Nunneries were also used to imprison women who had got pregnant and/or had an affair, so that the family concerned wouldn’t be shamed by having them in the public eye.

Tom // Posted 20 July 2008 at 4:21 pm


I read the title and thought that only now Turkey had gotten round to building a womens shelter. I am slightly impressed that the late 1600’s Ottaman caliphate allowed this, this being the time that the Ottomans went through a serious religious revival (similar to the Southern baptists in the US in the mid 90’s). You don’t normally associate 17th century Islamic fundementalism with the promotion of freedom for women from abusive relationships.

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