This post was originally posted on Huffington Post World.
How many adults do you know personally who cannot read or write? What if I opened a window to show you a world where literacy, access to education and women’s rights are more uncommon than you may think? On top of that, I could show you how NGOs are filling in the gaps to make a positive impact where the population needs it most. While media has played an essential role in bringing distant news stories right to our doorstep and allowing them to become more personal, there are still topics left unreported. In order to share this experience, I will be visiting various cities throughout Turkey with UNICEF Ambassador Dayle Haddon, to give you that insider’s look on how individuals are trying hard to make the nation a better place for women.
You see, in Turkey, culture trumps any law in place. Women and men, alike, are born with gender roles embedded into their lifestyle. Some parts of Turkey are modernizing, but the majority of the nation still lives in a male-dominated society, where women’s role in the home is clearly defined.
In many areas, young girls are being married off to husbands two to three times their age, women are being denied access to basic education, wives are subjected to abuse and mothers lack knowledge of women’s rights to pass onto their daughters. This vicious circle is openly occurring in cities throughout Turkey, but the worst part is the shockingly low number of individuals that actually are aware of what is going on.
Let me set the scene. Turkey is, by far, the largest country in Europe and it is growing, economically, at rocket speeds. At the same time, this country is failing miserably from a social standpoint. Out of 135 countries where the UNDP measured gender gap, Turkey sits flat at number 124, ranking above only Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and few others. I could list numbers all day, trying to explain to you the severity of the issue at hand, but if there’s anything I want you to walk away from this story with, it’s awareness, not a number.
Combating these social issues on the ground are numerous outstanding NGOs. These organizations are taking girls from broken homes and giving them scholarships to universities, they are supporting migrant rural women and teaching them to read and write, they are teaching 15-year-old girls skills to enable them to support their families, they are closing the gender gap, they are standing up for Turkish women and they’re smashing cultural barriers.
Let me show you the facial expression of a woman who is able to read her name for the first time. I’ll describe to you the clacking sounds of girls hand-weaving rugs to put dinner on the table. Listen to the voice of a young Syrian refugee living in Turkey describe her journey across the border. As I visit these NGOs around Turkey and report back, I ask you to use all of your senses to allow these very personal stories to become less distant and feel closer to home.
First stop Istanbul. Read about Women of Istanbul.
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