Turkish Philanthropy Funds’ COO, Senay Ataselim Yilmaz, spoke at the New York Turkish Film Festival’s screening of the film “Girls of Hope”. Read the full text of the speech below.
Thank you, Selen. I am delighted to be seating in this panel. Thanks to American Turkish Society and Moon and Stars Project for including Girls of Hope in this year’s Turkish Film Festival. Congratulations to Aysegul for a wonderful job done by telling the stories of these girls. It is an area that we need to discuss constantly.
When Turkish Philanthropy Funds screened the documentary back in October, the feedback we got from the crowd showed us that this documentary really gets into the crocs of the issue: the social norms. We have social norms in Turkey that limit and hinder girls and women. Yet, when girls and women are given the opportunity to speak up and be heard, they flourish and eventually, as every report written on the issue notes, everyone benefits.
Before I answer your question, let me briefly tell you about my organization. Turkish Philanthropy Funds is a diaspora organization connecting causes in Turkey with donors in the US. We offer our services in 3 ways:
– We provide individualized philanthropic services through component funds such as Donor Advised Funds
– We provide a platform for NGOs in Turkey to fundraise from the US. We currently have 38 partners from Turkey
– We educate our donors and the public on the social needs and organizations addressing those in Turkey.
Gender equality and girls and women empowerment is one of the areas we work in. I’d like to focus on three messages to answer your question, Selen: 1. Why girls’ education and women empowerment matters? 2. What is the scale of the challenge? & 3. Last but not least what we can do about it?
So, why does it matter?
As we have seen in the documentary, these girls have no say on their lives or in their communities. Globally, 188 countries signed the 1979 Convention that outlaws discrimination. 75 countries including Turkey have passed laws that prohibit discrimination. A strong legislative response is an important first step, yet it’s not enough. In Turkey, all laws and regulations are in place, yet, there still is a huge gap in gender equality. Turkey ranks 127th out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report. The legislation, however well intentioned is not enough to change the mentalities in an abidingly patriarchal nation such as Turkey. If we talk about the heart of challenges for women’s empowerment in Turkey, norms and traditions actively constrain opportunities for girls and women. Until norms evolve to allow greater agency for them, cycles of poverty will not be broken.
What is the scale of the challenge?
In terms of gender equality, Turkey is a contradictory country. Women make up approximately 26 percent of the top executives. Twelve percent of Turkish CEOs are women in comparison to four percent of Fortune 1000 companies in the United States. Yet, on the other side, 10% of women are illiterate, while only less than 2% of man are illiterate. 70 % of women don’t have any primary school education. Only 14% are at least high school graduates.
– Despite the fact that primary education (which is 8 years) is compulsory, school dropouts is a significant issue. 56% of females drop out of high school and is concentrated in the 5th and 6th grades.
– If given opportunity, women do well in college. 43% all university students are women. 70% of female university graduates are employed. This rate is only 22% for women with little education.
The female employment is at mere 26% nationwide. We all know that higher education attainment is associated with higher levels of female labor force participation, and investment in education of girls promotes gender equality in earnings and labor market opportunities. But, Turkey contradicts this. While the gender gap in education narrows, female participation in the workforce hasn’t increased.
It is obvious that education gives girls an opportunity to be heard. However, existing ideas on traditional gender roles are important obstacles in girls education: patriarchal family structures and traditional norms and values about women’s roles keep girls away from school. There are “0” child brides in Turkey with a high school diploma. Girls are 2x more likely to marry early if they don’t go to school. And, of course poverty plays a significant role in family’s decision in sending their children to school. If they have to make a choice they prefer the education of boys, while the girls have to stay at home to support their mothers with household duties. Even though school attendance is compulsory, it is difficult to enforce, since monitoring is hindered by the fact that not all children are registered.
What can we do?
These challenges require change in attitudes by all of us about our behavior and actions. The good news is social norms can change. We see that the gender gap in education globally including in Turkey is rapidly closing. That shows a change in behaviors. Yet, change in social norms takes time, it’s a slow process. Turkey has its own laws in place but they’re not reaching the norms yet so they’re not fully implemented.
So, it’s also very important to acknowledge that you cannot change norms if you’re only talking to women and girls about changing the norms that restrict their voices. You have to broaden that conversation. As we see in the documentary, Cagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi, has implemented this approach to its scholarship program. They have not only been giving scholarships (which is only about $400/year for high school students and $1,000/year for university students), but also through their local grassroots organizations they do a lot of advocacy on behalf of girls to include families into the conversation.
As Turkish Philanthropy Funds, our approach to the issue is to go beyond empowering women but decrease the gender gap in Turkey, which means increasing the status of women in society. Accordingly, we approach the issue of girls education from multiple aspects. Supporting girls education programs such as Cagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi scholarship program is one. We have also been supporting projects that enhance skills while educating them. Sometimes girls do not have the opportunity to go to formal schooling so we look into options that can in a way give them an opportunity to formally get involved in the formal economy. One of these projects is in Van. It is kilim weaving workshops run by our partner, Hisar Anadolu Destek Dernegi. Girls from families of 10-15 and who are the sole breadwinner in their families, learn how to weave kilim at these workshops. Van is a city in the Eastern country which received a lot of migration from the Southern Eastern Turkey so the unemployment rate is very high. These girls as the sole breadwinner of their families are given opportunities with these workshops.
They also get the opportunity to continue their education at these workshops or even learn how to read and write. 2 of these girls won the university exams and have started college last year. So, this project is really making a difference in these girls lives. These workshops create a different avenue to empower girls who for whatever reason were not sent to formal schooling. These workshops also deal with bias against women in these communities. With small incremental changes these projects are changing social norms in these communities while educating and empowering these girls. And giving them a voice.
We, at Turkish Philanthropy Funds, are very pleased to be able to provide a platform from the US to give these girls an opportunity.