Monday, October 18, 2010

Recent Changes to Turkish Constitution Present Opportunity for Gender Equality Advancement

A majority of Turkish voters recently approved a referendum to amend the Turkish constitution. These accepted changes bring Turkey further in line with EU standards, including equality before the law. The modification regarding gender equality ensures that measures can be implemented that will increase the participation of women in the social, economic, and political spheres. Many women’s groups are now hoping that the government will actually institute such actions.  

The inclusion of women into public spaces is imperative since gender disparities remain high in Turkey. Large numbers of Turkish women are illiterate, many do not participate in the labor force, and their representation in politics is low. While illiteracy rates for women have decreased from 33.9% to 19.6% since the 1990s overall, illiteracy rates continue to be much higher for women in the southeastern part of the country. Women’s labor participation has declined from 34.3% in 1988 to 22% in 2008, in sharp contrast to other countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while 97.2% of all employers in the country are male. Political representation of women in parliament increased to 9.1% of the total seats in 2007. However, in 2009 only 0.9% of mayors (27 out of 2948) were women. Causes cited for these discrepancies include inadequate education, cultural traditions, childcare issues, limited knowledge of political processes, funding deficiencies, women’s lack of confidence, and a shortage of advancement opportunities.*

Despite these challenges, philanthropic foundations and individual philanthropists can take actions to ensure progress continues to be made regarding the inclusion of women. Fields that need to be supported include the following:
  •  research that advances knowledge regarding gender equality;
  • innovative programs that educate and encourage women;
  • opportunities for the facilitation of linkages between local, national, and international women’s organizations that can provide access to new models, best practices, and serve as support networks;
  • efforts to strengthen funding for women’s initiatives; and
  • policy reform endeavors.

There are many excellent organizations working to support women in a variety of areas in Turkey. Some of my favorites include the following:
  • KAMER Foundation; 
  • Turkish Philanthropy Funds - Gender Equality selections; and
  • Women for Women’s Human Rights - New Ways.
The approval of the referendum presents all of us with the opportunity to renew our efforts on behalf of women. While many women’s groups are calling on the government to put measures into place that will increase the participation of women, each one of us can be a part of the solution now by incorporating the principle of gender inclusion in our businesses, philanthropic efforts, and in the daily choices we make. It is my hope we will all find ways to give meaning to the passage of the gender component of the referendum by fostering positive change on behalf of women each and every day. 

* The statistics and some ideas contained in this section come from Eder, M., (2010). Turkey. In Ellen Lust, The Middle East (pp. 730-760). Washington, DC: CG Press.

Lou Anne King Jensen is a licensed master social worker recognized for independent practice and President of the Chrest Foundation, a private foundation that has been supporting social projects in Turkey since 2001. She also serves as an advisor or board member to a number of philanthropies and non-profit organizations including those related to Turkey, women, diabetes research, and college scholarships for students.    

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Creating Opportunities for Youth!

Supporters of  Turkish Philanthropy Funds partners, Toplum Gonulluleri Vakfi- TOG (Community Volunteers Foundation of Turkey) and Sabanci University - SU, will be participating in the 32nd Intercontinental Eurasia Marathon this Sunday, October 17th in Istanbul. Both TOG and SU teams are running for a notable cause: to create opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures.

One of the founders and board member of TOG, Ibrahim Betil, will be running in support of their "Valuing Young People" project while  34 Sabanci University faculty, staff, students and supporters will be running to raise funds for their Scholarship Fund.

To support their efforts through TPF please visit their pages at TPF website. Any contributions you make to these organizations  till October 20th will be relayed directly to the mentioned projects.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

“Voices Unveiled: Turkish Women Who Dare”

Turkish Philanthropy Funds along with The American Turkish Society presents “Voices Unveiled: Turkish Women Who Dare” tonight at NYIT Auditorium on Broadway.  

Date: October 6, 2010
Time: 6:00 PM-8:30 PM 
Location: NYIT Auditorium on Broadway
1871 Broadway (Between 61st and 62nd Streets)

Set in Turkey, Voices Unveiled explores the clash of the East and the West through the lives of three Turkish women – an activist, an artist and a dancer – who struggle to find their own voices in a traditional world. Turkish Women Who Dare is not just the story of three brave Turkish women.  It highlights the obstacles and challenges women in Turkey face -- obstacles and challenges that prevent them from reaching their potential -- obstacles and challenges that must be broken down -- that we must break down. These individuals’ struggles for personal empowerment reflect the challenges faced by women worldwide. Through their stories, the film examines such timely issues as societal change and the intersections between secularism, traditional values, and gender equality. 

Women's issues is at the heart of one of the causes TPF addresses. That's why tonight's screening is significant. The goal tonight is not only to raise awareness but also invite you to take action so we can bring women's tenacity, intelligence and creativity to the forefront and encourage them to make profound contributions to our society. Learn more on how you can take action through TPF.

This event is free and open to the public. However, space is limited and RSVP is required. RSVP for tonight's screening here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Making of the Documentary "Voices Unveiled: Turkish Women Who Dare”

Posted by Binnur Karaevli

Growing up in a progressive family in Istanbul, I was provided with a great education and encouraged to pursue a career by my family.  However, I still felt society’s pressures in how I should behave and act as a woman.  “What would the neighbors think?” is a common worry for a lot of Turkish women no matter how liberated their families might be.  For the privileged, this subtle oppression might be irritating but a larger segment of women’s lives are dictated by the notion of the woman’s purity of reputation and honor.  In many less developed parts of Turkey, “honor” means a woman’s obedience.  “Honor killings,” the practice of murdering women at the hands of their family for transgressions such as extra-marital sex, are still practiced in the impoverished provinces.

As I set out to make the documentary, “Voices Unveiled,” my goal was to discover Turkish women who defied restrictions in the pursuit of their own dreams and thereby convey their stories.  During the filming, I met women from all walks of life but decided to concentrate on the stories of an artist, an activist and a dancer representing a cross section. Belkis (60s), Nur (50s) and Banu (20s), reflected different aspects of my personality. I felt a strong connection to Belkis’ art because her art is rooted in the traditional form of kilim, (Turkish Tapestry) and yet she creates abstract, minimalist and forceful designs that break out of the box and transcend the form. I immediately responded to Nur’s compassionate and diligent efforts on behalf of the less privileged women.  Many taboos concerning “professional dance” still exists in Turkey.  Banu, a champion ballroom dancer, had to fight against her family that did not accept her desire to dance publicly.  She had to continually walk the line between rebelling and reassuring, pressing on while demonstrating that her dancing is a legitimate pursuit. 

As I explored the main problems Turkish women face, I realized that these concerns are not unique to Turkey. Gender inequality, and lack of education, economic freedom, and sexual and bodily rights afflict many women in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. In the film, Nur, the activist says, "Democracy is impossible without women being empowered." My goal with "Voices Unveiled" is to communicate to the audience the link between democracy and gender rights in the world.

Binnur Karaevli was born and raised in Istanbul and earned her BFA in Drama from Carnegie-Mellon University and her MFA in Film Production from University of Southern California.  Her films received top prizes from numerous film festivals around the world. She is currently working on a narrative feature film about the Ottoman Harem.  She splits her time between Istanbul and Los Angeles. For more information on the documentary, please visit Binnur Karaevli can be reached by emailing

TPF along with the American Turkish Society will be holding a screening of "Voices Unveiled: Turkish Women Who Dare" on Wednesday, October 6th. RSVP online.

Please also join Binnur Karaevli and @tphilanthropy for a tweetchat on women's sexual and bodily rights on October 5th at 2PM EST/9PM IST by using the hashtag #genderequality.  

Go to TPF's website.