Wednesday, October 26, 2011

View from the UN on the Future for Women - Part 2

By Ayca Ariyoruk

(Editor's Note: This post has been cross-posted at )

In our previous issue, we carried the first part of an article based on an interview with Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and now head of UN Women. In Part 2, Bachelet talks to Turkish Philanthropy Funds about women, leadership, the “mommy careers” and why women’s participation in politics is good for the country.

What drives a woman to power?
Michelle Bachelet was the daughter of an air force general loyal to the Chilean President Salvador Allende, the world’s first democratically elected Marxist president. When the socialist Ricardo Lagos was elected president in 2000, Bachelet was first named Minister of Health and in 2002 the Minister of Defense. In that role, she was also the head of the military, an area which overwhelmingly remains in the male domain. What drove her to the position, we asked. “Our democracy was broken…There was a lack of a bridge between the military and the politicians” she explains, and for that she needed power. “There are two sources of power, one is the power from position, the other power from knowledge” she says. That’s why she studied military strategy at Chile's National Academy of Strategy and Policy and at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington.

Were there any occasions where she felt she was at a disadvantage because she was a woman? “There are always challenges when you start something new, and of course, people thought I might have a hidden agenda… That’s why you work openly and select a good team.”

Do women choose “soft power” issues such as development and social needs over the “hard-power” matters such as national security and defense policy? She protests. “There is nothing soft about social issues… Social protection, housing, education, these are important questions demanding serious economic and social decisions…true, women find these issues closer to heart…” Also true, she adds, “there are structural barriers against women’s participation in security [areas].”

An unorthodox politician at the national stage

When Bachelet was elected as Chile’s president in January of 2006, she promised “citizen democracy” based on greater participation and gender equality. Half of her cabinet members were women. How did she ensure she did not appoint a woman over a qualified man in her selection? “I can easily reverse the question” she quickly responds. The governments and cabinets around the world have more men than women. “How do they ensure they are not appointing a man over a qualified woman?” Both men and women have to be qualified, that’s why there are such things as “ selection criteria.” The bottom line is “equal representation will give you comprehensive policies that better represent the realities of your country.”

She believes quotas work. Of the 28 countries that reach or exceed UN’s 30 percent goal for women representation in elected legislation, at least 23 have adopted the so called positive discrimination. Turkey is one of the countries that has not. At 14 percent, women’s political participation in Turkey falls significantly below the European average of 22 percent.

Currently there are 19 elected heads of states or governments, I say softly, not really intending it as a question. “It is now 20” she corrects me, referring to the recent election of Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra as Prime Minister. Not all powerful women are “gender sensitive,” she says, recalling a meeting with a group of women executives in Davos. “Some don’t like the gender perspective; they tell me I am here not because I am a woman but because I am good at what I do.” Those women are fortunate, believes Bachelet, “they have been born in a cuddle of gold” or they don’t realize they came to where they are “despite” being a woman. Especially young women in the developed world who don’t face discrimination personally are not aware of the “structural conditions that disable woman.” It is clear Bachelet sees a responsibility for women in the position of influence to empower and enable other women.

Do women really have a choice?
Most women do not work, because they don’t have the choice, but some prefer to stay home or choose the “mommy route” in their careers, sacrificing their professional ambitions for family. Should all women work? If so why, I ask her, conscious of the fact that most of UN’s focus is on the developing world, where women are still struggling for basic rights.

“Every woman’s situation is different” she responds. The key question we should ask ourselves is whether women “really” have a choice. “Our job is to make sure when a woman chooses to work, they can work, that they don’t have to choose between their reproductive rights and their jobs, and that they have access to affordable child care.” There are multiple benefits of working, she adds, “income, independence, possibility for growth, social contacts, and contribution to the economy.”
The same principle applies to the tension globalization has created between modernization and traditional values to an extent that it has dissuaded some governments from promoting women’s rights. Should a woman have the choice to cover her body, or is that an inherently degrading act for women? Again, it is a matter of “real,” informed choice, Bachelet explains.

A solid track record
Bachelet’s most loyal supporters were people from the poorer districts of Santiago. She succeeded as a single mother and a self-professed agnostic in a conservative, Catholic country. It was only in 2004 that Chileans were given the right to divorce, despite fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. During her presidency, she signed a decree allowing the morning-after contraceptive pill to be given to girls as young as 14 without their parents' consent.

As a defense minister she improved access for women to the military and the police force, and saw that women would be admitted for the first time to the naval academy. As president, she made sure that women had the right to breastfeed at work. Not only did she turn around Chile’s economy during the financial crisis, she established ambitious social protection programs for women and children, despite it. With the billions she saved from the revenues of copper sales, Ms. Bachelet’s government legalized alimony payments to divorced women and tripled the number of free child care centers for low income families.

Despite some criticism that she was too hesitant to call on the military to respond to Chile’s earthquake, she left office with an 85 percent approval rating, the highest since Chile went from dictatorship to democracy in 1990. And she had done it all, alone, without a prominent husband that typically propelled other women to become presidents in Latin America.

Macho to maternal: a new kind of leadership style

Chosen by Ban ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, for her “uncommon ability to create consensus,” Bachelet is often described as the “Anti-Thatcher.” She is one of the first women leaders to reject male codes of power and embrace female characteristics of leadership. What is the Bachelet leadership model, I ask. “I am a doctor by training” she says, “I see someone having a heart attack, I will act” she says, not call a committee meeting. But she believes in “building legitimacy in what you want to do…strong alliances, speaking the truth… people must have ownership. This is especially true for the UN… Every region can have a particular approach, it is not fire-works, [empowerment] has to be sustainable and progressing, inclusive, with everyone’s participation.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Continuing to build Van

This morning a 2-week old baby was pulled from the rubble in Van, Turkey. It was remarkable news amid a grim situation. Sunday's 7.2 earthquake in Van, Turkey has been devastating.

Southeastern Turkey was already an economically deprived area. With few jobs and educational opportunities, its citizens have struggled for a long time. It has been an area that Turkish Philanthropy Funds (TPF) has worked in for a long time. Partnering with ACEV (the Mother-Child Education Foundation), HADD (Hisar Anadolu Destek Dernegi, CYDD (Cagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi) and others has been focused on improving literacy, gender equality and economic prosperity in the region. Help us continue to maintain our advances - and not let the earthquake be a slide backward.

Turkish Philanthropy Funds is committed to building and advancing communities throughout Turkey. Van needs our help today.

Monday, October 24, 2011

View from the UN on the Future for Women

By Ayca Ariyoruk

(Editor's Note: This post has been cross-posted at )

Recently, Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and the new head of the United Nations supra-entity on women, spoke with Turkish Philanthropy Funds about several topics, including women, philanthropy, and power. Today, as the UN celebrates its 66th birthday and a humanitarian response is mounted to help survivors of an earthquake in Turkey. Thi is Part 1 of this timely discussion.

UN Women is "a baby of UN reform" says Ms. Michelle Bachelet, who until last year was best known for being the first female president of Chile, and the first female defense minister in all of the Americas. Ms. Bachelet, who has broken every mold for the betterment of her country, is now ready to do the same, this time for the world's women. The UN entity she leads supersedes the merger of four UN entities mandated with women empowerment and gender equality. She is now the under-secretary General of UN Women and is tasked to raise over $500 million in three years with a mission to make the UN a more powerful advocate for women. Recently, she sat down with Turkish Philanthropy Funds in the new offices of UN Women in New York. Investing in girls and women in Turkey is a top priority for Turkish Philanthropy Funds, a New York based community foundation serving the Turkish American diaspora. In response to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake yesterday in the eastern province of Van, TPF has established an emergency fund to direct philanthropic support to relief efforts on the ground. Since its inception in 2007, TPF has raised over $13.6 million. Education and women empowerment grants constitute the majority of TPF's giving.

A new partner to the philanthropic community
Since assuming her role at the helm of UN Women in January 2011, Bachelet has so far raised about $230 million of the $500 million in contributions and pledges. Raising money is not easy in this financial climate, she acknowledges. "Traditionally our major donors had been governments." Spain and Norway are at the top of the list, which also includes countries like Canada, the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands. But like many other non-profits, UN Women is also turning increasingly towards the private sector and to the wealthy individual philanthropists. She confirms UN Women has been following the Forbes magazine billionaire list closely. "In the world, there are more than one thousand billionaires; a huge proportion of the wealth of the world... and many of them have been contributors to the UN already...Bill and Melinda Gates, Ted Turner, George Soros."

She adds Ms. Güler Sabanci to the list, Turkey's most powerful businesswoman who took over as board chairman of the Sabanci conglomerate in May 2004 after the death of her uncle, Sakip Sabanci. Bachelet visited Turkey in May 2011 to co-host a UN conference to unlock the economic potential of rural women to accelerate development. While there she met with Güler Sabancı and had her sign the Women's Empowerment Principles, which offers guidance to businesses on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. UN Women has "not only all the possibilities, but all the will to reach many of the philanthropists" says Bachelet, yet she argues it is not all about the money. UN Women seeks joint ventures with other organizations and individuals: "how we do things together [for a] winning possibility" is more important. UN Women partners with local initiatives as much as possible. Turkish Philanthropy Funds and UN Women, for instance, share a common local grantee partner as both provide funds to Mother Child Education Foundation (Anne Çocuk Eğitim Vakfı) in Turkey.

Why give through UN Women instead of donating directly to the local NGOs or philanthropic initiatives, I ask. She is not against direct giving; on the contrary, she supports it as long as the giving is targeted and contributes to national capacities. Still, UN Women has a comparative advantage: an unmatched global reach. "[UN Women] has representation in 75 countries with capacity." That alone has a significant added value. "I truly believe in many parts of the world, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. There is a lot of experience that can be shared...UN has the potential to take successful local approaches... [come up with a] a pilot plan that can be transferred to another place according to their own circumstances... and escalate progress [based] on internationally agreed upon goals."

Such internationally agreed upon goals are viewed by many observers as lofty and unrealistic. Can the world achieve gender equality by 2015 as targeted by the UN Millennium Development Goals? Not likely, but that's not the only concern for UN Women.

"In many countries, the data on the status of women is inadequate and research is needed in specific areas" she continues. "There are so many places doing so much research but [do we] know if it [benefits the women?]" Bachelet clearly sees the role of UN Women as a knowledge hub and a global network of people where all the information and expertise through research can be brought together. It is not an easy task, she acknowledges, given the number of actors involved. Diaspora philanthropy organizations are new additions among these players. Likewise, they emphasize intellectual giving through social and human capital transfers. In this crowded field, coordination and sharing of information by international organizations becomes all the more important.

Read Part 2.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Van, Turkey Earthquake Relief Fund

All of us at TPF have been saddened by news of the terrible earthquake that has struck the eastern province of Van in Turkey. Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute of Turkey has estimated that between 500 and 1,000 people may have perished in the 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Our thoughts are with the injured and the families of the victims. We extend our deepest condolences to all families who lost their loved ones.

We would like to convey our sympathy and solidarity by establishing the Van Earthquake Relief Fund at TPF. 100 % of your contributions will go to AKUT, Kizilay and TPF grantee partners who are directly involved with Van, to help victims recover from the devastating effects of the earthquake.

To contribute to the Van Earthquake Relief Fund, click here.

You may also contribute to the Van Earthquake Relief Fund by sending your check to:
Turkish Philanthropy Funds
Re: Van Earthquake Relief Fund
216 East 45th Street, 7th Fl.
New York, New York 10017
Please make your checks payable to Turkish Philanthropy Funds and indicate "Van Earthquake Relief Fund" on the check.

For additional information, please email .