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Author: Kristina Wilfore

Kristina Wilfore brings more than 20 years of experience and mastery of virtually all aspects of politics and grassroots organizing to Karakoyun Strategies (www.KarakoyunStrategies.com). She is a specialist in grassroots organizing, women’s political participation and election monitoring, working across Eastern Europe, South Asia and the Middle East, in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Her work is not exclusive to developing democracies and includes engaging with political parties preparing for the European Parliament election (May 2014) in Western Europe (Sweden, Spain, Finland and Amsterdam). With a home base in Istanbul, she is strategically located between the East and West and travels wherever grassroots tools are needed to create lasting social change.

Episode 7: Challenging Rigid Gender Roles in Turkey by Being a Bit Naughty

The first episode of our Turkey series focuses on women’s rights in a male dominated culture with lessons learned from Fatma Çiğdem Aydın, an architect of the modern women’s movement. Çiğdem has shaped a multitude of initiatives for gender equality to help women pushback against discriminatory cultural expectations and gain more power in politics. As someone not afraid to speak her mind, she has encouraged women to stand up for their rights and be “a little naughty” in order to get things done.

In this episode you will gain insights from a country that broke through 500 years of Ottoman rules and medieval social customs for women. At the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, reforms were immediately implemented to liberate women so they could participate in every aspect of society equally with men, blasting centuries-old traditions to smithereens. Turkish women obtained the right to vote long before women in France or Switzerland had that right and appointed a female supreme court justice long before the USA did. Turkey also had a female head of state, a glass ceiling many countries have failed to break.

Yet, cultural change for women does not come overnight. There have been significant steps forward as well as backsliding on the path for equal opportunity in Turkey in recent decades – particularly related to violence against women and the high expectations of women in the home in their roles primarily as wives and mothers.

Çiğdem provides a bottom up view of the ingredients of change needed for women to break through in politics and influence society, as someone who has served as a city council member, candidate for Parliament, and has been a nonprofit leader fighting for gender equality curriculum in schools and for the rights of children and mothers. Çiğdem has worked with women MPs from all political parties for laws and regulations regarding gender equality while also empowering women new to politics. In the early years of creating space for women within political parties, she coached women to say no to party leaders who expected them to bake cakes for political meetings and clean the curtains of the party headquarters. No task is too small for someone working to transform systems – and the people in them –  in a country she loves very deeply.

Listen to the Full Episode. 

Episode 6: Practical Steps for Combatting Sexism in Media & Politics

It’s not enough to simply recognize sexism exists in society. In order to call out sexism and create the conditions for equality we must move people into action. In the second episode of our Ukraine series, Iryna Slavinska shares background on the practical steps she is taking as a coordinator of a campaign to combat sexism in media and politics in Ukraine. Her experience as a journalist gives her unique insights about how to create reforms within media to address patterns of sexism that perpetuate negative stereotypes about women in Ukraine.

Iryna has breathed life and mainstream relevance into the Povaha platform, which simply means “respect” in Ukrainian. She and a team of gender advocates have been creating innovative strategies to influence Ukrainian mentality and build a demand structure for equality, by for example, creating a database of women for journalists to access to ensure that they are more equally represented in media as experts, and by monitoring and pushing back on sexism in media and among Ukrainian’s political class. Povaha is a tool for ensuring equality in policy and society by illustrating women’s everyday experiences fighting against a patriarchal culture that attempts to keep women out of leadership or primarily in the domain of the home. As a journalist, Irnya is uniquely positioned to tell the stories of inequality with practical solutions for change.

Iryna is one of Ukraine’s top journalists writing about culture and, in particular, literature, which led her to start covering gender issues, calling for gender equality in media and in public life. She worked with the online news website Ukrainska Pravda, the cultural magazine Sho (What), and women’s magazine Elle Ukraine. In 2012, Slavinska worked for the TVi television channel, but she, along with about 30 colleagues, left after a scandal over the change in the channel’s ownership. Together with other prominent journalists, she worked on the revival of non-commercial and non-governmental Hromadske Radio in 2013 out of a commitment to the “strength and truth of unconditional freedom of speech which cannot be limited by the interests of authorities, business people, or politicians”.

In this episode of Fatima’s Hand, advocates will hear about the tools for making discussions of feminism relevant to a wider audience – through the use of humor, engaging first-person content, and strategies to hold public officials (including sexist women) accountable to ensuring equality. Listeners will learn about the movement in Ukraine that proceeded the global #MeToo phenomenal against sexual harassment (“I’m not Afraid to Tell”). They will understand the high expectations placed on Ukrainian women to be “beautiful” and its impact on sex trafficking, and importantly, how to create a supportive network in your own personal life for equality. Iryna, through Povaha and her commitment to reform, is trailblazing tools that can be used in any cultural context to demonstrate that women are willing to fight for equality and expect more of their countries to take action to live up to the ideals of fairness, by ultimately, showing more respect for over half of the world’s population.

Episode 5: Ukraine and the Revolution Within for Gender Equality

Ukraine has undergone incredible transformations stemming from the Revolution for Dignity. Progress towards women’s empowerment and gender equality is one of the most exciting changes taking place since the country broke free of authoritarian rule in 2014. In this episode of Fatima’s Hand, we talk with Olena Yena, one of the architects of the strategy guiding these transformations by creating the conditions for equal partnerships in governmental and societal reform.

In a country where women are referred to as “the neck” and the man as “the head”, hidden discrimination, patriarchal norms as well as an extremely sexualized culture have contributed to diminishing the full and equal participation of women. Despite this, public demand for equality has increased dramatically in recent years. Ukrainian women are pushing back against sexism and holding the government and society accountable for ensuring their inclusion – even on the frontlines, in the midst of war.

In the first episode of Season 2 featuring stories from Ukraine, Olena gives an insider’s perspective on the reasons behind the positive changes taking place, including the shifts she has witnessed among women. Feminism used to be a dirty word in Ukraine. Now women are speaking out about sexism, teaching others that equality is about partnership among men and women, and working to ensure a larger share of decision making roles.

Olena brings a unique vantage point on these subject as Director of the Women Lead Program with the National Democratic Institute’s office in Ukraine where she works everyday to enhance women’s political opportunities, strengthen political parties and institutions to address gender, and combat deeply entrenched stereotypes.

Olena talks openly about her own awakening watching her daughters fight for equality, what her hopes are for their future, and her commitment to bringing women together. While being honest about the significant hurdles to achieving gender equality in Ukraine, Olena makes a conscious choice to focus on the points of light rather than getting overwhelmed with all the remaining challenges for women. Episode 5 of Fatima’s Hand holds many lessons for other countries where women are waking up to the reality that they don’t have as much power as they thought, but are willing to fight to change things – in themselves, their culture and their country.


Picturing democracy

Working to build democracy isn’t always a pretty picture — and most of the time there is no picture at all. The lack of compelling visuals may contribute to the difficulty that we as changemakers face in demonstrating what we do and how we do it.

If you look in my photo folder, you’ll see countless pictures of people standing in front of a flipchart in a dimly lit room (yawn) or sitting next to each other talking (double yawn). This is the manner in which activism, political party assistance, and civic advocacy happens. It’s through dialogue, small group discussions, planning, writing, reflection, collecting data, building lists, over and over again that democracy building happens (most likely in stuffy, windowless rooms, usually accompanied with dry cookies and bad coffee). Can you picture it? This is where the architecture of change is charted.

Which is why I was delighted that the work that Leah Kimothi (Episode 3) and Carla Chianese (Episode 2) did on behalf of IFES to interrupt violence was recognized recently. USAID highlighted eight photos that capture the essence of how partners with local change makers promote, protect and deepen democracy, human rights and governance around the globe. Kenya’s “White Ribbon” campaign was a finalist of the 2018 USAID/Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) photo contest, judged by a panel from USAID.

I love that Ms. Fanis Lisiagali, Director of Healthcare Assistance Kenya ,is pictured front and center marching her heart out. She is one of the long-standing grassroots leaders fighting against gender-based violence. I had the honor to work with her while overseeing and election and conflict program in Kenya in 2017. It’s a great photo that captures the spirit and perseverance of the women fighting for peace and justice.

And why is USAID trying to demonstrate their impact, anyway? Because most Americans don’t understand the value of democracy assistance. Most Americans are surprised to learn that foreign assistance is only about one percent of the total U.S. budget. Democracy assistance represents just 4 percent of foreign aid.

We need a PR campaign for democracy – stock full of photos and visual aids, and info graphics! It is only because of the work of citizens on the ground — through the development of global standards for civil society and governance, and by courageous leadership –  that there are more open societies across the world compared to 30 years ago.

As Ken Wollack, longtime director of the National Democratic Institute, pointed out in recent Congressional testimony

“When World War II ended, fewer than a dozen democracies stood as the Iron Curtain rose, military dictatorships proliferated, and colonialism sought to regain its footing. Major breakthroughs against those trends began with the so-called third wave of democratization which, since the 1970s, impacted more than 100 countries where people in every region of the world struggled against oppression and for government based on popular will.” He continued, “On the African continent, only four leaders since 1960 had retired voluntarily or left office after losing an election — that figure stands at nearly 50 since then. Democracy, freedom and dignity were not even part of the lexicon of the Middle East. And Soviet communism, which extended to the borders of Western Europe, seemed deeply embedded.”

So, we have much to celebrate when we take the long view….and a lot to be worried about considering the short -term changes and challenges to democracy. According to Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World Report 2018”, political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade in 2017, extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom. The basic tenets of democracy are being challenged today —including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—even in long-standing liberal democracies.

These are tough days, and even more are ahead. There is no shortage of problems. Yet there is also an abundance of solutions. We just don’t see the solutions as clearly as the problems. And if you can’t picture the way out, it’s hard to actualize it.

Thanks USAID for your support of democracy development, especially in light of both the external and internal problems you face. And thanks for helping us picture it a little more by honoring the photos of the ground warriors in the fight for more open, just and inclusive societies. I will do my part by committing to capturing less flip chart training photos and more dynamic change agents in action!  

Episode 4: Fighting Against Injustice and Being a Mom, Serbia to Africa

Marija Markovic is a strong, outspoken and deeply empathetic advocate who embraces these roles as rigorously as those of wife and mother. In this episode of Fatima’s Hand, she brings 20 years of wisdom in democracy and governance in the context of democratic transitions to the conversation. Starting from the Balkans, Marija talks about her leadership in the student movement that played a critical role in mobilizing voters in the historical 2000 election in which Slobodan Milosevic was defeated at the polls – through massive street demonstrations against his bid to prolong a 13-year dictatorship.

Hear about how Marija took this experience and applied it to work across Africa and the Middle East. Her formative years spent as an activist in the Balkans made her more sensitive to conflict and the way political systems influence people on a cellular level. Through the Balkan Center for the Middle East she worked with civil society actors from the region on institutional transformation post Arab spring. As director of the offices of Freedom House and the International Republican Institute in Kenya, she has strong opinions about the difficulty of measuring improvements in democracy one quarterly report at a time.

In this episode Marija also shares her perspectives on feminism – rooted in justice. After being raised in a gender neutral household, it wasn’t until later in life that she was exposed to discrimination. She talks openly about her approach to bringing up a son who can see by example what gender equality means in the household, and the decisions she has made to prioritize family. Her hope for the future is that girls will learn not to be nice, be open to transforming themselves and pay it forward to other women. Her political wish for women in the US is that maternity rights develop more so that American women can pursue their purpose in life while having the support systems that enable them to focus on their families at the same time.

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