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Episode 9: From Empathy to Action, One Family’s Journey Helping Syrian Children Heal

Episode 9: From Empathy to Action, One Family’s Journey Helping Syrian Children Heal​

Armed with empathy and a desire to help, Esra Özsüer and her son Emir followed their hearts into the Syrian crisis by founding the Maya Foundation in 2014 to provide art and music therapy as a way of helping Syrian children cope with the trauma of violence, survival and the difficulties of living as refugees. Observing her son Emir’s experience interacting with Syrian refugees was the basis for formalizing the Foundation in Turkey with over 3.5 million refugees fleeing war and conflict.

In Season 4 of Fatima’s Hand, hear Esra talk about the need for leadership in the midst of crisis and how her own journey unfolded, moving from businesswoman to philanthropist and NGO leader despite the skepticism and judgement she faced when starting an organization with no experience in the nonprofit or humanitarian field.

Esra’s core belief that that all traumatized children need attention, compassion and proper intervention, brought about the establishment of a psychological recovery program which uses therapeutic creative art methods, dance therapy, and music for Syrian children.  The program has evolved to establishing Trauma Informed Schools, helping thousands of teachers across Turkey understand the experiences and needs of Syrian refugee children.

Esra strongly believes that the voice and expression of children should be taken into greater account when designing educational and support services for them. Which led her to step out of her comfort zone in order to raise her voice publicly with community leaders across Turkey and policymakers from Europe and the United States about what Syrian families need in order to heal and cope.

In this episode, hear Esra talk personally about pursuing heart felt work –  how her spiritually, commitment to universal values and a practice of gratitude has allowed her to take risks and use her gifts for good, opening up new chapters of her life on a path of purpose and meaning. She believes that connectivity with yourself allows you to create deeper connections with others and creates the conditions for change.

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“Women are learning how to work together, to participate on a platform and to hold our hands together. And if you unite, you create even more – more leaders!” – Esra Özsüer

Episode 8: Moms and Madonna – Sources of Empowerment for Equality in Turkey

In the second episode of our Turkey series, we dig deeper into what bringing a gender perspective to politics means with Gülseren Onanç, the founder of the Equality, Justice and Women Platform in Turkey.  Gülseren draws on her diverse experience as a businesswoman, politician, nonprofit leader –  as well as a young basketball player where she first fought for equality  – in a discussion about the formation of an independent feminist movement that works towards social change and the pursuit of a universal women’s rights agenda.

In this free ranging conversation, Gülseren talks about why a woman’s touch is needed in politics, the role of violence against women, and how victimization can lead to empowerment. Gülseren talks openly about the influences in her life and exposure to people and places that have shaped her perspective, and the ways she is shaping a feminist conversation with women of diverse background and ages in Turkey.

Gülseren’s experience serving as a vice president of CHP, the Republican People’s Party, informed her desire to bring more women to decision making power in a male dominated environment. Gulseren realized early on that “one law could change everything, and lawmakers were mostly men”.

Before going into politics, she was the President of the Entrepreneur Women Association of Turkey, KAGİDER where she began to link labor participation of women with politics and the need to be grounded in international principles for equality in communities where women can gain power – politics and employment. During this period she opened up the first Turkish women’s NGO office in Brussels to pursue Turkey–European Union relationships.

In this critical time for Turkey’s development, Gülseren is changing the conversation about women and power with women by showcasing women’s leadership and activism from around the world and making it accessible in the Turkish language. She created a digital platform that brings together original news on gender equality in the local and international press, women’s search for rights and justice, and leadership in all areas – politics, business and women’s representation.

“We need more women who are searching for their equality.” – Gülseren Onanç.

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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.


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