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

September 26, 2019

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.

Podcast Notes

  • 0:25 An introduction to Fatma Çiğdem Aydın
  • 2:31 It's a man's world in Turkey
  • 4:48 History of the feminist movement in Turkey
  • 6:55 A woman's place is in her home
  • 9:30 How to push back on cultural expectations
  • 10:22 Country comparisons of influence
  • 11:38 Secular vs. non secular views of women
  • 12:30 Politicians love keeping women polarized
  • 15:03 Bringing women to politics in Turkey
  • 16:54 Creative public ad campaigns-where are the women?
  • 18:30 Strategic use of humor
  • 19:40 Training women to say no
  • 21:32 Feminism in Turkey
  • 24:30 Men try to discipline women with violence
  • 26:50 TV programs and gender
  • 29:33 Raising gender equality sensitive men
  • 31:30 The tyranny of what's for dinner
  • 33:17 Working for women in politics
  • 34:50 How to bring male allies to the table
  • 40:49 Men with daughters, an opening
  • 42:00 US developments for women give hope
  • 44:45 How the world will be different for women 20 years from now

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