Agencies seek to raise awareness of child marriage

Twenty-eight percent of Turkish women who have been married were younger than 18. [Reuters]
Twenty-eight percent of Turkish women who have been married were younger than 18. [Reuters]

One-third of marriages in Turkey involve child brides, despite a national law that says a judge must approve the union if it involves someone younger than 17, advocates said.

Stronger application of the law is needed to turn back the practice, which the local groups and the United Nations say places the child bride’s health and education opportunities at risk.

A recent study by Hacetteppe University found that 28 percent of Turkish women who have been married were younger than 18.

“If we add to this the number of women who do not have any legal proof of marriage [such as religious marriage, in other words forced to live with someone and call it ‘marriage’], one in every three women in Turkey is a ‘child bride’,” said Selen Doğan, editor-in-chief of Flying Broom, an Ankara-based women’s rights organisation.

To help raise awareness, the UN and the Romanian Cultural Institute are teaming to host a forum in Istanbul Thursday (October 11th) with the goal of getting the attention of government and education officials.

Also, Thursday will mark the first UN International Day of the Girl Child, an observance planned to spotlight the struggles young girls around the world face and seek to provide them with better opportunities. This year’s theme is centered on child marriages.

According to UN and CARE statistics, about one-third of women aged 20 to 24 in the developing world are married younger than 18.

Experts agree that the child-bride issue is not necessarily a legal one in Turkey. The law states that couples can be married at 17 with the consent of the court.

“There must be strong law enforcement,” said Nilüfer Narlı, professor of political sociology at Istanbul’s Bahçeşehir University. “The legal marriage age and compulsory education law must be honored.”

But enforcement is difficult when many underage marriages are not registered with the state, observers said.

Werner Haug, director of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia regional office, agreed that unlisted marriages are common throughout the region.

“[Child marriage] is certainly unreported across the region as the marriages themselves occur in community ceremonies but are not officially registered with the state,” he said.

The issue of child marriage goes beyond the inability for a child to consent to a marriage.

Girls who are married at a young age are almost always forced to leave school, leaving them with fewer opportunities to lift themselves and their families out of poverty in the future due to an incomplete education, according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 180 organisations.

Also, child brides are often more prone to health issues due to early sexual activity and child bearing. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth than women in their 20s, while girls aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die, UNICEF research shows.

Unwanted pregnancies are often a consequence of early marriage, and children giving birth not only places their own lives at risk, but the infant’s life as well. UNICEF data shows that children of child brides are 60 percent more likely to die before their first birthday.

Girls who are married as children are also significantly more likely to face domestic violence, advocates said.

In Turkey, “our field research shows that nearly 80 percent of women who were forced into marriages at a young age are subject to domestic violence,” Doğan said.

While a child bride is most often married off because her family cannot financially afford to care for her, issues of tradition and honor also come into play, especially in Turkey.

“The families want to marry girls in order to avoid any potential problem of having shade on the girl’s reputation,” Narlı said.

Flying Broom’s field research, conducted in 54 Turkish municipalities, also found that cultural honour also plays a role in the practice “since marriage is seen to be to sole method of keeping a woman’s body under control.”

While the trend is slowly declining in some parts of society, UNICEF reports that according to data collected from 47 countries, the rise in median age of first marriage is mainly concentrated in families with higher incomes. The UN said instances of child marriage have increased in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region during the last 20 years.

Haug attributed the increase in Central Asia to socio-economic turmoil and ethnic conflicts that ensued after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“In Southeastern Europe, conflict has also exacerbated the issue,” Haug said. “There, the reasserting of traditions as a form of distinguishing separate ethnic and religious identities led to an increase in child marriage.”

Local efforts are taking place within Turkey to study the situation and take action to reduce the trend. Flying Broom’s comprehensive research, conducted with the help of the UN Population Fund, is seen as a key step.

The UN passed a resolution in December 2011 declaring each October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child.

Read the original on SES Türkiye.

Art and law come together to address violence and discrimination against women

The film festival brought together artists, civil society members and lawyers to talk about violence and discrimination against women. [Dalia Mortada/SES Türkiye]
The film festival brought together artists, civil society members and lawyers to talk about violence and discrimination against women. [Dalia Mortada/SES Türkiye]

The International Crime and Punishment Film Festival ended Thursday (October 4th) after screening more than 100 movies related to violence and discrimination against women.

The festival brought together academics, cinematographers, NGO representatives, activists, writers and the press from Turkey and more than 40 countries to exchange knowledge and experience on violence against women.

Professor Adem Sözüer, who organised the film festival, said the intention was to look at the issue of violence against women from the different perspectives of law and the arts.

“Non-jurist people often perceive the legal norms put forth by jurists in different ways; hence during this festival, we also wanted to see how artists viewed the problem,” Sözüer told SES Türkiye.

To bring “the world of academia and that of the arts even closer,” discussion panels brought together academics, artists and civil society groups to discuss violence and discrimination against women.

In late August, the case of 26-year-old Nivin Yildirim was catapulted into the media after the married mother of two killed and decapitated her rapist of eight months. Last week, Habertürk reported the suicide of a 15-year-old child bride in the southern province of Adana, who was believed to have killed herself because of the abuse she faced from her husband.

The news headlines capture only a fraction of the violence against women in Turkey, officials said. About 44 percent of all Turkish women between the ages of 15 and 60, and 47 percent of rural women, “had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their husbands or partners at some point in their lives,” according to a 2009 Hacettepe University study cited in a Human Rights Watch HRW report.

In May, the Hürriyet Daily News reported that according to data collected from law enforcement, reports of domestic violence jumped from 48,000 cases in 2008 to 80,000 cases in 2011.

These numbers pale in comparison to the estimated number of actual cases, as the vast majority of cases of violence go unreported to authorities. One study cited in the HRW report found only 3 percent of women reported domestic violence to authorities.

“I’m always very cautious about data because in this field, as in many others in Turkey, data collection is still limited,” said Nicole Pope, author of “Honor Killings in the 21st Century,” adding the unclear legal definition of domestic violence also makes it difficult to know the exact figures.

Pope said bringing the issue to the attention of the mainstream media has had an impact increasing awareness about domestic violence, empowering women in the process.

“More women who might have remained silent in the past because they weren’t sure of getting support from those around them, have started speaking out,” she said.

A more open discussion is exactly what Sözüer aimed to do by focusing the film festival on violence and discrimination against women.

“This topic has attracted enormous attention and everyone, especially women, had a lot to say about this issue,” he said.

A broad-based approach is needed to reduce violence against women, said Pinar Ilkkaracan, an activist and co-founder of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies.

“Violence against women can only be stopped if there’s a holistic, coordinated effort of the government under the prime ministry,” she told SES Türkiye. “It’s an issue of a holistic effort under the prime ministry, the ministry of interior, the ministry of agriculture, the ministry of the exterior, the ministry of justice – which is responsible to train all judges and prosecutors.”

The theme of the Crime and Punishment Film Festival next year will be “Children Dragged into Crime and Children as Victims of Crime,” Sözüer said.

Read the original at SES Türkiye.

Meet Istanbul’s Heroines


Despite being from very different industries and walks of life, all these ladies have their core values in common: they prioritise others, especially other women; they believe in the power of education and mentorship; they have a profound sense of community even with those they have never met; and they believe in making the world a better place. So, Dalia Mortada asks, who are these remarkable women of Istanbul?

Sure we can!

Bedriye Hülya


When Bedriye Hülya started b-fit, she was already a successful entrepreneur with a long track record, but this project provided her with a whole new purpose. ‘Until b-fit, I didn’t know I needed any reward beyond money,’ she says.

A space for low- and middle-income women to comfortably exercise and encourage one another to get healthy, b-fit is a venture that was born out of necessity, as the few exercise spaces that did exist were high-end and out of reach for most Turkish women. Going beyond empowering women through exercise, b-fit’s franchise model has inspired middle-income women to become independent business owners.

‘I think they are all heroes,’ Hülya says of the women who start their own b-fit centres. She explains that, because these women come from struggling towns with very traditional values, they are often held back by their husbands, brothers and even their mothers when they want to open their own businesses. ‘Even if a b-fit franchise owner doesn’t have the support system she needs at home to start this business, what makes her a hero is that she pushes through it.’

Hülya and 24 other women at the headquarters in Istanbul (including her sister) head up the organisation. ‘Our management system is very flat,’ Hülya says in describing the hierarchy in the office. While she may be the founder of b-fit, she and her team work equally to support the franchise owners and club members to meet their needs. ‘We are a community, and the women I work with are my family,’ she says. It’s standard practice for someone in accounting to lend a listening ear to a franchise owner who couldn’t make her payment on time because of an ailing parent or an unexpected abortion. The conversations get very personal and emotional. ‘It can be difficult, but this is what we’re here for,’ she says with a smile.

The inspiration to start b-fit came from a personal place. Hülya had been in a serious car accident in her late teens and lived on crutches for two years – a circumstance that determined where she could attend university based on the availability of ramps. Despite the hardship, she confesses she ‘became a much stronger person’. She studied business administration in Izmir, although her love of psychology led to her entrepreneurial streak. Eventually, in her late 30s, she earned a Masters in psychology from the City University of New York, where she found the inspiration for b-fit. By using a similar women’s-only facility, Hülya saw the need for such a space in Turkey. Her life experience then led her full circle to the most meaningful project she has ever undertaken.

It was not until after she turned 40 that Hülya founded b-fit, and despite some scepticism she encountered for starting a new venture at her age, the support has been overwhelming, and she wants to share that with her franchise owners. ‘We never think about age: we have franchisees who are 60 and franchisees who are 20,’ she proudly explains. ‘As long as she is going to love what she does, any woman is more than welcome to start a franchise.’

The other condition for a b-fit franchise is an emphasis on healthy body image. ‘We forbid mirrors because we don’t want women looking [in them] and saying, “Oh, I look terrible,”’ Hülya says. Scales and measuring tapes also have no place in a b-fit facility. The use of women’s bodies as sexual objects in advertisements is unacceptable and neutral language is used to talk about women’s health and weight. ‘We do not talk about diets; we talk about healthy eating,’ Hülya explains.

She chalks up her work ethic to her parents, who have always served as her role models. ‘My parents had a very equal relationship: if Mum got home early, she cooked dinner, and if Dad got home early, he cooked dinner,’ Hülya reflects on her childhood. ‘It was never a question of whether she would work; it was just the norm. The same went for me.’ And she would like the same to be possible for any woman who wants to work, whether  through b-fit or otherwise.

The organisation has existed for seven years, and will strive for many more. ‘I find myself complete now,’ Hülya gushes. ‘I love what I do. I love it.’

Didem Altop

Endeavor Türkiye

As the managing director of Endeavor in Turkey, Didem Altop confesses that her career isn’t all that different from a doctor or a computer programmer. ‘You know when you’re at a cocktail party and someone comes up to you and asks, “Hey doc, there’s something wrong with my finger, what should I do?” It’s kind of like that, and I love it,’ she says.

Altop believes that achieving a balance of work and personal life is difficult ‘when you’re on a mission you believe in’, which for her is working with Endeavor, an organisation dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs whose business ideas would create hundreds, even thousands of jobs in a developing economy, generating substantial income from revenues and wages. In Turkey, Endeavor has supported success stories like, Airties, Dükkan Burger and even b-fit.

‘Endeavor is not responsible for these businesses’ success,’ Altop notes. ‘These businesses already showed promise or are doing well. We just help them gain momentum.’ Endeavor’s aim is to make a stressful process a little less so by connecting entrepreneurs to the right resources. In return, these business owners spread Endeavor’s mission of high-impact entrepreneurship.

It’s easy to see why Altop would be so dedicated to her work as she excitedly describes the perks of working at Endeavor and the road that led her there. Born and raised in the US, Altop came to Turkey in 1995 for a three-week business trip, which turned into a five-year assignment with the Turkish Air Force. During this time, she also became the youngest person to join the Educational Volunteers Foundation of Turkey (TEGV) and develop a five-year capacity-building campaign. ‘What started out as a hobby became my next career move,’ Altop reflects. When her assignment came to a close, she decided to stay in Turkey and work on helping non-profits establish themselves and create a corporate social responsibility programme.

Since joining Endeavor in 2006, she has drawn on her own experience with mentorship to understand its value for Endeavor entrepreneurs. ‘If my life has been blessed in any way it’s been blessed with mentorship,’ she reflects. ‘Whenever you’re mentoring anybody it’s a win-win situation.’ And that is exactly how it works at Endeavor: while board members and mentors provide entrepreneurs with advice on financial literacy and advertising campaigns, entrepreneurs bring creativity and knowledge about the latest goings-on in the digital world.

Altop is also happy about the number of entrepreneurial women working with her at Endeavor. In a business world where men make up three-fourths of the industry, at least one-third of Endeavor’s entrepreneurs are women. Altop says this is because women have been flourishing in the non-profit segment, where they can have rigorous and fulfilling careers.

In any case, entrepreneurship takes a great deal of energy. ‘Whenever you’re starting up any of these initiatives, you need to think about the big picture. It needs to be a labour of love,’ she says.

Melek Pulatkonak, Nilüfer Durak, Elif Tukin Oygur


Little did Melek Pulatkonak and Nilüfer Durak know when they met in New York in the 1990s that they would end up establishing an international network for Turkish women decades later. Pulatkonak is the founder of the Turkish Women’s International Network (TurkishWIN) while her good friend Durak is among the advisory board members. ‘This is not a one-person job,’ Pulatkonak emphasises when talking about establishing TurkishWIN, an exclusive network dedicated to connecting and supporting Turkish women worldwide.

The bond these women seek to create through TurkishWIN is clearly evident in what Pulatkonak and Durak have with one another. ‘Women and men come to TurkishWIN events seeking meaning in their lives and hoping to become inspired,’ Pulatkonak explains, referring to the TEDx-style conferences TurkishWIN hosts. ‘When you inject that inspiration into the people in a way they have never seen before it really does wonders,’ Durak continues.

The timing was perfect, both in Pulatkonak’s life and in the world of online networking, for TurkishWIN to flourish. In 2011, Pulatkonak left her role as President and COO of, a start-up search engine based out of New York, to move to Turkey for a high-level position at Microsoft. At the same time, social and professional networks were thriving online. ‘There were really strong winds and all we needed was a windmill to generate electricity,’ Durak says. ‘TurkishWIN was that windmill.’ Now, just 18 months since its inception in Turkey, TurkishWIN has hundreds of members, thousands of online viewers watching their live-stream talks and one very dedicated Executive Director, Elif Tukin Oygur, who is the only full-time TurkishWIN staff member. ‘Every day, I have the chance to meet amazing women from different fields – their creativeness, flexibility and positive approach to problems make the world a more liveable place,’ Oygur reflects.

Pulatkonak and Durak’s decades-long friendship has been accentuated by a history of mentorship, as both women have taken on teenage mentees from central and eastern Anatolia, a role that led to Pulatkonak’s desire to establish TurkishWIN in the first place. ‘Having been raised in Istanbul and living abroad for so long, I learned so much about my country from [my mentee] Leyla,’ she explains. ‘We could only speak over the phone. I learned she couldn’t even go to an internet café in the village where she’s from because it’s not safe for a young woman.’

She learned through Leyla how mutually beneficial a mentoring relationship can be and established the pillars of TurkishWIN based on their experience together. Upheld by the values of curiosity, generosity, courage and transparency, the network has been growing rapidly, with numerous programmes in place from CampusWIN, which connects members with young female leaders on campuses, to WIN-WIN, which creates links between businesses abroad and those in Turkey. For example, TurkishWIN partnered international microlender KIVA with Turkish microcredit platform Kerev. No matter the relationship, the power of mentoring is undeniable. As Oygur points out, ‘having the chance to be guided by the right mentor can enrich one’s life and lead her to the right place to enjoy her work and her life at the same time.’

Kacie Lyn Kocher, Ezgi Çinçin, Nihan Güneli

Canımız Sokakta: Hollaback! Istanbul

‘He grabbed my leg when we were at the light and I was just so pissed off that this guy chased me through the crowd just to touch my leg,’ Kacie Lyn Kocher says, describing her experience on a Mumbai rickshaw trying to escape a man who followed her off

the train. ‘I felt terrorised and embarrassed and just so furious that someone could put me in that place.’ This was just one of many experiences that led to the founding of Canımız Sokakta, the Istanbul chapter of Hollaback!, an international movement to end street harassment.

Since its inception in April 2011 as an online blog with a map to plot the points of street harassment in Istanbul, Canımız Sokakta has grown into an organisation with at least 30 members. Nihan Güneli, an Istanbul-based lawyer and organisation co-director, has provided legal support from the start, while Ezgi Çinçin joined the team recently as a co-director. Each woman has her own reasons for participating, but the sentiment is the same: ‘[Harassment is] an everyday subject,’ Güneli explains. ‘You start to wait for it to happen. I don’t want any woman to feel [this way].’

‘I’ve been harassed for at least 15 years now. I thought it was just normal,’ Çinçin reflects. ‘But after thinking more about it and looking at the resources on Hollaback!, I realised that, no, it is not normal. They shouldn’t do that.’ Together, this team and their volunteers have launched numerous campaigns to bring awareness to street harassment and its under-told consequences.

The important first step for Canımız Sokakta is defining what street harassment is. ‘People don’t realise that harassment isn’t just when someone is being stalked or chased,’ Kocher argues. ‘Building a definition and providing examples of what street harassment is, showing what it looks like and describing how it makes you feel are the first steps to fighting it.’ Establishing that harassment is an issue of power, not sexuality, is also important when fighting the problem.

As a part of their programme to empower women, Canımız Sokakta is hosting a workshop at Fatih University in November to give women skills for the workplace, including courses in computer literacy and networking, as well as instruction in preparation for a career. ‘Unfortunately, a professional life will likely include sexism, so we hope to teach them how to deal with harassment at work,’ Kocher says. Building professional and personal relationships with other working Turkish women is another of the programme’s goals.

Training women on how to deal with street harassment is also on the horizon for Güneli. ‘First we have to train women; we are the very victims of these acts and yet we don’t even know how to react.’ Eventually, she hopes that we might change our laws to have more protection against street harassment.

Defne Koryürek

Slow Food – Fikir Sahibi Damaklar

Once a restaurateur and the owner of a butcher shop, Defne Koryürek’s life took a complete turn when her daughter Refika was born. ‘That’s exactly when you feel it,’ she says about becoming pregnant. ‘You feel mortality in your cells, and you feel that everything you are eating is sustaining the life within those cells.’ That is the moment when Koryürek shifted her focus from making profits off food to building a sustainable relationship with it.

The Slow Food movement, a non-profit founded to counteract the rise of fast food and the disappearance of local food traditions, did not enter Koryürek’s life until after she had already been practicing its ideals, simply by coincidence. When mad cow disease made its way to Turkey at the turn of the century, she and a handful of mothers from her daughter’s kindergarten organised to keep the school’s lunches meat-free. ‘If these parents wanted to feed their kids meat at home, they could; they had the means,’ Koryürek explains. This was her first experience with this sort of activism.

Eventually, by way of colleagues and friends, Slow Food made its way into her life, and she attended the 2006 Terra Madre conference in Italy to discuss innovative approaches to food production and gastronomy. The next year, the founder of Slow Food, Carlos Petrini, invited Koryürek to start her own Slow Food chapter in Istanbul. ‘It was an offer I just couldn’t refuse,’ she reminisces. ‘I had to do it.’

Today Koryürek’s Slow Food convivium is an activist organisation called Fikir Sahibi Damaklar, which works to protect and promote local food traditions. Among its initiatives, past and present, have been the real bread campaign, the label-reading campaign, the campaign against genetically modified products and, currently, the campaign to protect the lüfer (bluefish), one of Istanbul’s most treasured aquatic creatures from the Bosphorus, at risk due to over-fishing.

As part of the real bread campaign, Koryürek and her colleagues taught kids ages 4 to 14 how to bake their own bread. ‘They realised it was only water, flour, salt and yeast, and all the rest was extra,’ Koryürek says of the experience. ‘The next week, when we took them to the supermarket and asked them to find bread, they did not enjoy seeing ingredients that they could not even pronounce.’ The same happened when the children were given free reign to choose whatever they wanted to take on a picnic. Since they could not understand the labels, they did not want to buy the product. ‘It was one of the most beautiful moments in our history,’ Koryürek asserts.

Now the organisation’s focus is on celebrating and protecting the lüfer. It is a staple of Istanbul’s food culture, and Koryürek and her group fear the fish will disappear soon if strict guidelines are not imposed. ‘We succeeded in raising the minimum length for fishing to 12 inches (20cm),’ she explains, adding that although it was below the goal of 14 inches (25cm), it was still a step in the right direction.

For now, Koryürek claims that they are ‘just airing the earth’ and that ‘the people that are going to sow the goodness will follow’ them. She believes her daughter’s generation will be the next step, but the change starts with today’s mothers. ‘The only people who can change this world and help it return to its natural course are the mothers,’ she says.

Read the original at TimeOut Istanbul. All photos are from TimeOut.

Man on the river: A sustainable journey through Europe’s waterways

De Stefano takes the last strokes of his 2-year journey.
Giacomo De Stefano (right) rows in his boat Clodia as he arrives in Istanbul on September 27th. [Dalia Mortada/SETimes]

In a mission marked by generosity and curiosity, Giacomo De Stefano took his final strokes on the Golden Horn last week, culminating a 5,400-km 18-month journey from London to Istanbul along the waterways of Europe using only the wind in his sails and the power in his arms to row.

“The emotion is really too strong for me,” De Stefano said upon his teary arrival. “Thank you Clodia [the name of his boat], thank you to the water, to the wind, to the air, and thank you Istanbul.”

The Italian native had three aims for the trip: to protect and discover man’s relationship with water, giving back to the resource he holds so dearly; to find a more sustainable way of traveling, which he calls “Slow Travel”; and finally, “to put a spot[light] on sustainable economies along Europe’s waterways,” by exploring new ideas to safeguard cultures and economies without disturbing and destroying local ecosystems.

A documentary filmmaker by trade and an environmentalist by passion, De Stefano had been involved in a film project on mass tourism in China.

“Tourism is the biggest industry on the planet,” De Stefano said. “There’s nothing like tourism and its complexity to produce income, and also cultural erosion, morphological erosion and environmental erosion. Think about hotels, transportation, water, and even food.”

All of resources that go into traveling are finite, and he thinks slowing it all down will make a difference on their sustainability. During his journey, De Stefano baked his own bread in a wood stove made from a mini-beer keg, ate fish and fruit and the food offered to him by locals along the way.

De Stefano chose to slow down his own life when he witnessed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th 2001.

De Stefano rowed and sailed through Europe’s rivers and streams [Google]

“I started to rethink my life completely,” he said. “I was working in the art sector. I was doing something beautiful and I was very lucky.” He then took a few steps back from his glamorous life as a documentary filmmaker and became a restaurant dishwasher at the age of 38.

The goal was to become more humble and “de-grow,” as he calls it. He lives by the philosophy that sometimes simple is better, and regressing back to a more modest lifestyle can be beneficial to oneself and to the world at large. His desire to work with his hands led him to repair wooden boats, setting the stage for his future adventures.

De Stefano’s journey was challenging. Facing a harsh winter in Hungary forced him to halt for six months. His first attempt to conquer the London-to-Istanbul route was cut short by a severe case of viral pneumonia in 2010.

“I reached the North Sea and I had to stop there,” he recounted. “A lady saved my life and just picked me up from my boat, put me on a plane and sent me to Venice,” the city he calls home, where spent the next year recovering.

He documented his ups and downs on Man on the River, his blog where he updated his trip with photos, videos and posts. The site issued a call for visitors to board his boat, and he received hundreds throughout his travels, calling them his “Men on the river.”

Slowly but surely, De Stefano made it all the way through to Serbia and Romania, where he saw some of the worst water pollution of his trip. He finally reached the Black Sea in mid-September, where he was impressed with the clarity of the water, but his arrival to Istanbul was delayed yet again, thanks to a slew of storms that rolled through the sea. “This sea seems even [blacker] than I thought,” De Stefano wrote on his site, “Waves, sudden thunderstorms, traffic.”

De Stefano has yet to decide how he will return to Venice, whether he will ride a bike or take a bus, fly or sail again. He has a few projects in store, including collaboration with the Slow Food movement based in northern Italy and another called, founded to protect rivers and seas. One thing he knows for certain is that it is often important to slow down, and “maybe we can really understand and be good citizens of this miracle which is planet Earth.”

His blog:
To read the original, visit SETimes.