Letter from Istanbul, Turkey

This city rises up the hillsides on both sides of the Bosporus, the wide channel from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the divide between Europe and Asia. It is a city of domed mosques and pencil minarets, of the old bazaar and new shops selling Boss and Channel, of rambling old streets jammed with buses and cars and straight, new boulevards jammed with buses and cars, of the peoples and fashions of two continents. It is the largest city of a country which now, for the first time, is taking seriously the issue of violence against women.

Until two years ago, a small number of women’s organizations remained quite isolated. Beyond their work, violence against women simply wasn’t talked about or, when it was, the language was often one of approval: it was seen as natural and acceptable for a man to hit his wife. Each year men killed women – a wife, a sister, a daughter – supposedly to preserve the ‘honor’ of his family.

The work of these women finally paid off when Hurriyet, the countries major newspaper and also owner of CNN Turkey, joined with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to launch a national campaign against this violence. Articles started appearing in newspapers and stories on TV. With the aid of the UNFPA, the army launched an incredible training program for all recruits. Each new soldier would spend a full day of basic training focusing on issues around reproductive health, family planning, safe sex, respect for women, and ending violence against women. Because every Turkish man does compulsory service, in time, every man in Turkey will go through this program: last year alone, 400,000 men did just that. Finally, just this fall, the president (from a moderate Islamic party that won the last national election in this secular country) signed a discussion paper that recognized the severity of the problem and the need for more effective action to bring it to an end.

I was in Istanbul for the second conference sponsored by Hurriyet, CNN, and the UNFPA. Speakers, including the governor of the Istanbul region, talked about the problem; in workshops, we explored solutions. My own role was to give the keynote address and to lead a day-and-a-half workshop on developing effective strategies to address and involve men and boys.

For me, one of the pleasures of the work was to see the progress that has been made in the past year since I last visited Turkey and to catch up with colleagues there. Another was the presence of members of White Ribbon Campaigns from Canada, Pakistan, Austria, and Norway as well as from an organization in the Netherlands that does some similar work. These men gave presentations on their campaigns. In a future blog, I’ll talk more about some of what they are doing.

Off, now, to Riga, Latvia.

1 Comment on “Letter from Istanbul, Turkey

  1. you are doing great work here and what an example to set to other countries. Well done you and your groups.

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