As I was just in Istanbul for a few days of work – during an unusual March week of wet snow and pummeling winds – I wanted to tell you about the type of thing that should fill us all with a bit of hope.
Turkey still faces huge challenges when it comes to gender equality and ending violence against women. Many men still consider it their right to hit their wife. Police turn a blind eye – a horrific news video a few years ago showed a man on a sidewalk stabbing his wife then stopping to scream at her before periodically stabbing her again as onlookers, including a police officer, looked on.
My occasional work in Turkey over the past few years has been with the government, the UNFPA (the UN Population Fund), and the newspaper Hürriyet which has an ongoing campaign against domestic violence.
The six police officers who came from across the country to one of my workshops are the type of people who fill me with hope: regular men and women who decide they want to, and can, make a difference.
The UNFPA in partnership with the government trained 250 police officers who, in turn, trained 50,000 of their fellow officers on how to properly respond to incidents of violence against women.
23 of them (including those six with me) were selected to become ‘master trainers’ to make sure the program was self-sustaining. The prominent Turkish feminist who led their 8-month training was met with suspicion, but by the end of the first week they were calling her “big sister.”
Not only will another 200,000 police be trained, but the police now have the capacity to reach all incoming officers. They’ve also done training for police in Jordan and have spoken to the Turkish communities and with police in Germany and Holland.
My colleague Meltem Agduk of UNFPA, who played the pivotal role in this program, told me of their fantastic next initiative: they’ve signed a protocol with the government’s Directorate of Religious Affairs to train imams and other religious leaders and scholars about gender equality and their role in ending violence against women.