Turkey needs ‘new mobilization’ to keep girls in high schools
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Having achieved important progress in girls’ access to primary education through a series of successful campaigns, Turkey now needs to revive the same mobilization spirit to keep girls in higher education, according to Candan Fetvacı. Staying focused remains a key issue in tackling girls’ problems, the Aydın Doğan Foundation head tells the Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey has achieved significant progress in enrollment of girls at primary schools through public and private mobilization, but efforts to keep them in higher education need to be stepped up, Aydın Doğan Foundation director has Candan Fetvacı told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Tell us about the “Daddy, Send me to School” campaign.
In the early 2000s there was still a serious difference between girls and boys in Turkey in access to education. As we were thinking of what to do about it, Hanzade Doğan Boyner, the chairwoman of Doğan Gazetecilik who is also the charwoman of the Aydın Doğan Foundation, decided to initiate a campaign in this field. Joining hands with the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life [ÇYDD], in 2005 Doğan Gazetecilik launched the “Daddy, Send Me to School” (BBOG) campaign. At that time there was a very serious political will and resoluteness. The Education Ministry was working very intensively on the issue.
Other foundations, as well as representatives of the private sector, also started to focus on the issue as a social responsibility project. Actually, Hanzade Doğan Boyner did not call the BBOG campaign a “project” but rather a “mobilization.” With this overall mobilization throughout Turkey, together with the steps taken by the state, there was a boost in awareness. Ten years ago, one in 10 girls was not going to school in Turkey;
but today we can say that nearly all girls are going to school. Girls’ access to education is not yet 100 percent but the progress is extremely significant.
What were the key steps that led to these results?
Many girls were suffered from lack of physical access to schools. Some villages do not have schools, for example, so the BBOG campaign specifically focused on building girls’ dormitories. A total of 33 dorms were built with the support and donation of numerous individuals and organizations, and handed over to the Education Ministry. Also important was the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, where mothers are given monthly payments in return for their children’s regular school attendance. With this, the argument saying “I have no money so I can’t send my children to school” was weakened.
The Aydın Doğan Foundation also gave more than 11,000 scholarships for an average of 3.4 years, while house visits were also very significant in terms of convincing families to send their children to schools.
What lies ahead?
We don’t think there is a serious problem left in terms of access to primary education, despite halts and even some regression in the indicators. But where there is a very serious problem is in high-school attendance. There are too many dropouts, too many girls not graduating from high schools. Currently only 80 percent of high school-age girls are enrolled.
We need to find out the reasons and address them with the same resolve that was displayed in the 2000s for access to primary education. We need to repeat the same mobilization and resolve for all stakeholders to work together.
What are the reasons for the high dropout rates?
Many families have financial difficulties, so we need some incentives. There is also the issue of child brides. Although secondary education is compulsory, many students opt for “open” secondary education [where they don’t have to regularly attend school]. But there are question marks as to what degree distance education is fruitful.
But one might think that with progress and access to technology, the problem of geography is no longer such a big problem for education.
Children should attend a school and have a teacher contributing to their learning until they finish high school. Also important is children’s social development. Education is not only limited to being able to solve some mathematics or physics problems on the computer at home. Children need to be present in that social environment. There is also a need for boys and girls to socialize together. Getting quality education at school contributes to the shaping of your character and gives you self-confidence.
What are the other problems that girls are facing?
Safe and clean schools, including lavatories, and safe transportation to schools are still important problems - not only in Turkey but also in the world. Another very important issue is the empowerment of girls. We need to avoid discriminatory attitudes. Families and society need to internalize the fact that girls are not different than boys. Girls need to be approached with that understanding, from the examples that are given in textbooks to the treatment they receive in schools.
Teachers and school principals in Turkey generally embrace a traditional, rather than egalitarian, view on gender. Teachers attribute different roles to, and have different expectations from, girls and boys. For example, boys are generally chosen to be head of the class rather than girls.
Getting girls to enter university, having them graduate from university, and increasing female employment also remain key issues. There are too many young women between the ages of 15 and 29 in Turkey who are neither educated nor employed.
The BBOG campaign contributed to raising awareness of access to primary school. What about awareness in terms of attendance to high school and issues like child brides?
We still have a long way to go in terms of increasing awareness on those issues. We recently listened to Fatma Şahin, the former minister of family and social affairs who is currently the mayor of Gaziantep. Şahin is working very much on these issues.
We are currently hosting three million Syrians. Currently 400,000 Syrian children can’t go to school. Many Syrian families with no income are trying to marry their children off as soon as possible. They think perhaps they are doing a favor and offering some kind of opportunity; but on the contrary, forcing a girl to marry at the age of 13 or 14 is very sad.
What is your advice to others inspired by the BBOG campaign? What should be the key elements in similar projects?
Proximity, being close to the school; safety; the confidence that there is a secure way of getting to school and that the school itself is secure; conditional cash transfers and house visits; and face-to-face communication always make a difference.
What difficulties does the foundation encounter?
We have difficulty in working together, in sustainability, in showing continued resolve. We initiate something, we get excited about it, but then five years later no one is around. Obviously we live in a country where the agenda is constantly changing, but we need to focus on our targets.
Struggling to change mindsets must also be an uphill struggle.
Changes in mentality cannot happen overnight. But you need to have faith in it. Political will and political resolve are very important. If that wasn’t there we could not solve all these problems by ourselves. There’s nothing you can’t solve when the representatives of civil society, the private sector and the public sector come together.
Who is Candan Fetvacı ?
Candan Fetvacı is the director and a board member of the Aydın Doğan Foundation. She plans and oversees all of the foundation’s philanthropic activities, especially those in education. She also serves as the vice president of the board of the Turkish Third Sector Foundation (TUSEV), which provides support to a network of over 100 foundations and associations in Turkey.
From 1997 to 2004, Fetvacı served as general manager of Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University Foundation, responsible for supporting the university’s various activities through fundraising.
Fetvacı earned an MBA in Operations Management and completed her graduate studies at Boğaziçi University. She also studied in the Faculty of Architecture and City Planning Department at Middle East Technical University in Ankara.