Books inspire girl children to resist inequalities
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A book compiled of short stories by female writers to inspire girls will be out on shelves on Oct. 11, the International Day of the Girl Child.
UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and the Aydın Doğan Foundation are collaborating again this year to mark the day with a conference whose theme this year is empowerment of the girl child through sports, sciences and arts.
Doğan Egmont Publishing has asked some of Turkey’s most prominent female writers of children literature to contribute to the book with stories to encourage girls to go after their dreams.
The book is named “If I Want,” to underline the message to children that the first thing to realizing their dreams is to “want” and to “believe in oneself.” Gülten Dayıoğlu, one of Turkey’s most well-known authors of children and youth books is among the eight writers who contributed to the book.
The author of 90 books, Dayıoğlu who is celebrating her 55th year as a writer, has had firsthand experience in living the difficulties of being a girl in Turkey. Books read at early ages leave a lasting mark, according to Dayıoğlu. “From the feedback I get on book signing days and the mail I receive, I can see how girls have also been inspired by my stories,” she told Hürriyet Daily News.
Tell us about the story that will be in the book.
My story is about migrant workers and their children. It was published in the mid-80s. Thanks to the support of Milliyet daily, I had conducted research in Germany among Turkish (migrant) communities. But upon my return, I have also realized that if there was a story of those who have left to go abroad, there was another story about those left behind. These were divided families.
My story is based on two sisters whose parents went to Germany to work. While they were expecting to be joining their parents in Germany, they learned they had a new baby brother. All the letters that came from Germany started to be only about the baby boy, which saddened the girls. At one stage, her mother suggested the older sister to come to Germany to take care of her baby brother. Faced against the dilemma of love for her mother and love for her school, she decided to stay, as she did not want to interrupt her education.
Do you think boys are still more welcome than girls even today?
Yes, I think so, especially in Anatolia. You know what I said when I found out the first time my first grandchild would be a girl? “No worries, the next one will be a boy.” I am still ashamed of having said that. I myself, come from a decadent culture where customs and traditions are very important.
Have you felt negative discrimination as a girl?
I have a bitter experience. My father had left my mother for someone else. I used to stay with him from to time. Once, and at that time I had short hair, he took me to the tailor and made him sew pants for me. It was the 1940s and girls were not wearing pants. When my stepmother asked why, I overhead him say he was annoyed to take me out with him, whereas he felt more comfortable going out if people thought I was a boy.
That really left a mark on me. I remember that if somehow, there is a moment of silence in a crowded noisy room, you say, “a girl is born.” That makes you think being a girl is a bad thing. Mothers try to give the best part of the meat to their husband and their son. All of this has left me wondering for years.
How do you think this has affected your way of writing?
It was my teacher who had encouraged me to become a writer. My mother, who could not read and write wanted me to either be a teacher or a judge. It was due to her encouragement that I went to the faculty of law. Then I got married and as we started suffering from economic hardship, I had to work.
I quit the faculty, got a teacher’s certificate and started teaching. But I started writing from early on and first wrote short stories. The main themes have always evolved around social issues. I tried to talk about the oppression of girls and women. Having lived in Anatolia for many years, I have had a lot to observe.
I have seen girls married at a very young age and suffering from bad treatment by their mothers-in-law who treated them as slaves. Orphan girls were married at a very young age to much older men. My aunt’s daughter, who was an orphan, was married to a much older man. I had heard that when they went to the judge, they had put some cotton in her bra to make her breasts look bigger. The judge asked her to open her jacket slightly and seeing what appeared to be breasts, gave permission.
Do you think not much has changed since your childhood?
I cannot deny the progress that has been registered and how can I forget the activities undertaken, especially by NGOs. Girls in villages for instance, want to go to schools, they want to read; they have ideals in life.
But on the other hand, to give you an example, women used to be beaten by men in my childhood as well, but I do not recall wives being murdered by their husbands. Look at all the news about women being murdered by men.
You are lucky you came across someone, a dedicated and attentive teacher, to guide you in life.
These were the times when teachers shined like stars. She was a graduate of a village institute (part of a project of rural developments, village institutes were open in the 1940s to train teachers). When they were graduating, they were told, “You are going to go throughout Anatolia. You will come across some talents, do not miss them.” So she was happy to have discovered the talent in me. She immediately took me to the library. She said “I told you, you will become a writer, but the way to becoming a writer passes through the library.”
Do you think your books made an impact on the girls that have read them?
Definitely. After all, I myself am a symbol of resilience. We went to school carrying wood under our arm. When the window of our school was broken, we used to cover it with a pillow. Many girls in my class stopped their education and got married.
What I do is tell the stories of those who have succeeded and those who have not.
I see its impact on book signing days and in the thousands of mails I receive. I have a reader that said she became a writer after having read my books, another is studying genetic engineering after being inspired by my stories. All of these will be made public in my digital library that will soon be open.
Reading is extremely important and especially reading when you are a child. Ideas start penetrating from your veins when you start reading at an early age. I myself have very much been influenced from the books I have read.
How do you see the general evolution of child and youth literature in Turkey?
I can say there has been a rise but children and youth literature is not where I would have liked it to be. The year 1979 was declared the year of children. More than 100 authors wrote children’s books. We are only three left from that period. It’s not that they have died. I also have to say I have worries, especially about the way our language is being used.
Who is Gülten Dayıoğlu?
Gülten Dayıoğlu was born in 1935 in a small village near the Aegean city of Kütahya. She has attended the Istanbul University Faculty of Law. She later became a primary school teacher and resigned in 1977, after 15 years of teaching.
Dayıoğlu’s first book was published in 1963. Her books, which have been published uninterruptedly, have been read by succeeding generations.
She is the author of 90 books, which were translated into several languages including English, Swedish and Arabic.
A recipient of several awards, Dayıoğlu’s “If Only the World Belonged to Children” was selected in 1984 among 3,000 books “inspiring hope for future in the young” by the German Publisher’s Guild.
In the period between 1997-2007, she has been chosen three times as Turkey’s most read author of children and youth books by the Education Ministry and Turkish literature associations.