Conference to celebrate two decades in women’s studies

Conference to celebrate two decades in women’s studies

Emrah Güler - ANKARA
Conference to celebrate two decades in women’s studies Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) institutionalized feminism and began its quest to give master’s diplomas to people from different generations of feminists, post-feminists, and feminists-in-the-making 20 years ago when it began its Gender and Women’s Studies Graduate Program. The two-year, interdisciplinary program was established in the academic year of 1994-95 under a project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The program examines issues of knowledge, society and gender within a feminist perspective, in the interests of contributing toward an understanding of the social position of women and the inequality between women and men, with a primary focus on the case of Turkey. Education, research and advocacy are the three pillars of the program that has a diverse curriculum, with courses like Gender and Peace, Women’s Experience with Hierarchy and the State, Economics of Gender, and Problems of Studying Women in Muslim Societies.

The 20th year of Gender and Women’s Studies Graduate Program is now being celebrated with a three-day event, the International Conference on Knowledge and Politics in Gender and Women’s Studies, between Oct. 9 and 11 at ODTÜ. The conference is set to provide a platform to discuss the formation and development of gender and women’s studies over the last two decades and the future of the discipline both in Turkey and globally. 

Gender and women’s studies is a relatively new but increasingly flourishing discipline, not only in terms of knowledge but also in terms of political engagement. The conference will offer opportunities to evaluate the past 20 years and share the experiences among three generations of gender and women’s studies scholars, from the first pioneers of the 1980s and early 1990s, to their students and those carrying out their graduate studies now. The conference hopefully will build bridges, and facilitate cross-generational encounters. 

What the alumni have to say

Conference to celebrate two decades in women’s studies One of the early graduates of the program is Professor Şule Toktaş, now the head of the Political Science and Public Administration Department at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. Toktaş’s master’s thesis was a study on the gender awareness of woman teachers and academics of the graduates of girls’ institutes. “I had seen that the graduates, who were given an education on being good mothers, wives and homemakers, had [rejected] these roles, choosing lives defined by careers,” said Toktaş on the driving force behind her thesis. “Some of them hadn’t even married.”

As for the program, Toktaş said: “ODTÜ’s Gender and Women’s Studies Graduate Program is a pioneer in its field. The program contributes a great deal to social sciences where high-quality theses are written. The alumni don’t necessarily stay in the academia, they sometimes go on working in public administration and the state.” 

Toktaş emphasized the international impact and recognition of the program, saying: “The instructors are frontrunners in social sciences. Not only do they contribute to academia in women’s studies, but they are also known to be enthusiastic supporters of the women’s movement. Some of them take diplomatic missions, working toward raising women’s status in Turkey, and across the globe.” 

On a more personal note, Toktaş said the program helped her become a “conscious adult woman,” through the “theoretical knowledge, vision and skills and knowledge for comparative analysis” that the Gender and Women’s Studies Program offers.

Conference to celebrate two decades in women’s studies Burcu Tazebay, another alumnus, joined the program after studying cinema and television to cultivate her interest in “film analysis with a feminist perspective.” Tazebay remembers the encouraging words of a friend about the program, summarizing her sentiments on “one of the best decisions” she has made. 

“Studying this program will actually affect your whole perspective on life. You will have a better understanding when you read an article, when you watch TV or simply when you’re trying to make sense of an issue between two people sometimes. And the professors are very valuable academics, only to meet them would be a big gain in your life,” she said.

I am also one of the very first graduates (and the first male one) of ODTÜ’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program. The impact of the program and the gender perspective it has helped me cultivate continue to echo in my daily life and my writing. The titles to some of my recent articles would probably be a testament to that: “Women adamant about restoring peace in Turkey,” “The long and arduous journey of women on screen in Turkey,” “Women back to business with Turkish social venture YenidenBiz,” “Are TV series responsible for violence against women in Turkey?”

For detailed information on the conference, visit