Turkey ‘needs a national policy on women in peace and security’
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The United Nations adopted a resolution in 2000 calling on member states to endorse a national action plan to increase the role of women in peace and security issues, yet Turkey still lacks a plan, a scholar has said.
As a country highly involved in humanitarian assistance in the world and refugee relief, the endorsement of an action plan prioritizing women will add to Turkey’s international prestige, according to Zeynep Alemdar, the head of the international relations department at Okan University in Istanbul and a founder of the Women in Foreign Policy Initiative (WFP14).
Can you tell us about Women in Foreign Policy Initiative?
I started this initiative in 2014 together with two other female colleagues who shared the concern of the low level of women’s participation in decision-making.
The initiative aims to encourage women’s participation in international relations which remain male dominant.
Women cannot be excluded from hard security issues. They bring a different perspective. Men ask “how can we prevent war?” and women ask “how can we build peace?” For instance a research in the U.S. senate has revealed that women senators voted in party lines in terms of sending soldiers to war, but that they later were more preoccupied about the salaries of the returning soldiers, or the education assistance to be provided to their children; issues that men usually don’t think about. The probability of peace treaties to last 15 years is 35 percent higher when women are involved.
What did you try to accomplish with this initiative?
Young women could not see a lot of role models. Yet we had foreign role models who come to Turkey on certain occasions; let’s say Jordan’s former culture minister or a Swedish parliamentarian. We organized meetings with them. We also invited our male colleagues that believe in gender equality.
Then we worked on a project to get stakeholders in Turkey like civil society organizations to familiarize with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. This is a resolution to promote women’s participation in peacemaking, to increase women’s role in conflict resolution. The resolution dated 2000 asks member states to endorse the national action plan (NAP). Some 79 countries currently have their NAP on women peace and security (WPS).
But Turkey does not have one. We entered into an exercise of working on a draft. How would it look like if it was penned with the participation of all the stakeholders?
Why is Turkey lagging behind in endorsing an NAP on WPS?
We know there were some attempts in 2016, but it stalled later on.
But only recently there were news on how the numbers of women ambassadors and women diplomats have increased. Maybe quantitative change does not bring a mentality change.
Maybe. But perhaps there is need for a better explanation as to how this would be to the interest of Turkey’s foreign policy. Most of the countries surrounding us have one, including Ukraine, Armenia and Iraq.
In addition, Turkey is proud of its foreign humanitarian assistance, its place in peacekeeping efforts, and its assistance to refugees. If Turkey were to prioritize women on all these issues that would add to its prestige. Considering that Turkey calls on EU member countries and others to share its burden of assistance to the refugees let’s not forget that most of these countries have their own NAP. Moreover, the WPS has an important place in the EU’s 2020 strategy. Therefore it would be highly prestigious if Turkey were to abide by the U.N. resolution.
Coming back to your work; what did you do in that sense?
We brought together 14 different civil society organizations working on women’s issues and first did a work on how to build dialogue among them. And we also did training on how to prepare an NAP. We did it with U.N. Women.
Coming back to our initiative, we also focus on women academics. In Turkey, there are many female experts on international relations, but they are not visible.
In fact, female experts reacted to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu via social media when he shared a picture showing him in a meeting with international relations experts, all of them men.
Indeed. We thought of how to render female international relations experts more visible and we prepared a rooster of experts in Ankara and Istanbul. We have regional experts, not only from academia, but we also included NGOs and journalists working on international politics. So we set up a database.
Following the European Parliament’s recent decision on Turkey, for instance, two of our colleagues wrote a short report on it and we shared it via social media. So we want to mobilize such partnership and also make ourselves more visible. In addition, we benefit from such cooperation. Such dialogue is helpful. It strengthens our solidarity.
Actually there is widespread conviction that women don’t support women. In fact, that they don’t help each other.
I really react to that when I hear it that often. We don’t compete on equal conditions with men; we don’t have the same numbers as well, and where there are limited positions obviously there is also competition among women. If we had the same numbers we would not enter competition among women. And in a way this is the gist of the initiative. All of the women involved in this initiative are looking for ways to increase solidarity and support.
When you look at Turkey, how do you see the current situation?
We have a long, very long way to go. Women’s participation in parliament has slightly increased, but it is still very low, with 14 percent.
We have a bumpy road ahead. But from my experience of working with some of the female candidates before the local elections and other training programs, this is what I have observed: Women politicians are very patient and very meticulous. And they really have a long-term vision. One of the reasons why women are not present in politics was the fact that they would get frustrated very quickly and would turn their back to politics after being disappointed.
This has to do with our way of socializing. Men, for instance, play football, lose, but then go back to the field the next day. But a girl plays with her friends, and once she gets cross with her friends, she does not go back for a long time to play. Our upbringing does not encourage that rivalry, competition or team work. So women enter politics then become resentful and leave politics once and for all. I think this is changing.
What I observe currently is that now they stay. In terms of women voters, there is obviously some doubt as to why women should be in politics. If the male gatekeepers were to open some space for women, two things will happen: Women will deliver quality work, and the male, patriarchal nature of politics will change.
WHO IS ZEYNEP ALEMDAR?
Associate Professor Zeynep Alemdar is the head of the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Okan University.
Her research interests are democratization and civil society, critical security studies and international organizations.
She is the founder of the Women in Foreign Policy Initiative (WFP14) and vice president of the Turkey-EU Association.
She has worked on women’s political participation and leadership for the U.N. Women and for various NGOs. She received her BA in economics from Galatasaray University, MA from Patterson School of Diplomacy, and Ph.D. from University of Kentucky.
She was a visiting professor at the Portland State University and Next Generation Hurford Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.