Turkish teacher receives International Women of Courage Award from US
AFP photoA Turkish teacher whose actions led to the arrest of a principal for sexually abusing six girls between the ages of six and 11 received the International Women of Courage Award in Washington on March 29.
Saadet Özkan, a teacher from the western province of İzmir, received her award from U.S. first lady Melania Trump.
Özkan made headlines with her struggle to ensure the principal, identified only as Adil Ş., was arrested after learning that he was showing students sexually explicit movies and sexually abusing them in İzmir’s Menderes district.
The website for the award, which was given to 13 women from around the world, described Özkan as “a champion for victims of abuse.”
“Saadet Özkan, born in 1978 in İzmir, is a former primary school teacher and a gender activist who has become a champion for victims of child abuse,” the website read, adding that she deliberately chose to work in a village school due to believing that she could make a difference.
“After uncovering a decades-long pattern of sexual abuse in the school, she forced a criminal investigation of her principal, persevering in the face of pressure to drop the case. When a serious car accident left her bed-ridden for several months, she organized support from the İzmir Bar Association and the Turkish Confederation of Women’s Associations to help carry the case forward,” it added.
Özkan is now a private consultant still supporting the victims and their case and hopes to establish an NGO that will fight child abuse.
The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award honors women around the world for exhibiting courage and leadership in their advocacy for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.
The award often honors women who have been imprisoned, tortured or threatened with death or serious harm for standing up for justice, human rights and the rule of law.
Since its creation in 2007, the program has awarded more than 100 women from 60 countries.
During the ceremony, Trump said the recipients of the awards “have fought for their rights and for the rights of others.” She presented the awards alongside Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.
Speaking about the award, Özkan said she was very happy about receiving it.
“I’m very happy. However, I want to thank my tiny students whose rights I defended. They are braver than I am. I also want to thank the head of the Turkish Confederation of Women’s Associations, Canan Güllü, and all the lawyers who supported me in İzmir,” Özkan told daily Hürriyet columnist Ayşe Arman, adding that “the award belongs to all of us.”
“This award belongs to all the people who fight against violence against women and children. However, our struggle is continuing. The cases into the children are also ongoing. I told them about the award and said, ‘Look children, the world heard us! Everything is going to be better!’” she said.
Özkan said she was very surprised when U.S. authorities called her, adding that no Turkish official called her.
“They acted as if I and this case don’t exist,” she added.
Özkan also said children who were victims of sexual abuse from all over Turkey reached her after the case in İzmir became publicized.
“I was happy that they reached me, but I felt very desperate in the face of the high number of them. There are those that I’m trying to help. I feel the pain of all of them in my heart. No child deserves such evil,” she said.