Turkish NGOs fight for women's development

Published 07.03.2016 21:41
Updated 07.03.2016 21:45
Turkish NGOs fight for women's development

Today brings another International Women's Day and civil society groups around the world continue to stress their demands for a better environment for women. In Turkey, a number of NGOs like KEDV improve the quality of life and economic situation of women and cooperate with international organizations to bring exchange

Founded as a nonprofit civil society organization in 1986, the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work (KEDV) focuses on improving economic situation of low-income women while strengthening their leadership on the local development level. The foundation works with low-income neighborhoods of Istanbul, regions affected by earthquakes and various cities around Turkey; especially in the Aegean region and Southeastern Anatolia.

To spread the effects of their work through the development of an appropriate environment and to have a mutual exchange regarding experiences while also raising funds for the women's initiative, KEDV cooperatively engages in dialogue with public and civil society institutions in related fields. To this end, it creates the conditions for cooperation with local governments, public institutions on the local level, the relevant ministries and various civil society organizations, working with companies such as Microsoft and their volunteers in the framework of corporate social responsibility.

KEDV participates in the regional and global meetings of international institutions such as the UN and World Bank and observes the decision-making process through its' international communications networks (Groots International, the Women's Learning Partnership and the Huariou Commission). It exchanges experiences with similar women's organizations such as in India, Kenya, the US, the Netherlands and Germany.

We had the chance to sit down with KEDV Project Coordinator Gökçen Durutaş and learn more about the foundation, its principles and much more.

Daily Sabah: Since 1986, you have been working to improve the quality of life and economic situation of women and have helped more than 3,000 women and their children in doing so. How do you find and choose the women you are helping? How does this process develop?

Gökçen Durutaş: Actually, the numbers are much higher than this. We help around 30,000 women each year and over 4,000 children. We help women who have low-income to combat poverty. We help these women at a local level, depending on their needs with the help of cooperatives. The social needs of women are identified and through cooperatives we implement services and programs to meet the needs of these women. The cooperatives that identify these needs are actually established by the women in need. These needs can be either economic or social needs. These cooperatives are an opportunity for woman to come and work together depending on their needs and also make money when doing so. We have programs such as early childhood education, economic empowerment, capacity development and disaster preparedness program. In this situation we don't end up picking the women, they end up being a part of whichever program they wish to be a part of and they create their own opportunities this way.

DS: What kind of progress have you made since the first day the foundation opened? Can you tell us about the foundation's activity?

GD: The foundation has a very holistic understanding of power. It believes that women's problems must be dealt with in a holistic manner. This has to do with the fact that these women cannot work because they have to look after their children. They cannot be a part of educational possibilities because of their responsibilities at home. After a while when they decide to earn money they venture off to doing small traditional works at home. Since they are unaware of the general market situation they do not work in market conditions. This leads to a low and irregular income. We believe that women have certain expertise and leadership skills that come from their life experiences and our aim is to bring this issue up and strengthen them economically and socially. The foundation's activities are parallel to this and we have four different programs available. The first would be economic empowerment which the woman can be a part of, within the cooperatives. These opportunities vary from region to region. For example there is a soap workshop and a guest house run by the woman in Mardin, a restaurant in Çanakkale and organic farming in Hatay. These businesses change according to the needs of the woman and the opportunities available in that region. Aside from this, there are also educational opportunities available like early childhood education, capacity development and disaster preparedness programs. We can change these programs according to the needs of the women in certain regions of Turkey and adapt it to them.

DS: Nonprofit foundations in Turkey can sometimes face economic difficulty. Do you have any grant projects which you implement in this context?

Yes of course. We have grant projects in which we work on and apply in this context. After these projects are developed they are presented to international organizations like the European Union. This is how we can get financial support for our foundation.

DS: The foundation is in constant communication with other women's institutions. What kind of a benefit does this have for the foundation? What kind of an experience exchange goes on between the foundations?

We have a couple of networks that we are a member of. We develop programs with these networks and we exchange our experiences. It is also a place where women from other institutions can come together and learn from each other, because we all know that the problems women go through are the same everywhere around the world. Our communication with other women's institutions are a great interaction and is great because we can come up with partner resolutions for specific problems and it also provides another visibility for the foundation

DS: For those who want to support the foundation you have volunteerism and donation opportunities available. Aside from this, you also have a shop called Nahıl Dükkan. Can you tell us a little bit about Nahıl Dükkan?

Nahıl Dükkan emerged to offer women a marketplace in which they have the opportunity to sell their products. Not only is it a place where they can sell their products but it is also a place where they can develop their products as well. There are more than 500 manufacturers for Nahıl Dükkan and also products from the woman's cooperatives. You can shop directly at Nahıl Dükkan for support and there is also a corporate sales opportunity as well. The income derived from Nahıl supports the manufacturer and the woman and children centers directly. When we get donations for the shop, we make sure that the clothes or accessories are in clean and wearable shape before putting them up for sale. There is a selection of clothing for both men and woman in which they can benefit from and a few bits of jewelry and accessories. Nahıl has come very far as there are both products that are produced by hand by the woman and also products that are produced by the woman's cooperatives and of course the second hand clothing we get as donations. Nahıl also produces customer specific products as well.

DS: Can you give us information about your micro-entrepreneurial projects? What kind of results have you obtained from these projects?

The support we give to these women are already micro-entrepreneurial projects in themselves if we think about it. The first thing would be the MAYA micro credit institution which was developed by KEDV in 2002. MAYA helps women to bring to life the work they have in mind and to support their already opened businesses. Until now there has been over 10 thousand micro credits given to women in need of support. Aside from this, there is an annual award ceremony which is a competition for female entrepreneurs who have advanced in their work with the help of micro credits. We also have a website (www.girisimcikadin.com) in which women can create an online profile and share their micro-entrepreneurial projects with each other and read and learn more about the topic. They can also ask questions to consultants about their projects and how to improve them. These micro-entrepreneurial projects range from many things. You can find a woman who produce and sell products they have made in their homes, woman who are running a small shop, woman who produce foods, women who farm organic plants and much more. These projects change from region to region as the projects that will guarantee income is different for each part of Turkey. They must create projects according to the current market conditions in order to provide income.

Nahıl: A Producing Woman's Partner

Nahıl Dükkan was founded in 2003 by the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work (FSWW) to help low-income producing woman create a market to sell their products in a sustainable way. The income derived from Nahıl Dükkan is donated to twenty three women and children's center which have been opened with the support of KEDV and it supports low income areas to open kindergartens and provide woman with marketing and product development. Nahıl Dükkan is a bridge between manufacturing woman and their customers and also sells donated second-hand clothing, books and all kinds of accessories. With its success in Istanbul, a Nahıl Dükkan opened in Mardin in 2008 and is continuing to be "A Producing Woman's Partner."

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