I am writing this blog piece on March 8th, Women’s Day. I started the day by a very meaningful message which was sent by the President of my University. In her message, Prof. Dr. Elif Çepni of Doğuş University stated how proud she was to be at a University where the majority of high administrative positions were held by women: The President of the University is a woman, there are 5 faculties and 4 of them are led by Deans that are women. There are also 4 women Vice Deans in the University, since in 4 of the 5 Faculties, one of the 2 Vice Deans is also a woman. Moreover, the Dean of Students is also a woman. The head of the Foreign Languages School, the Secretary General, the Director of Student Affairs, the Director of the IT department and the Director of Purchasing department are also all women. There is a considerable number of Department Chairs or Academic Unit Heads who are female as well. In my faculty, which is the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, 62% of all faculty members are women.
This is an exceptional performance even in the Turkish higher education system where women are considered to be well represented with a figure of 38.7% of all academic personnel. Unfortunately one cannot say the same for higher positions: only 5.2% of University Presidents and 15.3% of Faculty Deans are women across the country.
In the young Turkish Republic, established in 1923, women were granted their political rights between 1924-1934, earlier than in many Western democracies. Inclusion of women in all aspects of life was an important part of the modernization project of the country and the high overall percentage of women in academia in Turkey is a result of the efforts sown during the early Republican period. Since then, women have been active members of professional life, although considerable improvement is needed in the number of women members of the Parliament. So the same pattern exists here, women are everywhere but hardly in high positions.
On the domestic level, it is another story. From one side, during recent years there has been some considerable reform for bringing the Turkish Civil Code in line with the internationally accepted women’s rights. Since 1985 Turkey is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Both the CEDAW and the Turkey’s candidate status to the EU may have helped the legislators in Turkey to do the necessary reforms in that area.
Yet the improvements seem to be only on paper when one looks at the newspaper every day; the news is filled left and right with violations of women’s rights. From honor killings to domestic violence, from lack of education to lack of access to a professional life, women are discriminated against, mostly by a patriarchal culture and a societal structure which cannot fully grasp the significance of women’s rights for a healthy society.
One way towards women’s emancipation is through higher education. The rationale goes that when women are educated, they can earn a livelihood and do not have to depend on a father or a husband to sustain their lives. As an academic today, I find myself in a position to ask if giving a diploma to young women is enough to consider them ready for the life ahead of them. Some women use their education to land a good husband and that is not a very bright prospect from a social point of view. Moreover when the society in which the educated young women live does not know how to handle them, one needs to ask what skills we need to provide to our female students other than a diploma.
Yet the emancipation of women cannot be only fostered through the education of women, education of men is also crucial. Then I find myself with a second question of asking if giving a diploma to young men is enough to consider them ready for life which they will need to share with emancipated women in a country like mine, between the East and the West.
Today is Women’s Day and I am wondering what I should be teaching to my students beyond International Relations…
Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.