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Although it is very little and the road is too long
1 Aug 2010
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“We may say that the democracy in Turkey is not yet valid. The government is still too strong, and the independent women’s organizations are too few. After 12th September, there was a really anti-democratic platform in Turkey. Everybody was put in prison. Women NGOs are all shut down. Only, the women continued to think and read and act.”

Flying Broom (Uçan Süpürge). Organization founded in 1996 in order to establish a network between women’s NGOs and an information and documentation center for women. Initiating many projects to improve women’s status and capacity, Flying Broom increases collaboration and communication between women’s organizations as well as between women’s organizations and public institutions, to increase the importance and visibility of women’s efforts in culture and art, actively participate in the media, and fight for the institutionalization of gender equality in Turkey. Interviewed August 2010.

Although it is very little and the road is too long

I am a cineaste originally. I am educated from a film school and in those early years, when I was very young, it was very rare to have a profession as a cineaste, as a woman especially. I was the only female student in my class.

I liked it in many ways, and I hated it. Everybody thought that I would be the script girl. We were filming during the school years, and when you are director, you give the jobs to others in your class. Everybody is giving me script-writing. At the end, I said, “Why?” They thought it is something women can do. Everybody thinks that I will be the script girl because in our tradition, in our cinemas, women are always the script girls. There were hardly any women directors.

It changed slowly. The third year, I was the camera girl. So it is also slow, but you can make a difference, and now in the film schools, it's nearly fifty-fifty girls and boys. And now there are a lot of women directors. The tradition is changing.

On the other hand, women directors are mostly shooting documentaries because it is cheaper. You can raise funds yourself as a woman director for documentaries but none of the studios will give thousands of millions of dollars in the hands of a woman. Very rare. Women are shooting short films as well. I did the same thing.

Unfortunately, I made the films to earn money, and they are not important. I found that it was better that I organize film festivals. It was ’88 when I started with festivals. 

I know this country very well. I know our habits and our traditions. We are a people who learn by seeing, not by reading. In this land, this is our habit. That’s why films are very important and television, visual arts. We are lazy and the newspaper sellings and book sellings are testimony to this. For instance, a good book sells three thousand, but a film is seen by millions and millions. It is a way to reach everybody.

When Flying Broom decided to start a women’s film festival, which was the first and only women’s film festival in Turkey, it was a year after the Flying Broom was established. I was in the advisory board of the festival. We selected the films. In 2000, I took over the festival. I have been doing film festivals now for 22 years.

We always choose to use the strong language of arts for our aims, especially empowering women and awareness-raising. Most women’s NGOs in Turkey do not give importance to culture and arts. Flying Broom differs in this from the other NGOs because we think that art is a very strong way to tell your ideas, a good forum to say what you want to say.

You know, when the film festival first started, everyone thought, “Why are we having a woman’s film festival, why? Nobody organizes a men’s film festival.” This was a stupid question everybody asked. No one understood, but after thirteen years, next year we are preparing the fourteenth one, no one asks that question anymore. They know it is necessary for the women’s film directors. There are even a lot of women’s film festivals in Istanbul that started six years after we started.

Every May, we have the festival. It is a huge festival. The FIPRESCI International Federation of Film Critics sends a jury to our festival, and they give an award to one of the films we show during the festival. Ours is the only women’s film festival  in the world where FIPRESCI gives an award.

Of course, we are especially careful to include films that speak about all issues because many think that in a women’s film festival, there is a lot of sorrow and woman issues, blah, blah, blah. No. Women are talking about all kinds of issues, not only women’s issues. There are a lot of issues in this world; we are looking with a gender perspective at this world; and we can speak to every issue that concerns the world.

For instance, we are always looking to the political agenda of Turkey. You know the twelfth September? After the 12th September,[1] all the associations and organizations were closed down by the military.

Last year, we started a campaign. We said to the women, “You are the most affected ones because you were the ones waiting outside and you are the ones trying to save your husbands, or sons, or fathers. You were the ones who were making life go on so tell us. Write us a letter. Tell us your story.” The question was, “Where were you on the 12th September?” We received hundreds of letters all over Turkey, including some states of Europe, and we established a letter exhibition.

It was a great success. We got an invitation from Istanbul. We re-opened the exhibit in Istanbul. We received an invitation from Germany. We re-opened that exhibit. Still cities are inviting us to re-open the exhibit, and it is interesting that every time you re-open the exhibit, the people who attend start to write their own letters. Yes, it was the first time that women began talking about that day, the 12th September.

You know, there is a very interesting history of Turkish women’s movement. It started in 1908 in Ottoman Empire but after the Republic, the women’s activists are told, “Now we are a Republic and everybody’s equal, so it is finished. Your job is finished.” They are not allowed to continue. For many years, we were not able to read and learn about the women who started the women’s movement in this land.

After the 80’s, women started to read and started to learn. We say the second movement started after 80s and after 90s when a lot of NGOs were set up. In the ’80s, everybody had a sister or mother who was a feminist, who was dealing with gender issues. It was the same with me.

My first love’s mother was an activist. I was only 16 when she took me to the first woman’s meeting in Ankara. I think it was in ’82. It started like that and then I started to read. When you start to learn and when you gain a point of view, when you have a women’s point of view, it is hard to go back, and who wants to go back? I think everybody has her feminism. At least in Turkey. We continue to discuss all the issues.

Still, feminism is different now in Turkey than it was. It has changed. When it started in the 80s, we were more on the streets, protesting. We were activists. Now, we are staying in offices. We learned how to build organizations to be more powerful, but we are still in our offices and writing projects. No more activists on the roads, very few, because we are too busy writing projects.

You know, the average life of women’s NGO in Turkey, how long they live, is four and a half years. It is sad. The biggest issue of women’s organization is funding because we get no funds from anywhere. We have to write projects to get funding. You have to write projects and projects and projects, so you get money for the projects. With the little part of it, you have to pay your rent, you have to pay your electricity, you have to pay your fax machine.

No one pays our rent. No one pays our electricity or internet connection. We have to find money for those monthly expenses. Money. Funding. The biggest problem. We also work too hard. For instance, we start at 8 o’clock in the morning and we work mostly until 6 or 7, and during project activity times, we work until midnight. Nobody complains. 

There is always threat that you will not be able to pay your rent next month. It is always a danger that you cannot get your paycheck. That is too stressful. Everybody has her life here. I have a child. I pay for her school. I pay my rent, house, and I have to get paid. Every month you think about it. You don’t know what to say to your landowner. I don’t know what to say to my child’s school if I cannot pay it.

Of course, this is the economic issue and psychologically, it is also hard to work in a women’s NGO. You feel the other threats because it is not such a common thing to do women’s issues. Thankfully, in the last years, it has progressed. Everybody knows that there are some women NGOs; they are working on women’s issues. In the old days, it was harder.

 At Flying Broom, we shortly say that we are a communications center for women’s NGOs. We make projects to build a network between women’s NGOs. We hold a lot of district meetings to bring women together.

Now, there is another project called “Women trapped in democracy road.” We will go to twelve cities. We will have roundtable meetings with women’s NGOs, with the members of parliament, and we will discuss local issues. We will have trainings on how we can bring our issues to the agenda in parliament. The lecture will be about that. There will be a discussion session with the parliamentarians and the women’s NGO’s.

In Flying Broom, we also have regular things running daily. For instance, we have a website that is updated every day. It is a news portal at the same time. We give women news; that’s an everyday job. We give consultation and advice to the other women’s NGOs. Every day we receive a lot of phone calls from all over Turkey asking for something.

For instance, just yesterday I received a phone call saying, “We are a new women’s NGO. We want to share ideas with foreign NGOs. Will you just advise us on some NGOs from Europe?” I researched. I gave them some contacts and some numbers to them. They said, “Yes, we are going to see them.”

I am also the project coordinator of two other projects, and I am the writer of two other projects. In the meantime, I am the one who is maintaining relationships with our international networks, for instance the international women’s lobby and organizations in the UN. So, everybody is working too much.

Flying Broom is also a member of the women’s council in the municipality. One of our members goes three times per week to that meeting. It is our new goal to work with the local municipalities. We believe that women are mostly face-to-face with the municipal governments. It is the public authority that they are regularly in contact with. The gender perspective must start from those local meetings.

We intend to run two projects to give a gender perspective to the workers of the municipalities. We will have trainings; we will have workshops; we will bring women workers of the municipality together.

There are still some cities that have no women’s NGOs. We have a new project now in the East part of Turkey: We will go there and meet with women and tell them how it is important to have an organization to bring your voices together, to be heard. It is another project, which we are working on it.

Of course, many NGOs are working on women’s issues. Violence is another field. We do not think that we can deal with it here. It is another specialty, violence, but you have to deal with violence. For instance, Flying Broom is very well-known because of our film festival. Weekly, we receive ten or fifteen telephones saying, “What will I do? My husband beats me.” The only thing we can do is give the telephone of Women’s Solidarity Foundation or the other shelters’ telephone numbers. We think that real specialists must deal with it. We are like a traffic police, showing direction. We do not say that we know everything. We know the way, so we get information and give it.

I love what I do and I think it is a very good taste that every day that you are able to change something. That’s why I come every day to work. Although it is very little and the road is too long, it is good to be on that road. It is good to be one of the people working on that road. For instance, it makes me feel that I really am succeeding in changing something. This world will move toward a better place for women.

Still, you know, just ten or fifteen days ago, our president said that women and men are not equal. It is really hope-breaking. We are working to say that we are equal for ten, fifteen years, and our president now says that they are not equal. It is really challenging. In my dreams, something changes.

Conservative people, they still see women in the family. We are first a mother and then a wife. They do not say “woman.” Instead they say, “They are our mothers. They are our wives.” We have to say that we are first women.

Now, the president is saying that every woman has to have at least three children. Women have to stay in the family, to protect the family. You have to raise your children. Our president thinks that when every woman gives birth to at least three children, in fifteen years’ time there will be a lot of people unemployed, so the labor rates will go down. Then, the foreign companies will come to Turkey to open factories. He will solve the economic problems. Yes, that is the solution, he thinks.

As a socialist feminist, I think he will not be successful solving the economic problems.

Of course, there are a lot of issues for women. Violence is another big issue. Trafficking is another issue. Education is another issue. Empowerment is another issue, and employment is a big issue. There are a lot. That’s why we have to work a lot.

First, you have to know that it will be slow work, too. You have to be patient. There are different ways to do the work. Awareness-raising is very important and to use arts and culture is very important. Empowerment is very important: Women need to have their own jobs and own salaries.

Of course the habits are changing. The tradition is changing and when you feel that there is a change, you also feel that there are a lot of people who resist the change. I do not have a clue how to solve it but by living it, by working on it, by insisting. You have to.

Maybe, I will tell you our dream. We first started as a non-profit company. It was the first non-profit in Turkey because after the 12th September, it was still dangerous to build an association. When you are an association, police will enter and make a search whenever they want. In those times, it was so. So we started a non-profit company because nobody knew what that meant in Turkey in those years. We just struggled, and at the end, we got a paper from the government saying this company is a non-profit company.

It was safe in those days because one or two times, police wanted to enter to our office. We just said, “We are a company; you do not have the right to enter.” So it was nice. But we always wanted to be a foundation. It was too expensive to be a foundation. After thirteen years, we think that it is time to step forward and build up a women’s academy, a school teaching gender issues.

Now, Flying Broom is an association and we are taking our big steps toward our dream to being an academy. Of course first we have to be able to pay our office, the regular expenses, but we have some good contacts with the grant-giving foundations. I am now writing and searching. I think that I will be able to raise a fund.

We are very excited. It will be the first in Turkey if we will succeed. Now, we want to do our dream.

 

Interview: Part 2. With one of the founders of organization Flying Broom. Interviewed August 2010.

Democracy not yet valid

What is different about Flying Broom compared with the other organizations is that we work in every district of Turkey. We go into eighty provinces and cities. We work on the general issues, not on one specific subject. Flying Broom also had a role during the changes in the Constitution, the penal code, and civil code after 2005.

Although the Turkish women’s movement history is long and very old, Flying Broom opened the road to other NGOs. For instance, Kaos GL first started in the Flying Broom office. Others also started in Flying Broom office. The Capital Women’s Platform, they will tell you how Flying Broom was the center for the first CEDAW shadow report.

When we first were established, we had a brochure saying we are aware of Turkish women’s movement. We are aware of our experiences, and we will also be aware of the daily life of old Turkey, as we are traveling to all cities. We are aware that Turkey is now in the 17th greatest economies of the world but on the other hand, we are the fourth from the bottom on women’s rights. That is a real, big problem.

In short, we may say that the democracy in Turkey is not yet valid. The government is still too strong, and the independent women’s organizations are too few. After the 12th September, there was a really anti-democratic platform in Turkey. Everybody was put in prison. Women NGOs were all shut down. Only, the women continued to think and read and act.

The second movement started there. All the women’s NGOs that were established in the 85 years since the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, from that date to now, seventy-four percent were established in the nineties.

In those days of the 90s, our group looked to the organizations that were being established all over Turkey, and we thought, we must have women’s organizations who are also trying to intervene in the political life of Turkey. We thought that we must be a communication center between these small groups and NGOs. That’s why Flying Broom was established. That’s why we were born. Now, we have connections with nearly with all of the NGOs in every city of Turkey.

There were some other suggestions for the name but when we voted, we selected Flying Broom. What we wanted to do was to establish a dialogue between women, and we want to establish a dialogue between the organized women, and lastly we want to establish an international network between women’s NGO’s. By targeting these aims, we had to be quick and we had to fly. That’s why we chose the name Flying Broom.

Concerning the Flying Broom and my dreams about it, I think it is realized. The most important dream about Flying Broom, according to me, was to communicate with all the women’s organizations. Today, if we receive a call from another city, from a women’s NGO there and it is as if we have been friends for more than a hundred years, my dream is realized.

That’s also still our dream, to get all these small groups and working areas together and build up a big issue.

However, funding is always our struggle. Now, according to our latest research, the women’s organizations in Turkey are funding their work from foreign women’s organizations, through writing projects. We do not get any funding from the government, but the government takes taxes from the funding that we have found from foreign countries. It is unbelievable.

If civil society is strong, your democracy is stronger, but in Turkey it is just the opposite. They are putting limits on civil society organizations. It is hard in Turkey. Especially in Ankara, we have a mayor of the greater municipality, he’s something terrible. He is struggling against women NGOs. For instance, during the festival, we made posters of the women pioneers in Turkish cinema, and we put them in our main street here. Just half an hour later, he collected them all and put them in the trash.

Everything you do is faced with borders. You have to just step over and over and over. A struggle every minute.


[1] 12 September 1980: Turkish coup d’etat headed by Chief of the General Staff Kenan Evren. For the next three years, Turkish Armed Forces ruled the country through the National Security Council (MKG). Martial law was established, the constitution suspended, the parliament and government abolished, and political parties banned.

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