"In Yenikoy you would rarely ever have seen a woman with a headscarf 15 or 20 years ago. And if you did, she was probably a cleaning lady. Now she lives here and mixes with the rest of the crowd."
Nigar Goksel is a social scientist, writes a column in Turkish Daily News and is Editor-in-chief of Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ), a Turkish (but English-language) foreign policy journal. She lives in Yenikoy on the European side of the Bosporus.
Nigar was born in Istanbul as the daughter of an American teacher and of a Turkish entrepreneur. She went to a public school in Arnavutkoy. After graduating from university in Istanbul (and becoming Turkish champion in horse riding in 1997) she went to work in Washington DC. When she returned, she worked for various Turkish NGOs – TUSIAD, the Turkish Industrialists' Association, and TESEV, Turkey's leading liberal think tank – before joining ESI in 2004 as an analyst for Turkey and the Caucasus.
With her colleagues at ESI Nigar worked on a widely debated report: "Sex and Power: Feminism, Islam and the Maturing of Turkish Democracy". As part of the research Nigar and her colleagues travelled through Turkey, from Van in the East to Kadikoy in the West, to examine changes in the status of women:
"We talked to hundreds of women, from many walks of life and from a wide geographic span. We found men who were very enthusiastic about their daughters learning to read and write and who would not be like their mothers were, not so desperate, not so dependent.
The conclusion of the research was that a "second woman's revolution" was underway in Turkey:
"The civil code changed, the penal code changed, the employment law changed. There were new initiatives to combat domestic violence. There were new initiatives to get girls to go to school, to primary school. This all happened from 2001 onwards."
Nor was there a rising conservatism that made it more difficult for women to be integrated, as some had argued:
"As a woman you do not have to give up your family values or your cultural priorities in order to be able to be integrated and be active in public life."