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The women of Kadikoy

ESI Senior Analyst Nigar Goksel with Ince Bespinar - Copyright © by ESI
ESI Senior Analyst Nigar Goksel with Ince Bespinar

Inci Bespinar, Kadikoy's deputy mayor, embodies the vitality of Kadikoy women. In one corner of her spacious office, a group of women are planning a forthcoming cultural project, while her phone is ringing constantly. Outside her office, a team of municipal civil servants are trying to handle a long queue of women and men dropping into her office to ask for assistance.

Bespinar's own life is a reflection of improvements in the position of women in Istanbul in the past generation. The eldest daughter of an old Istanbul family she went to study economics in Ankara, encouraged by her father. Kicked out of university for participating in protests she returned to Istanbul. In 1973 and 1975 she gave birth to her two daughters. At first her mother-in-law looked after them, but when she died in 1976 Bespinar had to stay at home. She was offered a job in 1977, which she could not take up. The first municipal pre-school only opened up in 1989.

Bespinar has been instrumental in setting up Family Consultation Centres since 1994, targeting families who recently arrived from rural areas. These centres provide women from poorer families with health checks and the skills they need to adapt to urban life. Today there are ten such centres in Kadikoy, plus two vocational training centres. They act as the municipality's eyes and ears, helping to identify vulnerable women and children in need of social assistance.

In Kadiköy female employment has become increasingly common, and more women are achieving professional and managerial positions. Many women are choosing to delay marriage and childbirth, and the average household size has fallen to 2.4. Exposed to wider European influences, the women of Kadikoy have been at the forefront of Turkey's women's movement, forming a large number of voluntary associations.

Inci Bespinar, Kadikoy's female deputy mayor, explains:

"Kadikoy provided the environment for women to raise questions about their place in society. The women had sufficient economic means and time at their hand to think about these things. They also had the culture and foreign languages to be linked to the outer world. Kadikoy was also integrated with women's organizations abroad. We would wait in anticipation for them to come from trips abroad to read about their new insights. Time, money and culture… these are the three main ingredients."

Both the municipal authorities (run since 1994 by a CHP mayor) and the private sector have responded to the rising expectations (and spending power) of middle-class families. The first pre-school opened in 1989/90. There are now five crèches and 38 private pre-schools. The social stigma attached to putting the elderly into professional care is also fading slowly, although some see this as an unwelcome intrusion of Western values. There are now 17 homes for the elderly (5 state and 12 private). Another controversial social trend is the rising divorce rate, albeit from very low levels. There are five family courts operating in Kadikoy, all opened since January 2003 as a result of EU-inspired judicial reforms. The new courts are well equipped by any standards, with psychologists, social workers and public-education specialists. Few of the 157 family courts elsewhere in Turkey have managed to fill these positions.

September 2007

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