Meeting inspiring and surprising people is perhaps the best part of my job as a diplomat. Take for example these four young Dutch women, cycling by and stopping over on Friday 28 August. Friends since the age of eight, coming from the same small Dutch village, from Indonesia to The Netherlands for 400 days. On two tandems…all in all 14.000 km. This feat in itself is inspiration enough I would say, but they decided to ride for women’s rights.
Malaysian fire brigade
Of course it was fascinating to listen to their challenges and adventures. How hospitable most people were, that the Malaysian fire brigade offers free lodging all over the country for passers-bye, how cycling completely veiled in Iran was less difficult that they had imagined, how in Iranian homes they could walk in shorts, the dangers on the road because of the traffic and, fortunately and a bit contrary to expectations, no real harassment by men.
Most appealing howeverwas their commitment to pay attention to women’s rights. They established a foundation R4WR (Ride for Women’s Rights). In each country they engaged in discussions, with the media, at universities, with NGO’s and individual women. They compiled a series of interviews with (so far) 35 strong women (see their excellent website r4wr.org).
The answer was rather shocking when asked about the most common women’s right violations, from Indonesia, Vietnam, Kazakstan, Iran, Singapore to Azerbajjan: ‘domestic violence’ and the reluctance to talk about it and/or report this to the authorities.
They four women impressed all of us, there in the chapel of the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul, on this Friday August 28. They had interviews with Turkish media and also discussed with the Turkish audience the position of women in this country and, also here, on the high level of domestic violence. They also talked about the importance of empowerment, an important road that should lead to a more equal position of women in any country.
MATRA and human rights programs
A substantial part of our MATRA and human rights projects in Turkey are used to improve women’s rights. Unfortunately also in this country domestic violence against women is a deep rooted phenomenon. Discussion about sexual violence regularly make the headlines. The Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum indicates that since its start in 2006, Turkey finds itself in the lowest regions. Some say because of wrong statistics. But now, eight years later, I fear the statistics might be true. Turkey hoovers somewhere between the 105th and 129th place, with the 125th place out of 142 countries in 2014.
Stories in Turkey are never black or white. Currently economic participation of women in Turkey is one of the lowest in the world (30%); on the other hand, when it comes to women in the boards of directors of corporations Turkey does well (11%, no 2 in Europe).
At the end of course the unavoidable group picture (“no picture no meeting”), with the cyclists showing the back of their shirt “you are chicked”, being taken over by a woman. And to be honest, although I think I am rather gender neutral, when running or cycling, I never like to be overtaken (although it happens a lot), especially not by a woman. So yes, I do not want to be chicked.