064 MATRA-program: social transformation in Turkey

MATRA: for the average citizen a completely unknown abbreviation, but for insiders the MATRA-program is one of the most successful and effective instruments of Dutch foreign policy. We in Ankara and Istanbul very much like our MATRA-program with its small scale interventions, that often have a substantial policy impact. MATRA-projects never stand on their own; they are always part of a wider policy from our side. As they focus on social issues, they at times create controversies.

MATRA is an abbreviation of ‘Maatschappelijke’ (Social) ‘Transformatie’ (Transformation) and is a program of the Dutch government to support social transformation in countries neighboring the European Union, especially those with EU accession prospects. It focuses on activities that contribute to the development of an open, pluralist and democratic society, firmly embedded in the rule of law. The MATRA-program tries to encourage processes of change and strengthen relations between the Netherlands and MATRA-countries. Turkey is one of them.

MATRA has been implemented in Turkey since 2000. For almost two decades, the Netherlands has been working together with Turkish institutions through the MATRA-program; not only with the goal of realizing social transformation, but also to strengthen bilateral societal relations. The program includes close cooperation with civil society and educational non-profit organizations. The emphasis of the MATRA-program worldwide is on ‘rule of law’, including legislation and justice / public administration, public order and the police / human rights.

In addition to the MATRA program we also have the Human Rights Fund which is open for applications by local NGOs, non-profit educational institutions, lower governments and semi-governmental organizations in Turkey. Priority areas are women’s rights; LGBTI rights; support to Human Rights activists; promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) and freedom of information / freedom of religion.

Procedure. Usually once per year we issue a call for projects. In a few weeks, the MATRA colleagues of Ankara and Istanbul then have to evaluate around two hundred project applications. We make a selection based on quality, relevance, urgency, sustainability and the impact the project will have on society. The initiators of the projects we support have the freedom to carry out the projects themselves; what we do is monitor the projects to make sure they are heading in the right direction and provide guidance where it is needed. Approximately 10% of all proposals are accepted.

The next call for projects. Most likely by the end of November of 2016 we will issue the next project-call for 2017. We again expect many proposals. In the present context the relevance of the MATRA and Human Rights Funds focus for Turkey continues to be high.

Projects executed so far include trainings to empower women to be more active in (local) politics, business and society in general. Other examples of effective projects concerned empowerment of women with regard to issues as domestic violence. For years we have (and will continue to do so) supported projects of grass root civil society organizations on freedom of press and expression, rehabilitation of detainees, including children, institutional and individual capacity building of Human Rights Defenders.

Some projects: One of the most successful projects is a feature documentary called My Child, about parents of LGBTI individuals from Turkey. These mothers and fathers talk about the process they have gone through in accepting their children for who they are, and they try to reach out to other people to encourage acceptance. The documentary has been shown not only in Turkey, but also in other countries. We have witnessed that this at times emotional documentary has had a positive impact on the public dialogue about the rights of LGBTI individuals. Baby steps perhaps, but neither Rome nor Istanbul were built in one day.

Another interesting project is the ‘Gender Mainstreaming in Woman Health’ project by the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality with the aim of increasing the awareness on gender equality of health workers in one hand and increasing information on women’s rights of women living in the Diyarbakır province on the other hand.

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