Damla Yeşim Say 01.06.2013

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tēnā koutou katoa/Greetings to you all.

It is a great pleasure for me to join you this afternoon to celebrate International Federation of University Women (IFUW) Day.

I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to Joy Dunsheath, President of the Graduate Women Wellington for inviting me to address such an important gathering. I feel absolutely privileged to be chosen to present one of the awards today. Thank you Joy.

At the outset, let me acknowledge and sincerely praise the remarkable activities of the New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women and the Graduate Women Wellington. Your diligent work and tireless endeavours to create awareness and contribute to the national as well as global efforts in reaching our ultimate goal of gender equality, empowerment of women and improving women’s rights, are certainly very much appreciated. You have been doing a wonderful job in disseminating information and exchanging experiences through organizing seminars, conferences, charities, meetings and scholarship programmes. I sincerely wish to thank everyone for taking part and playing a role for such a noble cause.

I wholeheartedly believe that women are the pioneers of transformation. We, the women, as mothers, as professionals, as workers, as head of households, as leaders have the innate power to make a big difference. But we still have a long way to go.

The level of development of our societies is directly linked with the role and the value we attribute to women in every walk of life. That is why investing in girls, educating them, empowering women and ensuring gender equality are still the key issues in achieving a sustainable future in every society, be it developing or developed. Thanks to Turkish Nation’s Great Leader Ataturk’s vision and the importance he attributed to women, the Turkish women achieved this consciousness and gained certain rights long before compared to those others in many developed countries. We of course cannot compete with New Zealand in this, but still can be proud to have gained those rights in early 1930’s.

As we are gathered here to celebrate IFUW Day I particularly want to stress that I am, as the Ambassador of Turkey, and a female one, particularly delighted that the 31st Triennium Conference of IFUW will be held in İstanbul in August. The theme for the Conference will be “Women’s role in achieving a sustainable future: Education, urbanization, violence and human rights”. The Conference will no doubt provide a golden opportunity for the women graduates from all cultures, all fields of study, all professions and all generations to address these complex and interconnected issues as well as to share their experience and knowledge. It is no accident that Turkey will host such an important conference. I will now briefly tell you why by giving some information on the progress that we achieved so far in this important area.

In recent years, Turkey has taken a lot of steps to improve women’s rights, achieve gender equality and empowering women. Turkey is one of the very few countries to entrust the State with the task of preserving gender equality and improving the status of women in its Constitution. It says: “women and men have equal rights” and that “the State is responsible for overseeing that this equality is upheld in practice”.

We have further enhanced the legal basis of human rights of women by introducing the concept of “positive discrimination” and “vulnerable groups” which include women, children and the disabled through constitutional amendment in 2010.

In addition to other legislations, we also have a “National Action Plan on Combating Domestic Violence Against Women” and it was revised last year for 2012-2016. The Action Plan contains targets such as, implementing all legislations; ensuring girls have full access to education, promoting awareness raising activities, empowering women in economic activities by providing employment opportunities, ensuring social participation, improving preventive services, treatment and rehabilitation.

At the international level, apart from the basic human rights conventions, Turkey is a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol. We are represented by a member in its Committee.

We actively contributed to the elaboration of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as “the İstanbul Convention”. The Convention was opened for signature in May 2011 during Turkey’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It is the first legally binding international instrument that explicitly links violence against women and gender inequality. We are very proud of the fact that Turkey is the first country to sign and to ratify this Convention without any reservation.

In 2004 with a constitutional amendment, all international conventions concerning basic rights and freedoms were accorded supremacy over national laws. We, Turkish women are very happy that CEDAW and others in this area, Turkey is a party to are above all other national legal arrangements.

We have started to see the positive results of the comprehensive structural reforms that were put in to place. For instance, the representation of women in parliament has increased sharply in the last ten years. It was 4.4% in 2002 with 21 women parliamentarians. The ratio has risen to 14.1% in 2011 with 78 women parliamentarians. This is not enough but a significant improvement for sure. 35 % of the total employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that I belong are females today. The number of female ambassadors is over 30 now and is on the rise. Not only in public sector, but in every walk of life Turkish women’s traditional natural power and strong presence are felt more and more with the new laws and regulations which ensures their rights.

We will continue to work in Turkey until we secure our rightful place, as you will do so in New Zealand and others in every other country in our planet. It requires a collective action of all women but more so a clear guidance of educated women. This is a long journey. This noble cause requires persistence, patience, hard work that all women inherently excelled on. Today’s gathering gives me a tremendous hope that we are on the right track and we can make it true.

Let me conclude by expressing my sincere appreciation to GWW for proving me the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience and to everyone who have contributed to the organisation of this important event. I wish you every success in this difficult but noble cause.

Thank you.

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