The power in us and of us

By Zeliha Ünaldi


BW Zeliha Unaldi
Photo: Tugba Akıncı

Zeliha Ünaldi, a long-standing gender advocate who attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, speaks on the impact of the meeting on her life. She now works as a Gender Officer in the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Turkey.

Mine is not a story of romance as you may think, it is rather one about awareness and self-realization. Taking the Beijing Express train and participating in the NGO Forum at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 was a life-changing experience for me.

Together with more than 200 women representing NGOs from 29 different countries, I spent eight days on a trans-Siberian train from Warsaw to Beijing. The length of the journey didn’t matter to us as we were all dedicated to transforming the world.

I was a 24-year-old graduate student, one of the first graduate students actually, of the Gender and Women’s Studies programme of Turkey at the Middle East Technical University. I was chosen to represent this programme in Beijing. I noticed that a quote from Sue Vinson, a world famous feminist, was printed on the bags given to people, “we were many and one” and “looking at the world through women’s eyes”. When I recall those days, mingling around the tents with thousands of women committing to a better world, two words immediately come to my mind: sisterhood and peace.

I still believe in sisterhood, even though it may sound ancient to the younger generation. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the subsequent five years helped me understand the power in us and of us as the global women’s movement.

In 1995, we discussed how to change our domestic law in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action. Today, we are discussing how to implement them effectively and efficiently. We have come a long way. Within these 20 years in Turkey, things for women have changed a lot but on the other hand, there has not been much substantial change in the lives of Turkish women. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were considerable legislative changes towards gender equality. The women’s movement and organizations successfully advocated for the changes in the Civil Code, Penal Code and the Labor Law.

However, two in every five married women in Turkey is still at risk of domestic violence. I have the feeling that the enthusiasm of the Beijing Platform for Action has sort of faded away, especially within the last ten years in Turkey.

Since Beijing, I have worked in the field of gender and development as a consultant, practitioner and an activist. I spent the last three years in the least developed regions of Turkey working with women’s NGOs. Throughout my work and my career, I still can feel the wind of Beijing pushing me forward. Now, I am working for the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Ankara, the capital of Turkey as the gender specialist. I feel as if I have been preparing myself for this position since the day I stepped on the Beijing Express and participated in the NGO Forum.

I want to pass the spirit of Beijing on to younger generations. We are still “many and one” and unfortunately there is still a need for, local, global, joint and intergenerational efforts to make the world a peaceful and equal place for everyone.

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