Smarter Foreign Policy: Put Women in the Center

"I didn't know men could be Secretary of State," said the 8-year-old daughter of Fred Turner, a senior official at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, when he told his daughter that John Kerry was the new Secretary of State. It's amazing how role models can change the perspective of a new generation. That and more are what's needed in Turkey. Having rules and regulations to provide equality for women is not enough. Pressing questions that have repeatedly come up in recent years are: "Can Turkey's economic growth be mirrored in the advancement of gender equality? And, can the growth of the economy continue without including women in every aspect of the social, political and economic life." Answering these questions with a "Yes," requires addressing the implementation of laws protecting women and girls at the local level and strengthening the capacity of organizations that work to empower them. The State Department can help.

"Gender is an integral component of daily life," my former professor Marilyn Gittell would say, "It should be systematically included in every political, social and economic decision." Studies prove that gender equality and women's empowerment is a driver, and beneficiary of sustainable development. Adopting this understanding into foreign policy is the next step.

Women empowerment is not an area that was traditionally considered part of foreign policy discussions. That has changed. A series of female secretaries of state have shed light on the importance of women's issues in resolving international challenges. Most recently, Hilary Clinton made advancing the status of women and girls worldwide an official requirement of every U.S. diplomat's job description. Melanne Verveer, the first ambassador at large for global women's issues says, "promoting the status of women is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one; it's essential to economic prosperity and to global peace and security. It is, in other words, a strategy for a smarter foreign policy." This year, on the International Women's Day, the Secretary of State, John Kerry issued an Op-Ed piece which discusses why women are central to US foreign policy.

Through their communication with foreign governments, U.S. diplomats emphasize the truer participation in gender-responsive planning and budgeting and work with ministries to make sure that priorities are given and targeted measures are taken for locating sufficient resources for women and girls' empowerment. Yet, policy making is just one aspect of empowering women. The most important piece of impacting gender gap lies in the implementation.

Sharon Anderholm Wiener, acting Ambassador for the Office of Global Women's Issues, noted at a meeting addressing Turkish-Americans in April 2013 that the rules and regulations protecting women's rights in Turkey are in place. In 1985 Turkey signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Turkey also approved the European Social Charters that protects women's right for equal pay and employment during maternity and various ILO Conventions that regulate the right of women in the workforce. In 2008, a National Action Plan on Gender Equality was prepared with the goal of incorporating gender perspective into all main plans and programs of the government. However, having the legal system in place and implementing it is two different things.

Male-female disparity is seen in every aspect of life in Turkey from economic participation to educational opportunities. As I noted in an earlier article, Turkey needs both cultural and institutional change dealing with social issues facing girls and women. Women organizations understand the multiple actions that are needed to be taken to empower women. They know that sustainable investment on education, affordable childcare, job opportunities, advocacy, changing cultural perceptions are needed to effectively address empowerment of girls and women. Yet, funding is limited.

Turkey's non-profit sector largely depends on funding from the European Union. The philanthropy sector hasn't developed to catch up with the growth. There aren't many grantmaking foundations -- Sabanci Foundation, Vodafone Foundation and Acik Toplum Vakfi to name a few. This leaves NGOs with limited funding resources. In the international development area, Turkey is not seen as a traditional receiver country. Even though Turkey contributed more than $1bn in humanitarian aid last year, making it the fourth-largest government donor, the country's non-profit sector is at a loss. These women organizations are doing great things. They have been very instrumental in the changes in the Constitution, and Turkish Civil and Criminal Codes concerning women. The State Department funding cannot only provide funding for programming but also for the building of the philanthropic capacity of these organizations.

Women and girls empowerment should also be addressed at the grassroots level. An organization in the Eastern city of Van was a great example of how funding can grow the scale of these interventions at the local level. Kilim weaving workshops started in Van by a local, Enver Ozkahraman, grew its numbers to eight when a businessman from Istanbul learned about them from this video. Since their paths merged, the number of girls impacted with the workshops increased. But, beyond the numbers when you listen to the stories of these girls, you see what kind of change these small interventions are making in a girls' and eventually in her family's lives. .

A recent U.N. report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda notes that social investments will only generate the biggest possible return if we make sure women and girls benefit from them equally. Women make up a half of potential human capital available in the global economy. The efficient use of this talent pool is important. We need more Hilary Clintons as Secretary of State to break cultural barriers on the global arena and change perceptions. But, we also need more people advocating for women in foreign policy and women's issues. As Hilary Clinton once noted: "When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and all secure. And, when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society."