28 years old
National Program Coordinator, Women for Women's Human Rights-New Ways
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Evre Kaynak, from Turkey, holds a B.A. in Economics from Istanbul University, and a double M.A. in Development Economics and Human Rights Law from Marmara University and Bilgi University. Since 2005, she has been the National Program Coordinator at Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR) - New Ways. She is currently coordinating their National Program and the Human Rights Training Program for Women, developed by WWHR-New Ways in 1995 and implemented in community centers in 36 different provinces throughout Turkey.
Evre, who has extensive experience working as a trainer and human rights advocate at various national and international human rights organizations, has prepared and edited several publications and human rights education materials including Democracy and Our Rights (2004) and Purple Newsletter, A Networking Bulletin for Women's Human Rights (2006-2007). She also works as a freelance trainer on human rights education and gender equality, and freelance social compliance auditor.
IWHC: How did you get involved in the struggle for women's and young people's rights?
Evre Kaynak: Since high school, I have worked on my own to combat things like violence against girl students and discrimination against minorities. After I started undergraduate studies in Istanbul, the major difference was that I became a volunteer with the Human Rights Association, Istanbul Branch. In my opinion, human rights are relevant to every dimension of our lives. I do not consider my struggle to be for someone, but a struggle with women and young people like me, as an everyday practice.
IWHC: Can you describe what you do at Women for Women's Human Rights-New Ways (WWHR)? What inspired you to start working with WWHR?
EK: I work as the National Program Coordinator with WWHR, one of Turkey's primary women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and now the secretariat of an international network, the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies. WWHR is both a mainstream feminist organization and highly professional, qualities that are rarely found or combined in Turkey-based NGOs. WWHR's work has been inspiring to me, both in method and content.
IWHC: How do you feel that WWHR has changed women's lives, either in specific instances or in general? What about priorities for future work with younger groups?
EK: We have documented and illustrated, through evaluations done by independent reviewers, how WWHR has changed women's lives in Turkey through the Human Rights Education Program for Women, a program that has been ongoing for 12 years. Meeting those women, beyond the evaluations, I feel their empowerment and self-confidence that reflects their attitudes.
As a result of national, regional, and international lobbying and advocacy efforts, WWHR has also managed to amend various laws in Turkey in order to promote gender equality. As a woman living in Turkey, I don't need formally to monitor how it is changing women's lives, because I am living that personally. Many of my sexual, bodily, economic, political, and civil rights had been guaranteed by the state with the efforts of the women's movement through initiation and coordination by WWHR.
For instance, efforts to change the Turkish Penal Code led to more than 30 groundbreaking amendments for the protection and promotion of women's sexual and bodily rights. I was raised to believe that by abstaining from sexuality and protecting my virginity until marriage, I was protecting my own and my family's honor and respect. All these rules imposed on me, without any explanations, resulted in a very restricted self-awareness of my body and sexuality-and a perception that my body belonged to society, or my family. All these norms and regulations were supported by the old Penal Code. Sexual crimes against women fell under the chapter "Crimes Against Society." The new Penal Code transformed this mentality, and sexual crimes against women are now under the heading "Crimes Against Individuals." Today, myself and other young women who are challenging societal norms and traditions can refer to these legal documents and raise our voices: "My body is mine, and this is guaranteed by laws!"
In future work, the WWHR team members, including myself, would definitely like to give higher priority to young women, particularly on sexual and bodily rights.
IWHC: What do you see as major challenges facing young people in Turkey today? What about greatest opportunities?
EK: The major challenge facing young people in Turkey is a high level of depoliticization. The effects of the 1980 military intervention are still affecting the political and civil life of people, in particular young people. The military intervention banned and criminalized all kinds of democratic assembling, including political parties, unions, and civil associations. Many people were tortured and killed. My generation grew up with the fear of engaging in any political activities, because many laws and institutions which came into force after the military intervention prevailed for many years. Some still do. After the military intervention, the women's movement was the first civil initiative to organize and raise their voices against domestic violence on the streets.
Rising fundamentalism and nationalism also strategically shape young people's lives through education (formal, informal, and non-formal), culture, and politics. The conservative and repressive forces leading the country have recently shown their faces by killing Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist living in Turkey as a Turkish citizen. These forces are organizing at different levels to stop people from thinking freely and living freely. And they are being supported by the militarist and fundamentalist forces throughout the world: forces attacking the Middle East, killing thousands of innocent people, sentencing women to death in Iraq, imprisoning women in Iran...
The greatest opportunities for organizing and taking action in Turkey are provided by the NGOs, developing and implementing projects on human rights, social inclusion, women's human rights, environment, and mobility.
IWHC: What do you think are some of the most important issues for programmers and policymakers to address in order to promote and protect the health and rights of young people – especially young girls?
EK: Programmers and policymakers should first stop ignoring young people's, particularly young girls', existence—their power, their expectations, their bodily and spiritual integrity and autonomy. Formal and non-formal trainings on skills development and human rights should be developed and implemented with the involvement of young people, respecting their needs and expectations. Young people should be involved in decision making processes on the issues affecting them. The eradication of poverty also has great importance.
IWHC: How can activists, policymakers, different groups work together to bring young people to the table?
EK: Programs and projects should be developed to improve young people's knowledge, skills, and attitudes on active citizenship, human rights, and political participation, so that they can be politically involved. In other words, the main issue at this point is not bringing young people to the table as a topic or issue, but bringing them to the table as active individuals, who can contribute to the improvement of societies with their energy and creativity.
IWHC: Do you have positive examples from your professional or personal experience in which both dialogue and programming have achieved meaningful youth participation or leadership? What was effective about these particular examples?
EK: I have direct experience training over 200 young people on human rights, through a project called "Our Rights and Democracy" run by the Community Volunteers Foundation between 2004 – 2007. Young people involved in the project were university students between the ages of 18 – 24. The trainings were held in 14 different cities throughout Turkey, including East and South East Turkey. Young people participating in the trainings were from urban and rural areas of Turkey, and all had great willingness and interest in the training. About half of the participants have become more active in their local communities, while some developed their skills on leadership. The most effective part was getting young people to understand that human rights is not an issue to work "about," but it is an integral part of their lives: their activities, their work, their relations, and attitudes.
IWHC: What are some of the most important things you have learned from working with WWHR?
EK: Although I have been working on women's human rights for several years, the main thing I have learned from WWHR is that learning is an ongoing process and there is always more to know, to be aware of, and to act on!
IWHC: What are your dreams for the future? Can you describe your vision of an ideal or better world?
EK: A democratic and peaceful world based on respect to human rights and gender equality.
IWHC: How did you first become acquainted with IWHC?
EK: Through the cooperation between WWHR and IWHC. IWHC has provided funds to WWHR since 1998. They currently support our work as secretariat of a network of advocates for sexual health and rights throughout the Middle East and North Africa-the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies. This support is especially key, since it is such a challenging region to work on these issues.