This week, I would like to talk about women’s life in Ömerli, Mardin. Since we live in the big city Istanbul, we are not aware of the life they live in these little towns of Southeast of Turkey. We suppose that everyone has the same opportunity with us! However, truth is not like that. I have been to Ömerli twice. It is a small village and 40 minutes drive from the city center of Mardin. It is not a very nice place for a young girl to live because she will not have good opportunities about anything. It is a male dominated area and they are conservative. Female education level is very low; most of the women are illiterate. Women usually stays home, clean, cook, take care of the animals (usually cows and sheep), and also take care of the children. The other big problem is that they have a lot of children. Average family has 7 kids! It is almost their tradition and when we ask them why so many children, they say it is the tradition! It seems to me that women have no choice, even if they don’t want to have children, they feel like they have to! Since they have so many children, they cannot provide everything necessary for them. They send their sons to school, but girls get marry at a very young age. Even if girls go to school, their parents stop their education after elementary school and force them to get marry. Unfortunately, sometimes we hear news about young girls suicide in that region…

These two visits helped me see the lives of women there, but still both visits were not long enough to understand and investigate their lives, so I decided to ask Hülya Akgül, coordinator and the teacher of Ömerli-ÇATOM, about it. Hülya says, they are trying to educate these women in ÇATOMs. Here is a list of things they are trying to do: They try to find scholarships for girls to get education, they visit low educated areas around the region and persuade people to send their daughters to school (they have to persuade because the parents prefer their daughters to get marry instead!), they try to help women know their rights in marriage and help them get government-sanctioned marriages. Also, since women of the area have no financial independence, they are teaching women handcrafts so that they can produce crafts and make some money. But the big obstacle is that finding craft material in Ömerli village is impossible. That is why James and I try to find sponsors and then get materials from Istanbul and ship to them. Until now, thanks to Crafthaus we got 400USD grant, and a 1,000USD grant from PAYDA (a non-governmental Turkish organization) to send materials to Ömerli-ÇATOM. These grants are making big differences in the lives of women in that region. We almost spent all these grants to buy materials for them, so now we are looking forward to get new grants for helping the women in that area. We hope to get help from all over the world!

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I am very glad you wrote this particular blog! It seems to me though that it is the men who would need the education mostly. In such a patriarchal and isolated segment of society nothing will happen until the men see the benefit of an initiative and thus change their minds over time, which can take generations.

How is your initiative regarded in the local male circles? What has the reception been? It is somewhat reassuring that they allow the women to go ahead with this in the first place.

Could you also say a bit more about the Turkish support you are getting, please. What is PAYDA? Is there any change you might also be getting Turkish government support or EU support at some point?

Looking much forward to follow this along.

Yes, I totally agree that the men need education, but they have to be willing to get that education. Right now, men think what they do is right because it is what they learned from their parents. I think, when mothers raise their sons, they should teach them equality and how they should treat their wives when they marry. Also, they should send their daughters to school while they are sending their sons. When these girls get education, their daughters will get education in the future as well. The other reason why they let their daughters marry at an early age is because of their financial problems, so I can say that being traditional is not the only factor. But this discussion all comes back to education. If they are well educated, they will not have many children, so that they will be able to give equal opportunities to their children.

I do not have a lot of information on how men of the region sees ÇATOMs. As far as I know, they support these groups (but not financially). I will get more information about this soon.

About PAYDA: They sponsored one of the ÇATOM teachers to take James' workshop in Istanbul, in last May. That is how we met them. I went to Mardin with two members of PAYDA, Peri Holden and Aylin Tankut. They are wonderful people and they try to help these women by selling their works, providing scholarships for young girls, and also providing craft materials. They organize sales in Istanbul and try to promote them as well. They support James' and my designs as well, so we are lucky to know them. Right now, they are providing scholarships for 50 young girls and they will continue to support them until they graduate from the university. PAYDA is trying to get more supporters so that they can send more young girls to school.

Turkish government has established ÇATOMs, and they are paying the teachers, but it is not enough support to get craft materials for them. Besides, the women who comes to ÇATOM have no money to buy materials. ÇATOMs can get EU support, but it is not easy: they have to have a good project to apply, however, if they can get the EU grant, it would be very beneficial for that. Hopefully, they will get it one day!

Thanks for sharing that. It is fascinating to be reminded of how much we all take for granted in the UK and the US. 

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