ISTANBUL, Turkey — How does culture shape perceptions of women? Which elements of culture contribute to achieving gender equality and which ones act as obstacles?
“We have been getting together to look at these questions for the last several months with many different people—officials, academics, organizations of civil society, artists, writers, young people, women and men,” says a novelist from Istanbul and one of the participants of a series of roundtable discussions organized by Turkey’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs.
In the discourse on gender equality in Turkey, there are few discussion spaces offering an opportunity to explore the question of culture. On the basis of this observation, the Office initiated this series of roundtables that touch on relevant themes, including education, the arts, and family life.
“The vital principle of equality between women and men as the basis for social transformation is at the heart of these conversations,” says Suzan Karaman of the Office of External Affairs.
Ms. Karaman explains that the roundtables have offered a rare opportunity for a cross-section of people concerned with the issue to come together to examine the reality of their society and analyze the operation of social forces.
At a recent gathering on the theme of education, a representative of an organization focused on the empowerment of women commented on the need to examine every aspect of education. Citing textbooks as an example of how people’s views on gender roles can be formed, she stated: “Even illustrations in a math textbook can influence patterns of thought when they reinforce stereotypes, depicting women only in certain roles.”
Another attendee, the head of the Sociology of Religion Department at a major university in the country, expanded further stating: “Transformation in culture does not mean disrupting cultural diversity or the positive aspects of culture, but rather changing the patriarchal traditions, stereotypes and gender roles that have been passed down through generations that can be obstacles to achieving equality.”
Participants observed that although education is often seen as means for economic mobility and greater job opportunities, there is a need for a kind of education that spiritually and morally empowers people to seek greater degrees of unity and to work toward social change.
“Equality is one of the most important issues of our society,” said a local official and participant of the roundtables.
She continues: “It is also one of the most neglected and violated values of the human family throughout history. Although there is a long way to go, every effort which contributes on the journey towards equality is like an act of worship and therefore praiseworthy. The key is promoting a deeper understanding of this value in society and to reaching people from all walks of life by working together.”
In comments shared with the News Service, an author describes the unifying atmosphere of the gatherings: “We rush to our to computers from different parts of Turkey to learn from each other—we talk, we listen, we ask, and we understand. Though we are all different in some ways, we have come to love and trust one another. This opportunity has created greater understanding and unity. It has brought joy to our souls and hearts in this difficult world.”