It is noon and I am at the airport in Copenhagen, just arrived with a flight from Iceland. I am waiting for Ulla Madsen, past SIE President and SI Assistant Director of Advocacy to join me, as we will be travelling together to Istanbul to participate in an International Conference on Gender Equality in Working life, held by SI Club Etiler. We are met at the airport in Istanbul by the Club’s founding President, Emine Erdem‘s secretary and driver, who takes us to Emine’s beautiful home where we will be enjoying home-hospitality while in Istanbul.


Established in 1988, SI Club Etiler announced its 30th-anniversary theme as ‘Soroptimists Advocate Gender Equality (SAGE)’. They applied and received a grant for the project ‘Grant Scheme for Grassroots Civil Society Organizations’ which is co-funded by the European Union (EU) and the Republic of Turkey.


Their project consists of four parts:


  • ChangEquality Activities aimed at raising awareness of gender equality in working life among university students;
  • ChangEquality Ambassadors Programme to ensure the sustainability of the project;
  • SAGE in work Mentorship Programme which aims to equip and empower women against the obstacles they will face in working life;
  • Women Bridging Glass Cliff International Conference on Gender Equality.


In January 2019, they communicated with the rectorates and student clubs of various universities in Istanbul. Instead of giving presentations to create awareness they made a ChangEquality game which is played by 8-28 people who are asked to answer questions and analyse cases in groups and formulate new perspectives that will allow them to understand the current situation, discuss inequalities, and to re-think the problems and propose solutions. They have already reached 350 university students.


To follow up on the results of the ChangEqualty game, a programme was designed where 60 people attended a training and 10 of them will be nominated as ChangEquality Ambassadors.


The third step was a two-day mentoring training in April where 27 mentor candidates from eight SI clubs in Istanbul participated. Then a mentee training was organised with 28 university students. 25 mentors and 25 mentees were matched for a total of 6-8 interviews for seven months. The programme aims to enable the mentors and mentees to gain competencies, with mentees gaining the skills to cope with the challenges they may face in working life, while mentors will learn to reinforce their ability to manage structured processes that then contribute to the strengthening mentees.


The final step was ‘Women Bridging Glass Cliff’ an International Conference on Gender Equality in Working Life held 15 November at the University of Galatasaray, Ortaköy, and what a last step!


The Conference started with an opening speech by Melek Sine Berkem, SI Etiler President, followed by SI Turkey President, Dr Nur Velidedeoglu Kavuncu, and SIE President Anna Wszelaczynska, followed by the Deputy Head of Civil Society, Paolo Scialla, and finally A. Hakan Ati, Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate for EU Affairs. After the opening addresses, Z. Gül Üstün, the project leader of SAGE presented their successful project.


Soroptimists from Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Austria, Poland, Rwanda, Switzerland, and of course many clubs in Turkey took part in this International Conference. The programme was filled with good speakers and panels, led by Soroptimists and non-Soroptimists. As a Key Note Speaker, Ulla Madsen spoke about Gender Equality in Denmark with Special Reference to the Parental Leave Model, and I participated in a panel entitled ‘Enlightening best practices: Rwanda, Belgium, Kenya and Iceland’.


I spoke about the road to equality in Iceland, and how Iceland got to rank at the top of the Global Gender Gap Index for the tenth year in a row. What is the secret to Iceland’s success? What are the lessons learned? In short, it is that gender equality does not come about of its own accord. It requires the collective action and solidarity of women human rights defenders, political will, and tools such as legislation, gender budgeting and quotas. I stepped through the timeline from 1915 when women in Iceland gained the right to vote, to equal rights, equal pay, women’s alliance, the first female President, shared parental leave, board quotas and on to 2017 when the Equal Pay Certification came into force. For those wanting to get a short introduction to the Icelandic way:


Iceland is the best country in the world to be a woman

The land of equal opportunity. Learn more: #gendergap17

Geplaatst door World Economic Forum op Donderdag 2 november 2017


Carolien Demey, SIE President-Elect, spoke about improving gender equality in professional life, where we as women have to help other women by taking them to the next level. We must be aware that each level up reflects the gender equality of the underlying level. Quota has been started in Belgium, so now in more professions, public companies, universities and certainly politics, more women are becoming involved. The good thing is with this example, sectors, where no quota is installed, are also able to see the benefits of having more women in their boards….however, it is only slowly growing, still a long way to go.


Elizabeth Nyadwe, SIE Special Assignment Advocacy spoke about a new constitution that Kenya enacted in 2010 which endorsed proportional representation within the electoral system. Women and vulnerable populations are now catered for in the political system which has encouraged women to be more participative in leadership positions in the country. Little steps in the political arena have spilled over and triggered gender sensitivity in the workplace. So the new constitution is having a very positive impact in the gender debate in Kenya.


Appoline Kangabire, Governor from Rwanda spoke about the life of the women in Rwanda and why following the genocide in 1994, Rwanda has maintained its strong performance regarding women’s political empowerment, remaining the country with the highest share of female parliamentarians in the world (61%), and near-parity in ministerial positions. Rwanda is in 6th place on the Global Gender Gap Index.


The Conference ended with an all Turkish panel of non-Soroptimists shining light on ‘Bridging to Glass Cliff’. The Soroptimists in SI Club Etiler are extremely active and efficient and can be very proud of their project and its successes.


Besides participating in the conference we were offered a very generous supporting programme; a walk on the shore of the Bosporus, a walk in the old part on the Asian side, and a guided sightseeing tour of the old Istanbul, where we were not bombarded with names and dates but taught how to experience the history of Istanbul and the Ottoman reign.


Turkish cuisine is famous and we experienced breakfast, lunch and dinner! At Emine‘s wonderful home we were all invited to a special dinner, plus a gala dinner at the Naval Museum-Besiktas, and a Friendship Dinner that was held in a very good restaurant on the Asian side of the Bosporus, where there was a very lively international exchange of ideas.


Although the stay in the metropolis of Istanbul was short, I experienced so many impressions and enjoyed the company of Soroptimists from Turkey and around the world.


Now two weeks later and back home, I am re-living the atmosphere of Istanbul and the enormous hospitality of our Soroptimist sisters who will always have a special place in my heart.



Hafdís Karlsdóttir, SIE Secretary-General

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