What is your story of strength?
I want to start out answering this question by mentioning that I lost a loved one as I knew them at a very young age. The heartache and anger I felt about not feeling the love I believed I deserved was unacceptable and is something that even as an adult is still difficult to process. The trauma that one experiences at a young age never really dissipates — rather it either strengthens or sabotages the human spirit. Over time, I believe I harnessed the grief I felt from losing a loved one and matched it with my determination to address situations I felt were unfair or unjust. As a student, my friends and I regularly cleaned up the yards of the elderly, built simple cinder block houses for migrant workers alongside the Texas-Mexico border, volunteered at the local Boys and Girls Club and supported an inclusive election campaign. I also lobbied our School Board in favor of Title IV, a federal law that prohibits discrimination in all educational programs including athletics on the basis of gender.
What Does Being a Woman Mean to You?
While I think the future is female, so was the past. I just don’t think we acknowledged, or at least, reported adequately on the critical role women have played in advancing our societies. Having said that, there is still a lot of work to be done to overcome gender inequality, sexism and to put an end to the destructive narratives that portray women as powerless and inferior to men.
In the peace and conflict field, that I work in, if you look at the number of casualties from armed conflict, the majority are civilians, most of them women and children. And yet even though women are leaders in their communities, serve as informal mediators and negotiators between conflicting parties, they are rarely included in formal peace agreements or in decision-making processes. It is important to mention that women experience armed conflict very differently from men. Oftentimes, they have a better understanding of the triggers of violence in their communities, are creative when it comes to devising solutions to ending armed conflict and are sensitive to the local capacities for sustainable peace. With the rapidly changing global environment where we have more forcibly displaced persons than ever (65 million people), an increase in protracted conflicts and inability or unwillingness to address conflict triggers, we desperately need women engaged in all spheres of society including peace and security processes.
Initiatives like the Women in Foreign Policy chapters in Turkey and the United Kingdom, Foreign Policy Interrupted, Feminist Foreign Policy and the Brussels Binders are charging ahead and changing the foreign policy field. Building on the efforts of Associate Professor Zeynep Alemdar, Okan University, in Istanbul, along with Rana Birden, we established Women in Foreign Policy in Turkey in 2014.
We were eager for more women to consider a career in foreign policy and to promote an inclusive foreign policy field in Turkey. It was also important for us to create a supportive environment. The kind of support, we felt we missed out on, when we first entered into the field. The past few years, we adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 as our guiding doctrine. UNSCR 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women at all levels of decision-making, protect women against violence, and prevent violence against women, as well as expand women’s inclusion in peace-building and recovery. Parallel to our core activities is an ongoing senior speaker series with mid to senior-level professionals from various organizations, including the World Bank, UN Women, and female consul generals in Istanbul.
What Advice Would Your Current Self Give Your Previous Self?
My narrative of strength and what it means to be a woman has taken on a new form now that I am a mother. As a new mom, it was extremely difficult to maintain a connection to professional circles. In addition, living in a country that was not my own forced me to navigate cultural parameters that were unfamiliar to me.
When my daughter was first born, I decided to take time off from paid “work” and pursue my doctoral studies but I did not want to completely leave the foreign policy field. There were a few times when I had to juggle taking care of my daughter and engage professionally. Once, unable to find a baby sitter, I nursed my daughter while giving an online lecture on political developments in Turkey. On another occasion, when my daughter was about eight months old, my dad, daughter and I all stayed at the same hotel so I could both nurse and attend a conference on Iraq.
It would have been helpful, to have had close friends or female role models who had also raised young children while maintaining their professional connections and to have someone tell me to be more gentle with myself. I constantly wondered if what I was doing was in the best interest of my daughter or whether it was for my own ambitions. This constant battle with myself was stressful and unnecessary. In the end, I think it has been enormously positive for her to be exposed to an array of professional settings and to meet people, especially women, who are chipping away at exclusive societies. At the age of five she already has a clear understanding of simple inequalities and is quick to point them out. She recently sent an email to the Peppa Pig cartoon network requesting a snow woman be included in next year’s Christmas episodes and regularly mentions when female characters are absent from cartoons or stories.
What is something you are you working on in your own life?
The past few years have been a trying time for me. I made decisions that were difficult for my family, but I knew I needed to make them in order to be true to myself and my daughter. Without realizing it, I had bought into the notion that women are supposed to have it all, without understanding what that means and even if it entailed accepting an inauthentic life. At times, I have been scared about the unknown, but I have constantly reminded myself that I am enough and to ignore the chatter in my mind that tells me to revert to what is comfortable even if it were to prevent me from embracing fundamentally important changes. Yes, I attest that life may throw the biggest curve balls, but as the young Christina reminds me, the human spirit is strong.