The Women for Women’s Rights Project (WWHR) – New Ways in Turkey gained access to institutional and financial support from the government to implement more extensive human rights education for women within community service centers.
Women’s rights have been protected under Turkish law since the beginning of the republic. However, WWHR—New Ways felt that the majority of Turkish women didn’t know they had rights and were under the control of traditional practices carried out by the men in their lives. The organization noticed that many Turkish women experienced discrimination and abuse in areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and work.
WWHR—New Ways decided to implement a human rights education program, believing that this education among women would help them claim their rights. However, the group knew that the program would have to be sustained and promoted in a more institutionalized way in order to have a significant impact on women’s lives. For this, they needed more funding and resources than they had available. The organization chose to reach out to the Turkish government in order to obtain those resources.
WWHR—New Ways build their collaboration with the Turkish government through the General Directorate of Social Services and its network of community centers throughout Turkey. WWHR—New Ways was initially hesitant, since state-NGO partnerships are uncommon. However, the organization found that the community centers are set up in primarily disadvantaged areas, have a horizontal, rather than top-down, model of administration, and respond to community needs. These characteristics made them a very appropriate setting for the human rights education program.
A number of factors have been important in creating and sustaining the partnership between the General Directorate of Social Services and WWHR—New Ways. Initially, the creation of the collaboration was helped by the fact that pilot programs of the human rights education program had been very successful. Therefore, the government knew they were partnering with a trustworthy organization. To solidify the partnership, WWHR—New Ways and the General Directorate signed a protocol that stated the terms of the collaboration. This protocol gave the organization comprehensive permission to carry out their program without any change to the curriculum within the community centers, making it easier to broaden the initiative.
As the program has continued, WWHR—New Ways staff have worked to maintain a close and positive relationship with the General Directorate of Social Services. At times there have been changes in directorate staff and new social workers have been appointed to key community center positions. The people who initially supported the collaboration may no longer be in the government. In order to sustain the partnership, WWHR—New Ways makes sure to establish and continue open communication with newly appointed directors.
Partnering with a government agency has allowed WWHR—New Ways to significantly broaden the scope of their human rights education program. While the organization is primarily responsible for the financial cost, implementation and monitoring of the program, some physical and financial resources are contributed by the state due to the program’s presence in the state-run community centers. Social workers are trained in the human rights program curriculum and methodology as part of their job description, and the signed protocol makes the creation and implementation of new programs easier.
The human rights education program has been very successful. As of 2004, almost ten years after it was founded, it has been implemented in 30 Turkish provinces, in over 45 community centers, and has reached more than 4,000 women. Approximately 115 social workers and many other volunteers have been trained in the program methodology. These volunteer trainers have been instrumental in helping the social workers, who are often overwhelmed by their workloads. WWHR—New Ways also provides on-going consultation and support to the trained social workers through letters, phone calls and site visits.
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New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
Partnership with a government agency can be an excellent option for an organization that wants to implement a program but does not have the resources, whether human, physical, or financial, to do so. However, this may not always be feasible. Organizations must keep in mind the political climate and views of the ruling party. In some countries, it may even be dangerous to approach the government with a possible partnership. In others, the government may simply not be interested in collaboration. In countries where a partnership is possible, organizations should remember that there is a risk that government policies will shift or that supporters within the agency will leave, affecting future support.
For organizations that wish to pursue a government partnership, the experience of WWHR—New Ways offers a few tips. It can be more effective to approach a government agency with an already formed and tested program rather than a new idea. The human rights education program had already performed well as a pilot program, so the General Directorate of Social Services knew it was not collaborating with an unreliable initiative. In addition, WWHR—New Ways does not take its partnership for granted and continues to work to maintain good relations with government officials. This is essential for the continuation of its program. Other organizations should also remember the importance of interpersonal relationships in collaborative situations.
This tactic, partnering with a government agency, need not only be applied in the area of human rights education. Organizations that tackle a variety of other issues could use this tactic to advance their cause, depending on the viewpoint of the organization and the position of the government in question.