SONGSOPTOK:  What is your earliest memory about being a girl?

GITA ASSEFI: I was lucky to be raised in a fairly modern and open minded family in Iran. But despite that, I could always feel the gender pressure by the society in which we lived affecting my parents’ treatment and point of view. I was at secondary school and we had moved to a new district. Every morning, I woke up with the joy of walking to the bus stop with my half German handsome neighbor and one of my girlfriends. I remember how every time I tried to walk right by him, he moved to another side, keeping distance from me. At that time I thought he may just not like me. One day I gathered my courage and asked him why he behaved that way and he replied: “you have such a serious looking father that I prefer to keep a safe distance from you.” I can never forget this little event that had blushed my cheeks. But I always felt that I couldn’t be as free as the boys were in my neighborhood in terms of my behavior.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you remember any incident(s) from your childhood where you witnessed gender discrimination? What are your thoughts about that? Do you think gender discrimination starts right through our home? A lot of studies indicate that the gender segregation starts in school. What is your experience?

GITA ASSEFI:  I studied in a mixed boy and girl school until the secondary school. Right after that, all the schools in my city were either for girls or boys. I never could fully comprehend why we couldn’t be in the same school. Until then, I had many boy as well as girlfriends, but then when this line was drawn inevitably I began to feel the discrimination. As if we were poor, helpless creatures that needed to be protected against males. I think gender discrimination starts at home and then school, but we shouldn’t forget the impact of society, either.

SONGSOPTOK: Now going on to college / university – what according to you were the advantages / disadvantages of being a woman? Do you think that women were treated fairly by the educational institutions?  We would like to know your experiences.

GITA ASSEFI:  I studied in one of the most modern, prestigious university in Turkey. Our professors were so open minded and we could nearly discuss anything. But still, as a woman student, I knew that it was not safe to walk alone in deserted areas, or even take a lift to go home as many of my male student friends did. I never witnessed any real discrimination while I was at college.

SONGSOPTOK:  A lot has been written about the unsafe environment in the world for women, especially on public transports. What is your personal experience? How does it differ from the environment in your country? Are the streets of your city is safer for women? If so, what is your analysis of the differences?

GITA ASSEFI: I lived in Iran. Now, I live in Turkey. During my childhood, streets were much safer in Iran. I remember me with two of my friends holding our little bags and going to a swimming club, walking 20 minutes by ourselves. Some incidents happened but not a major one. But now, I almost witness the fear every now and then. Nowhere seems safe to me. Men have become so abusive on public transport when it’s so crammed with people. And I personally had an awful experience when one night taxi driver that I had grabbed from the airport, took me to a deserted road and I was wise enough to pick my mobile and  speak loudly so as to intimidate him to take me back into the main road. Yes, we women don’t feel safe anymore.

SONGSOPTOK:  According to you, to what extent is the patriarchal society responsible for the status of women? How does it works, evolves and shapes the individual woman.

GITA ASSEFI: A patriarchal society raises you in a way that you put other people’s opinions ahead of your preferences. This mainly serves to preserve you and your family’s dignity in that society. This leads you to make passive, wrong decisions and sometimes condemns you into wrong marriages and lifetime unhappiness. I am glad to see that in some parts of the world things are changing and people have started to become more open minded.

SONGAOPTOK: Do you think that social status (caste, class, affluence) plays a significant role in how women are treated in the Third World countries? Are there significant differences in the status of women in your country? If so, then to what extent?

GITA ASSEFI:  Definitely yes, with some reservations. Affluent families in general have the financial support to make their children have a better education. I think educated people are tend to be more civilized in their approach to women. If you are well-off, you usually live in a better neigbourhood and thus you interact with more educated people and feel less pressurized with certain crude ideas. But as I have already said there are exceptions too. We see a lot of examples of affluent families who treat their daughters as a second rate. There are affluent families who kill their own offspring for their tradition and certain way of thinking. On the other hand there are poor families who do their best to educate their children; boy and girl. But no doubt that money is always a facilitator.

SONGSOPTOK:  Would you say that in your country, there is equal treatment of women in the workplace? Are women given the same opportunities as men? Has the situation evolved compared to the earlier generation? If so, then how? What are the mechanism and the dynamics of the changes!

GITA ASSEFI: Ever since the founding of Turkish republic in 1923, women started to have more rights. Polygamy was banned and divorce and inheritance laws became equal. But that doesn’t mean that things are fully solved. Still when you look at the companies, you see that most of the CEOs are men rather than women. Still the laws cannot protect women who are exposed to domestic violence and rape. The recent tragedy is a good example of that. Özgecan, a twenty-years-old university student brutally murdered and killed by a minibus driver who failed in his attempt to rape her. He had the bad reputation for being aggressive, yet he could get the job as a driver. This led to a lot of protests by women. Although events like this covers magazines and news almost every day in this country.  But I want to believe that things will change and a lot of women will start to have good positions and right to talk.

SONGSOPTOK:  Has the position and status of women evolved at home compared to your mother’s generation? Do women today have more decision-making power within the family structure? Can you explain your answer?

GITA ASSEFI: Some things evolved in a good way whilst some things have changed in a bad way. When I compare my generation and my child’s generation, we definitely have more freedom. We no longer have to behave to please the elders as we used to, but the extent of freedom is open to discussion. As the new generation seems to pay less respect to their parents compared to the past. Also, the bonds and attachments seems weaker now. Women don’t seem to make any effort to keep their marriage. Divorce rate is skyrocketing.

SONGSOPTOK:  According to you, what needs to be done to improve the situation of women all over the world? How can women contribute – at home, at work, at social & political levels? How can they establish the right equilibrium between the state power and feminism because state power is basically patriarchal in nature.
GITA ASSEFI:  I think there must be some taxes, some kind of money to be raised to fund women whose life is threatened by their husbands or boyfriends. There must be more institution to help uneducated women to learn some craft and thus be able to make their own money. If a woman is economically independent, she doesn’t have to put up with violence and bad treatments. This might sound funny but I highly believe that women need to learn some martial art to be able to protect themselves from danger. We can easily see that the precautions that governments have taken has never fully been able to protect women.

SONGSOPTOK:  Violence against women is a global problem today that manifests itself in different forms in different societies. And the problem seems to be growing every day in spite of preventive measures. What, in your opinion, should be the priority? How do you see the role of the civil society in this context? Do you think women are still marginalised in our civil society, which is the actual stumbling block to advance further or making any significant improvement?

GITA ASSEFI:  I think education is the key to solving many problems that we face nowadays. I think the pivotal role of education has been underestimated in many parts of the world. Teaching seems to be a useless job and people don’t respect teachers. Teaching is amongst the lowest paid jobs in many parts of the world. I think it is time to elevate this profession to the level it should be. And if we can give free, but good quality education to everyone, then women will be treated better and we will face less crimes.

SONGSOPTOK: What are your personal views on women’s empowerment? What should be the priorities here (economic / social / cultural/ educational….) especially in the context of our patriarchal society where women are considered to be the reproduction machine denied of dignity and liberty?

GITA ASSEFI: I think women are as valuable as men. Although I think men and women are equal but I think women should preserve their femininity. Society shouldn’t expect women to work outside, raise kids and be a wonderful wife. Work chores should be shared. Men need to learn to respect their wives and treat them nicely. Parents need to teach their sons at home about respect for women. I think education is of primary importance. An educated woman can find a job and be independent. But governments also need to have deterrent punishments for abusers and men who do violence.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you think the situation of women can evolve in the years to come? What is your vision for the future?

GITA ASSEFI: Frankly speaking, we have a big picture of a world, where women are abducted, raped, forced to marriages. Honor killings, mutilation is still in practice. Almost every day on the news, a woman is brutally stabbed, abused, and despised. I think Education is going backwards. Governments have built up a system in which only the affluent kids have the privilege of taking good education. I still want to be optimistic and think that someday, a woman, like in our ancestors’ time will come and change things to the better. Of course, I say it again the only cure is equal education and a fair system.



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