We are still celebrating International Women’s Day because we still need too. As such, very sad as some guys think of missions to Mars and Hyperloops, but we can still not pay the same salary to men and women doing the same job. Women suffrage is one of the reasons we started to celebrate this day, Finland was the first country to have women being able to vote for Parliament and be part of that Parliament. Belgium in 1948, Turkiye in 1934 and Sudan 1964. I was already born then. What seems normal today (except Saudi Arabia, 2015), wasn’t that long ago. Equal pay, sexual discrimination, and you can go on, the list is still too long.
Instead of just finding a nice picture with my support I would rather like to talk about women I know. Today, Neşen Yücel, my partner in life and business, was selected as one of the 30 influential women by a local magazine, Digital Age. Yesterday I talked to Khansa Sayed Ahmed Alhag, she is the co-founder of IEC, an organisation that supports startups and entrepreneurship in Khartoum, Sudan. If there was a Digital Age in Sudan, she would be selected too. As Stage-Co we support IEC as much as we can. I was there for a week during Global Entrepreneurship Week as a jury, mentor, speaker and giving workshops. I enjoyed a lot and I admire what they achieve with way fewer means than we have in Turkiye and not even comparable with Europe and US.
Two women, different backgrounds, different countries but with the same goal. Create a positive impact in their countries and help young people create their own future. Both are managers pur sang, with a good grasp of the overall goal but enough of a micromanager to make sure that whatever is organised lives up to the highest possible standards. The differences are more in the context. I know Neşen as a woman who stands for her rights, daughter of a judge, never afraid of speaking up her mind. I remember in my first year in Turkiye, already more than 5 years ago, that a bill in the restaurant that is not correct will be discussed and settled. She left a corporate life at the bank before I met her and she started as a freelance, living with her cat and friends who were kind of puzzled but accepting. When I hear Khanga, the pressure of her environment is more present and even in her face. In Sudan a woman cannot live on her own, not even with a cat, and doing something other than what is expected from you, get married and raise a family, brings for sure tension. You are always questioned and you are always in defence.
When I compare Belgium, Turkiye and Sudan in terms of participation in a Startup Weekend, Hackathon etc, I see that among young people, the percentages for women is about the same. Less than men and especially in Hackathons the number of nerd men is way higher. Surprising to me, because I see women much smarter in coding than men. When I look at CoderDojo I see the girls more receptive, agiler than the boys and faster in learning. So something goes definitely wrong in education and society with the adolescents during the years their minds and skills are formed. Unfortunately, that is where you see similarities between Turkey and Sudan that determine this. In Finland, you have the opposite just thanks to education. So when we are thriving to have equality, we need to take education more into account and improve it. More focus on self-development, creativity and a mind that thinks, not just copies and repeats. Here also I see a similarity between the 2 mentioned ladies. The possibility to study in good universities and parents that support them. Khansa told me how her father, he rests in peace, inspired her and I know for Neşen that her parents gave her the room to do what she wanted to do, as far as was possible and acceptable in the community she lived in. The peer pressure in both countries is high and the looking over the shoulder almost part of their lives. And it is not just looking but at the same time whispering in their ears constantly what they should do and not.
I had to wait for quite a long time to get an answer from Khansa when I asked her what would make her happy at this moment. She didn’t start with the usual answer of happy with man and child but she had 2 topics she thought of. The first was that she wished she could find a job for the more than 500 people who already asked her to find one. She didn’t say for the many people, but for over 500 persons, whom she described as talented people. She got me off guard with this. She knows specifically who asked for a job as she helps where she can. The second one was also very nicely formulated. She is kind of anxious that she will not find a man that will let her continue doing what she is doing now. Wow. I understood from my wife that she also was very reluctant to commit herself if she could not stay the woman she is. I never thought like that. So I assume men kind of find it normal that they can continue doing what pleases them. When looking back in my own history and benchmarking my environment I must admit that indeed men are selfish in this matter and assume that their partner just follows. You might wonder if I asked Neşen too what makes her happy. I was thinking that I should know that myself after being together almost 24/24 and 7/7 for more than 5 years. We talk about happiness from time to time and it seems to her it is being successful in what she is doing today, why she is nominated for in the magazine. It is not about material possession but about the impact on young people, be it age or soul, and see them being successful. She often tells me about her love for her country and how she wants it to evolve in a place where equality, happiness, inclusiveness and justice prevails. One thing is for sure, in both countries, there is room for improvement.
My final thought goes to my mother. I remember that at her burial the church was full of people paying her respect. She didn’t have an easy life. Too much drama in the family but what I still remember is that she was very sorry for 2 things. She liked to study but at 18 she had to start working and secondly, she always wanted to start her own business. Here again, the environment was not supporting her, rather suppressing so she died too young with too many dreams she takes with her. To all girls and women, I wish that one day we don’t need to celebrate anymore for what you don’t have but for the simple reason that you have what you deserve. To Khanga and Neşen, never give up, you are two role models for the girls and women who have the potential and will use your strength to do what they want to do.
Patrick Bosteels, co-founder Stage-Co and CoderDojo Turkiye