On SES Women Mentoring Walk: “Long Live Women’s Solidarity”

The president of  SES Equality and Solidarity Association, Gülseren Onanç, wrote the story behind and the impressions from SES Women Mentoring Walk that they held on March 8th: “The women felt their power and once again understood what they could do when they come together. They got out of the pessimism that descended over the world and our country, even if it was for a day. They look at the future with more hope.”

As SES Equality and Solidarity Association, on Sunday, 8 March, we organized a women’s solidarity event in Istanbul, part of a global event that held in 165 different cities of the world. We brought together women (MENTORS) with at least ten years of experience in professional life and young women (MENTEES) who are at the beginning of their career.

The event as we call it, SES Women Mentoring Walk, has unfolded as follows: Vital Voices, which first launched this event and later tried to implement it in different cities around the world, is a non-governmental organization founded in 1995 by Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright to support women’s leadership. I was chosen by this organization as one of the 25 women to be supported in the world for the 2019 -2020 period. In this program, when we were told that we could organize an event in this format in our cities, I thought that this event could be a remedy for many troubles and jumped right into it and made the agreement to make the first event in Istanbul.

As SES Equality and Solidarity Association, we had high expectations from this event, the first of which held in Istanbul:

We wanted women leaders to share their experiences with young women in the development process, to give their personal support and to develop a friendship through which both sides will learn from each other.

We wanted women to get out of their neighborhoods, where they usually get stuck, so as to discover life in other neighborhoods. We wanted to show that there is world beyond Facebook and Instagram balloons, to enjoy real conversations. We knew that whether poor or wealthy, western or eastern, religious or secular, women struggle to exist in society as equal individuals. We also knew that the partnership of women with same the cause would be great and that women who successfully survived the struggle wanted to give hands to women who are walking the path.

We knew from our previous organizations, how women are willing to solve social problems and yearning for doing something to support future generations. With the SES Women Mentoring Walk, we wanted to bring together women who will be a remedy for each other and contribute to women’s solidarity and social peace together.

We prepared forms for MENTORS and MENTEES to apply for the event on our website. We tried to reach the target audience with the support of our partners, non-governmental organizations and universities. There was a return above our expectations and within three weeks, 350 participants applied to become MENTORS and MENTEES. Most of the participants stated how much they give importance to this event. Our system matched MENTORS and MENTEES within the framework of the competencies and needs stated in the application forms.

We sent an e-mail to the participants and shared the names and surnames of the people we match them to and invited them to the foyer of the Harbiye CRR hall on the morning of March 8. From some of my friends’ feedback, I understood how those who received emails from us got very excited and curious. Who was the woman they were matched with? How was she? Would she be able to get along with her?

An arrangement of a randezvous between a man and a woman who do not know each other by a third person or institution, is called “blind date” in English. A friend of mine defined how she felt saying, “Like in a blind date.”

Curiosity continued until Sunday morning. MENTORS started to come to the hall early. Young people came a little later. The curious face of the women waiting for the person they were matched was worth seeing. As MENTORS began to meet with their MENTEES one by one, a magical atmosphere was created in the foyer of the CRR hall. Women, like friends who have not seen each other for years, moved into deep conversations on the corners of the hall, on the stairs as if to make up for lost time. If a passerby came to the hall by chance at that moment, she would have thought that these women had known each other for years.

On Sunday, March 8, the CRR hall turned into an oasis where hope replaced pessimism.

In accordance with the format of the SES Women Mentoring Walk, we wanted MENTORS and MENTEES to walk side by side in the park and spread the messages of equality and solidarity to the world. The warm intimacy that started in the first minutes of the meeting could now have turned into an action. The women left the hall together and poured in to the streets of Harbiye, Maçka, Nişantaşı Art Park, Demokrasi Park, and to the coffee shops nearby. They deepened their friendship.

Spring came to Istanbul on March 8th.

Mayor Muammer Keskin, who wanted to make Şişli a district where women can live comfortably, was with us with his wife Hülya Keskin and the Chief of Culture, Elçin Önder Turan.

 Şişli became the district of women’s solidarity on March 8th.

The women felt their power and once again understood what they could do when they come together. They got out of the pessimism that descended over the world and our country, even if it was for a day. They look at the future with more hope.

Turkey became a more beautiful country on March 8th.

Thousands of women marched with another woman in 66 countries such as India, Bangladesh, Palestine, Peru, Spain, Ireland, Qatar, Brazil, Nigeria, Uganda, made friendships and developed hope for the future.

The world became a more livable place on March 8th.

Long live women’s solidarity!

Gülseren Onanç

The Founding President of SES Equality and Solidarity Association

20 Mart 2020