Turkish Cultural Center-Syracuse held an event for Syracuse area women on the theme of Women and Leadership. The event started with a brief introduction to the Turkish Cultural Center. Also shown was a short video about Turkey.
The video was followed by a talk on “Women and Leadership” by Havva Karakas-Keles of Syracuse University, a political scientist specializing in political leadership. Karakas-Keles began her remarks with references to scholarly work on leadership. She then emphasized the rich history Syracuse in particular and Upstate New York in general had a right to claim in terms of women in leading roles. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Suzan B. Anthony, Havva noted, contributed to the fight of the American people to gain access to equal rights during both the abolitionist movement and the women’s rights movement.
In her talk, she then shared several examples of women’s struggles for equal rights in several places around the world and what was achieved as a result. Workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, wage inequality, and honor killings were among the topics she discussed to highlight the challenges women face in different parts of the globe.
Karakas-Keles emphasized that leadership could not be restricted to holding an office at a certain institution or organization. She noted: “When I think of women leaders, I do not exclusively think of Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel of Germany, Hillary Clinton of United States, Indira Gandhi of India, or Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan among others. Each and every of us can and do play a leadership role in the neighborhood communities we are part of, in the charities we are part of, at schools, universities we attend or we work at”.
To the surprise of several in attendance, she then began naming a number of the women in attendance and cited several examples of their respective leadership roles. The 2013 recipient of the “Woman of the Year” award was lauded for her community organizing and activism role, for instance. A Bosnian-American woman, who survived Bosnian war of 1993-1995 and came to the United States as a teenager with no English, was commended for her leadership in bringing members of her extended family to the United States and helping them settle here. Also appreciated were the pioneering efforts of a Professor of Linguistics at Syracuse University who played a major role in setting up a Syracuse University Center in Istanbul, Turkey. Other examples of leadership followed: a Turkish-American woman who challenged quite a few established norms in her immediate environment to be able to continue going to school beyond the fifth grade, paving the way for her sisters and for the other girls in her extended family; the principal of an area school, whose leadership role and amazing dedication to the students in the face of several setbacks kept the school moving forward.
In closing her talk, Havva said: “Leadership is about care, compassion, vision, wisdom, and dedication. As the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, is reported to have said: The leader of a community is the one who serves it. We all serve our respective communities with care, compassion, vision, wisdom and dedication. And that makes all of us leaders.”
The event also featured several folk dance performances from Turkey.
Local women from all walks of life attended the event. It was a night of reflection, looking back, planning ahead, and thinking about what kind of challenges women leaders faced at work, in family life, in local communities, and how women can all stand out as leaders to better any society, school, institution that they are part of.