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Educating Girls, One Village at a Time

Promoting girls’ school enrollment in Turkey

01 July 2011

Also in this article: ‘Hey Girls, Let’s Go to School!’

The Girls Education Campaign (HKO)
By Dr. Nur Otaran and Fatma Özdemir Uluç

Dr. Nur Otaran is a researcher and consultant with UNICEF Turkey on education for girls and Fatma Özdemir Uluç is an education officer with UNICEF Turkey.

Since 1997, all children in Turkey are required to complete eight years of free primary education. Despite these laws, Turkey has experienced gender disparity in education. In 2003, Turkey’s branch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Turkey’s Ministry of National Education (MONE) established the Girls’ Education Campaign (HKO), which ran until 2010.[1] HKO addressed the main obstacles to school attendance for girls in Turkey: a lack of schools, gender discrimination, low expectations from education, low quality of education and the cost to families for sending children to school.[2]

HKO started first in 10 provinces that had the highest illiteracy rates. It later expanded to all 81 of Turkey’s provinces. To ensure effective implementation, partnerships at central and local levels were established. A conditional cash-transfer scheme was launched in 2003 to help parents cover the costs of sending their children to school, and free textbooks were provided to every child in primary education, encouraging parents to send their girls (as well as boys) to school.

HKO has contributed to improving the gender parity in primary education in Turkey. While the disparity between schooling rates of girls and boys was 7.15 percent in 2003, the year the campaign was first launched, this disparity dropped down to 1.02 percent between 2008 and 2009.[3] Thanks to the campaign, more than 200,000 girls have enrolled in primary school.[4] Turkey today is in a better position in terms of gender parity in primary education and it has a better system for monitoring school enrollment and attendance.


1 Otaran et al (2003), “Gender in Education in Turkey,” UNICEF. Back to Article.

2 Karasar, N. (1991), “Factors Influencing School Attendance in Basic Education in Turkey: With Special Emphasis on Female Participation,” World Bank (Unpublished report). Back to Article.

3 MEB (2011), Eğitimde Son 10 Yıl MEB, İlköğretim Genel Müdürlüğü, Ankara. Back to Article.

4 UNICEF (2010), “Terms of Reference: Documentation of Girls Education Campaign in Turkey,” UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/turkey/jb/pdf/ToR_HKO.pdf. Back to Article.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.

‘Hey Girls, Let’s Go to School!’

Abridged and reprinted with permission from the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative and UNICEF.

In hundreds of villages [in Turkey’s Van province], in schools and homes and coffee houses, the same question [has been] asked by teachers, journalists, local activists and religious leaders.

“What will it take to get your daughter in school?”

The campaign, dubbed “Hey Girls, Let’s Go to School,” depends on a vast network of volunteers who go door-to-door to lobby parents on the value of education.

On a stop in Bakimli village, a remote outpost near the Iranian border, a team of four teachers checks a list of children and nods at a mud house where an 8-year-old girl is said to be out of school.

The woman who answers the door does not appear surprised at the group gathered on her front steps — in accordance with the campaign’s closely monitored rules, volunteers visit each village regularly in order to assess progress and ensure that parents follow through when it comes time to register for school. With an air of resignation, she arranges chairs for the visitors almost before the first greetings are exchanged.

“My husband and brother are working in Istanbul,” she says. “I’m afraid to stay home alone. And I don’t think my daughter really needs to go to school.”

Sukran Celik, a teacher from Van who works on the campaign in her spare time, nods sympathetically. “But isn’t it hard for you to read instructions when you go places? If your daughter is educated, she can earn money and bring in a salary and care for her mother.”

Twenty minutes later, the mother is wavering — won over by the force of Sukran’s arguments, she still worries that education will spoil her daughter for marriage. It takes a visit from the village imam, Ibrahim Yasin, to persuade her that school will make her daughter a better mother someday.

Like many religious leaders in Turkey, the imam promotes girls’ education during Friday prayers. “It is a girl’s right to go to school,” he says. “A girl must be educated. Islam tells us this.”

Above all, it is the connection between neighbors that seals the mother’s decision to send her daughter to school. “I am a role model, because I am educated,” says Sukran. “I am from Van; I am from this culture; I show them that this is what girls can be.”

According to Zozan Ozgokce, the head of the Van Women’s Association and another volunteer who visits local homes, there is a growing consensus that education is an imperative for every child.

“When we ask women how they want their children to live, they almost never say ‘like me.’ And when we ask the women what they want to be, they say ‘educated.’

“It might take 25 years for the effects of this campaign to show,” she says. “But the campaign will still be visible then — because it is this generation that will show how the world can be.”

December 22, 2005


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)