In our latest interview, written by the lovely Tara, we spoke to the inspirational Selin. Selin is a 17- year-old gender equality activist and entrepreneur from Turkey. She spoke about her organization We Ground Zero, where she conducts 10 minute interview with fellow change-makers.
Question one: It’s an honor and pleasure to feature you on our page, Selin! You’re an inspiring young gender equality advocate from Istanbul, Turkey, and are involved with several movements and youth organizations alongside the platform you founded, We Ground Zero. I’d like to start by having you discuss the mission of your organization, as it seems similar to ours, and the inspiration behind its name. Who are the Gen Z change-makers you interview, and where can readers support them?
I would say, everything I do is to amplify the voices of youth, especially young girls. I want to be the voice of young girls in Turkey but also give them a safe space, a platform where they could find their voices and use their voices to pursue their passions. The project I am very much proud of is We Ground Zero without a doubt. I have always wanted to have my platform and use it to inspire, empower the Gen Z but I have never had the time nor energy to focus on my dream. Lockdown allowed me to officially launch We Ground Zero.
In We Ground Zero, I do not only do episodes with changemakers from Gen Z but interview with any changemaker who could inspire Gen Z, people who think differently, who uses their power and resources to create a meaningful change.
If you would like to learn more about We Ground Zero, please check out our Instagram!
Question two: Why is gender equality your focus in activism? What draws you to empower women through the many clubs/positions you engage with?
I think every aspect and type of activism is major and important but I have chosen to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals 4 (access to education) and 5 (gender equality). I believe there are many reasons why I focused on gender equality but just to share two of them, I have seen a massive gender equality gap especially on the East Side of the country. Chil marriages, underage pregnancies are very much real in Turkey, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a dangerous increase in child marriages and domestic violence. Right now, our government is trying to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention which is the only thing that keeps women safe and protected from all types of violence. Turkish people are tired and disgusted of waking up to a black and white picture of a woman every single day who has been killed by her husband, father, ex, a victim of the brutal violence and femicides that are happening in Turkey. Maybe yes, these issues have never affected me as an individual but that is the biggest problem. People do not take action if it is not affecting them in person, and enjoy their privileges... but make them uncomfortable. Make them uncomfortable so they have to talk about it, that is what I am aiming to do.
The second reason is, I grew up listening and learning about Turkey’s great leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and knowing the things and innovative changes he has done for Turkish women, I knew I had to follow in his footsteps and should have been a young woman worthy of Atatürk.
‘’Is it possible for half of a nation to soar in the skies while the other half is locked in chains to the ground ?’’
-Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Question three: If applicable, have you received any backlash for being an avid activist from Turkey? What helps you cope and fuel the drive that you have for activism?
Since I was a child, I have always been the different one, I could never fit into a box, I would always speak up about the things I didn’t like and would always try to find solutions towards it. I remember how it didn’t make any sense to see the inequalities between people just because of their gender, religion, where they are from. I have never understood how people couldn’t embrace the concept of every single human being, being equal just because they are their authentic selves. I now realize, deep inside, I always knew I would be a change maker, even though it would mean hate comments, retirements, accuses of breaking the traditions. I knew what my truth was and nothing could stop me from speaking my mind and sharing my truth with my community, I now realize how well I knew myself even back then. (laughs)
Acknowledging that, I believe it is and should be my responsibility to help girls who do not have the same opportunities that I have, being the voice of young women and giving them a platform to find their voices.
So, even though I receive backlash from some parts of the Turkish community, I know I am carrying Turkey’s great leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s legacy.
Question four: You’d mentioned that you are proud to be one of the 300 activists around the globe chosen by the United Nations to be a part of their recognized Gender Youth Activists group. How did you achieve this title and what has been your biggest accomplishment as an entrepreneur and advocate so far?
In today’s world, both women and men—and girls and boys—all over the world are speaking up for themselves and for those who have been silenced, stigmatized, and shamed for far too long. Many are from a new generation. They are seizing the moment to reimagine economies, societies, and political systems so that they uphold human rights and achieve gender equality, leaving no one behind. (unwomen, generation equality forum)
That is why UN Women is brought up together with the next generations of women’s rights activists with the gender equality advocates to listen to their needs, solutions, and amplify their voices.
It is a true honor to represent my community on a UN level and I feel very lucky to work with wonderful activists around the globe to reach policymakers, governments, organizations to take action towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
For my biggest accomplishment, I feel like whenever I receive a message from a young girl, telling me that I was the reason why she started to advocate for her passion, those moments are my biggest accomplishments.
Question five: What are your goals for We Ground Zero and Girls Who Code (Turkey)?
With both organizations, my main goal is to reach more, inspire more, and empower more to create a meaningful change!
We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate their careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, said the Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Thinking about these wise words, I have noticed the disproportion in the distribution of male and female students in STEM clubs and extracurricular activities at my school. With the hope of changing that, I have reached out to our FIRST Robotics Competition Team, Ultimate Robotics 7830. It was such a joy and honor to see their tremendous support on the cause. We all wanted to encourage girls to be involved at the forefront of the STEM field. Thinking of ways of how to reach out to young girls around Turkey, we have brought the Girls Who Code movement to our country and became the one and only Girls Who Code team in Turkey. With our school's support, we have hosted workshops, conferences, teamed up with different FRC teams, and have visited public schools around the city and gave classes to young girls on the basics of coding and the fun side of science. It is such a delight to see young girls' spark o their eyes when we leave and they say that they want to be the next Margaret Hamilton.
Question six: What advice would you give to aspiring young advocates and businesspeople? What is the best piece of advice you have received thus far?
Be you, do you! Please, do not try to fit into a box. Do not feel afraid to speak up about things you don’t think is true, the things that have to be changed. Be that person who changes it. I would like to insert HeForShe’s slogan here: If not me, then who? If not now, then when? I know it is hard, people can be mean, they will criticize you that is for sure, people will judge you yes but always fight for what you believe in because the only thing that can stop you from achieving your goals is yourself. Make people uncomfortable, put them in a position where they have to start talking about these global issues that need global solutions. You can be, and you are, a changemaker who should share her/his opinion and advocate for your truth. Always remember, you.are.worth.it. period.
The best advice I have received was from a fellow activist friend of mine, changing your opinion does not make you a hypocrite, it is just a proof that you are open to development and learning.
Question seven: When did your passion for coding first manifest? What gave you the idea to pass on your knowledge to fellow girls who seek to code/engage in STEM?
(i do not like coding myself but I have the opportunity to give those resources to young girls who would like to pursue their passions. The reason why I took action towards it is because I have witnessed that when something does not affect us directly, as an individual, we do not take action. So with STEM, I tried to break that stereotype also.
Question eight: In bringing your social activism work to our attention, you’d said.. “[I am].. currently on a leadership position, and working closely with United Nations Girls Education Initiative to transform education.” What exactly is the work you do with this initiative? What is the most rewarding aspect?
Two months ago, I became a member of the Young Leaders Task Force by Girl Rising as an intern where I got the chance to work with 27 changemakers young people from all around the world. Across the globe, classrooms are now silent. UNESCO estimates that more than 700 million girls are affected by school closures due to the pandemic, and a recent report estimates that 10 million girls are at risk of never returning to school due to gender inequities. As Girl Rising, we have started fundraising to support girls' education during the pandemic. Rising Together is a peer-to-peer campaign to support our partners in Guatemala and Kenya and the young people they serve to provide the resources, tools, and supplies needed to connect girls with educators, mentors, and educational materials. Another project we are very much proud of is our Storytelling Challenge where we have partnered up with HP Computers. In the last few months, the COVID19 pandemic has revealed deep-seated racial, gender, and economic inequities. The social impacts are being felt most deeply by people of color, women, and girls who are already historically disadvantaged. At the same time, everyday extraordinary people across the globe are courageously working towards equity, justice, and a better future. Now is an important time to listen and learn from each other. We want to highlight the powerful work that you are doing to create a more just and equal world. As Girl Rising, we want to hear your stories and amplify your voice.
We will be having a 12-hour virtual event to celebrate the International Day of the Girl, you are more than welcome to join us! The most rewarding part is, aside from working with brilliant young people across the globe, knowing that the work I do is helping young girls, knowing that my voice is being heard and our work is being paid off.
Question nine: What have been the most challenging aspects of balancing the work you do for various organizations? If applicable, how do you make time for schoolwork and activism?
It is very important to learn how to balance your work, school, and personal life. It took me a long time to learn how to say no, but always remember, making yourself your priority does not make you selfish nor self-centered. Even though I am an activist, I am still a 17-year old teenager, which is a fact that people, even my close circle, seem to be forgetting very often. I love hanging out with my friends, drinking coffee while chit-chatting, binge-watching Netflix, and reading a good book. During quarantine, I have started to bake, which is my new hobby now! I am very good at chocolate chip cookies and lemon drizzled cake. (laughs)
Question ten: .Thank you for reaching out to us and supporting our page! We wish you the best of luck in all of your activism endeavors! Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
I have partnered up with a new sustainable brand called Slush Jobs and we are creating a sustainable sweatshirt. The design will be featuring all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Our mission with this sweatshirt is that we know the power of fashion, we know how one can use it to create change. Even though Sustainable Development Goals may seem like for policymakers and governments, it is not. We need all hands on deck if we want to create a meaningful change. With this sweatshirt, we want to prove that you can implement those goals, those blueprints to your everyday life. Stay tuned for that!