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Written by Adnan Ali, MAGG student

Marhaba! from the city of cats. Arriving in Istanbul five weeks ago, I noticed it was truly a magical city. First, you see how loving the city is towards cats, as the streets are lined with food bowls. Then, amid modern skyscrapers, you find architectural monuments predating the Islamic era. You come across ancient pillars preserved from the Roman Empire and beautiful palaces glorifying the Ottoman rule. Istanbul does not fail to impress upon people that it is a great mix of Christianity and Islam, and western and eastern cultures. With 18 million people, Istanbul is a melting pot of many nations, making it a culturally rich, vibrant, tolerant, and bustling city. The weather has been amazing, fluctuating between 18 to 25 degrees with fresh settle breezes in the evenings.

I arrived in Istanbul for an internship at the regional headquarters of United Nations Women. UN Women is an international non-governmental organization with a global mandate to foster an environment where women are equally represented in political decision-making and can hold positions of power. UN Women strives for gender equality with a mandate plan of 50-50 by 2030. They also focus on empowering women and increasing their representation in societal, cultural, and economic settings, and have the final say on their reproductive health. The work environment here is amazing, and there is a lot of opportunities to chat with colleagues from UNDP and UNICEF.

UN Women Istanbul is responsible for overlooking Turkey and 13 countries in the regions of Western Balkan, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. My work focuses on processing numerical data and identifying trends, similarities, improvements, and rollbacks evident from the data. For example, I examine survey data to see if extended households in a given country have increased or decreased. Extended households are where multiple generations live together, e.g., couples living with their children and parents. An increase in extended households means that women are required to do more unpaid domestic care work, such as attending to children, parents, and in-laws simultaneously. Against this finding, I consider other data including the mean age of marriage for girls living in extended households, the number of children per woman, their level of education, and their contribution to the labour force. I then check for state-sponsored or supported safety nets and legal apparatuses that are in place to assist women’s welfare. Finally, data and all relevant information are analyzed and synthesized for the purpose of coming up with effective policy directives. For example, if extended households are increasing, states have to provide childcare and old-age support so women may have more time to increase their agency. Policy directives have to be in-line with the overall framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and check against established indicators of success. I also work on data pertaining to inter-regional migration, violence against women, and the women’s labor force participation.

Communication is a clear challenge in Istanbul, given English is not one of the common languages of the city. Therefore, it becomes essential to utilize available technologies, e.g., Google maps and translator, which are also helpful for picking up short phrases in the local language.

Colder days are ahead in Istanbul, and I am looking forward to activities the locals do here over the winter months.


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