Case Study: Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices (Luleburgaz, Türkiye)

2018-05-07 00:00:00

By Rose K. Lukalo-Owino


Lüleburgaz was shortlisted for the 3rd Guangzhou International Award for UrbanInnovation in 2016. This study tour took place during April 26th and 27th, 2018.

“Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices*” is a soft-footed yet radical initiative for women's inclusion and participationin all areas of life in Lüleburgaz City. This initiative has transformed the role and perception of women in the management of the Municipality and in the community. By giving greater visibility to women's leadership and encouraging women's participation in the Municipality, this initiative has enabled women to go beyond their traditional role as home-makers and use their time and energiesin ways that break traditional barriers and benefit women and community directly. 


Following the 2014 elections, Mrs. Kevser Özkan was elected as one of three Deputy Mayors, along with eight women elected as Council members. Women now make up almost one third of the representatives to the Municipal Council including the Speaker Aysel Tan. The Municipal trade union elected women to three out of the fourpositions of leadership despite the fact that men greatly out-number women asunion members. Meanwhile, dozens of women-led civil society organisations have emerged on the back of this initiative addressing widely diverse themes, from business and music to adult sports. Benefit is also evident in the growing number of women using the spaces created by the Municipal Council for their hobbies, recreation and fitness where they are able to create new opportunities for themselves and their families.  

As Lüleburgaz transforms, the initiative is believed to be impacting many other areas. The number of Lüleburgaz women with post-graduate university qualifications is double the national average. Judicial records for the whole of Türkiye show a major increase in the number of sexual assault cases while crime in Lüleburgaz is declining and cases of child marriage, rape or incest have not been heard of inrecent years.  

Along with the striking statistics and the growing visibility of women in all areas of city life, this initiative is also changing the focus of Municipal programmes. Driven by the slogan “Everything begins with love” (Herşey sevgiyle başlar), a women-centred focus in decision making is evident in projects, such as streets that are closed to traffic during holidays so that children can play and the introduction of an electric bicycle service for mothers with children, people with disability and the elderly who need help getting around. The needs of families and ordinary people find equal consideration with that of businesses when using city space.

The idea for this initiative came from the Lüleburgaz Council – the elected representatives of the people. Led by Mayor (Mr.) Emin Halebak the idea developed from previous efforts to include more women in the staff of the municipality. The Lüleburgaz Council's theory is that the status of women in society determines the status of the whole society and the goal was to move the City to one where all people are happy; if women are happy, families will be happy and this will in turn translate to a happy citizenry.

Deputy Mayor Kevser Özkan in one of the electric bicycles stationed around the City to assist those in need. 


The sustainability of the process is secured by entrenching it in the governance structure of Lüleburgaz where it is overseen by the Deputy Mayor Kevser Özkan. The Municipal Committee – which includes both elected representatives and city officials – created a Gender Mainstreaming Sub-Committee chaired by Council member Mr. Murat Gerenli. The Committee translated the idea into activities to be implemented by the CityCouncil staff. 

The approach had two key components, namely, giving greater visibility to women's leadership and secondly expanding women's participation in activities around the city.

The first action undertaken under the initiative “Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices” was the promotion of women from within the Municipal staff body. Strategic plan 2012-2016 outlined the achievement of gender equality and democracy in the Municipality of Lüleburgaz as a key goal and, towards this end, change started internally by promoting women to head more key departments than ever before, moving closer to achieving gender equity in the management of the Lüleburgaz City. Women now head 7 out of the 17 key departments in the City Council along with leadership of the Union. As canbe seen from their titles, there is no tokenism in the positions assigned to them:

  • Yeşim Çakir – Director of Finance

  • Neermin Adak – Director of Public Works and Town Planning

  • Nalan Koç – Director of Technical Works

  • Türkan Rodoplu – Editor (Public Communications)

  • Dilek Çetin Çivi – Director of Human Resources and Training

  • Reşide Candan – Director of Cultural and Social Affairs

  • Özgü Sert – Head of the Law Office

The decision taken to promote and recruit women to serve in the public service was not executed in a cosmetic way. While details of the process by which this was done are not readily available, it is clear that effort was made to ensure that highly trained and competent women were placed in very powerful roles in the City Council. Many of these women were groomed within the system and encouraged to study for post-graduate degrees. A few were recruited from outside even as more women were brought into to become junior supervisors – future managers in the making. 

This bold positioning of competent women at the helm of management was specifically intended to place the capability of women in the public eye and to demonstrate that given equal opportunity women can lead and can make a significant difference. The same approach feeds into all city projects. The on-going construction of a $35 million Lüleburgaz Arts Academy assigned 29-year-old architect Mrs. Burcu Bağcı Uçarand and 26-year-old civil engineer Ms. Gizem Çekiç to the team of experts, overseeing implementation of the project on behalf of the City Council and demonstrating City trust for women of all ages.

The other component of the initiative involves communication and facilitation to encourage women to get out of their homes and use their time to develop themselves, their skills andtalents. The City Council invested in convening spaces where women could meet and decide what they wanted to do or simply read and build their knowledge. Initially the City Council made use of existing spaces; for example, the old City fire station was renovated and converted into several rooms along with 5 small centres around the city. Soon women began to meet at these venues forexercise classes, music sessions and to practice their ceramics and other traditional arts and crafts. Public parks and gardens are also used for meeting and outdoor exercise. The City Council contacted both the national government and charity foundations to sponsor teachers based on the requests from women, thus establishing life-long learning centres at minimal cost.  

This City-wide initiative addressed women of all ages; it scaled up rapidly once the agency and impact of women's leadership and participation became evident. In the face of a massively successful response, the City Council initiated two large scale projects. The first is a newly completed Women's Academy – an 8,000 square metre complex of meeting rooms, training facilities, presentation theatres, kitchens, dininghalls, day-care centre for over 150 children and hotel-standard residential facilities. 3D technologies have been installed, ensuring that even as women pick up traditional ways they are also aware of the new. The Academy is surrounded by an additional 7,000 square metres of kitchen gardens that are leased out for $4 per month.  

Once women started meeting on a regular basis, they began to set up dozens of organizations to reflect their interests and advance their goals: from environment to health, disability an dold age, education, music, sports, and entrepreneurship. Up to 30 such women-led organizations were met during the study tour. Lüleburgaz City Council has assigned meeting spaces to civil society organizations in the Women's Academy thus entrenching them in City structures and giving larger groups permanent offices such as the Women Entrepreneurs and Producers Cooperative and the Turkish Women's Union. Providing physical space for partners within Municipal facilities enables the City Council to consult regularly and to know what partners and stakeholders are thinking according to Mayor Emin Halebak.

The second project currently under construction is the giant Luleburgaz Arts Academy built in response to overwhelming demand for opportunities for creative expression that came out of the “Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices” initiative. It houses multiple in-door and out-door performance theatres, artists’ studios for painting, sculpture, crafts, writing, dance, drama and music as well as spaces for teaching. While the initial project targeted women, the demand for these facilities forced the City Council to adapt the Arts Academy so that it can be accessed by all residents.



The City of Lüleburgaz draws from the same socio-economic background that has been blamed for retarding women's advancement in Türkiye (and many other parts of the world) including deeply rooted traditional patriarchal family relations where women face huge pressure to conform to the wishes of the men in their families. These pressures are said to be redoubled by religious requirements. In this patriarchal and predominantly Muslim country, the Lüleburgaz Council faced the challenge of changing long-standing and deeply entrenched perceptions of women that presented a key hurdle. Despite this cultural environment, the City has managed to change the course of gender relations without undue confrontationand in a relatively short period of time.

It is also remarkable that the initial change appears to have required minimal expenditure and had relatively little to do with budget; the Municipal City Council renovated existing facilities and supported the initiative with a good communication and outreach strategy.


(1) In its latest strategic plan, the Lüleburgaz Council chose to focus on participation of women in all areas of daily life as a central approach to achieving its vision of a city of happy people. Türkiye is ranked among countries with the lowest representation of women in local governments in Europe. Women are under-represented in the Turkish workforce and a very high proportion of women are neither employed norin education. These women remain invisible, secluded in their homes making it hard to reach them and making the achievement of gender equality and empowerment for Turkish women and girls difficult.   

(2) Much of the evidence of this initiative is anecdotal and only available through the memory of those who lived through the process, were involved in its implementation and witnessed the transformation. Data and documentation about the initiative is limited and this outline of the methodology has been reconstructed from interviews. It is therefore difficult to quantify and fully comprehend process details and stages of transformation. There is for example no baseline study and no record of milestones. No disaggregated data or information as to whether this initiative contributes to the economy of the City. There is no record of the challenges that were faced and how the initiative changed in response to challenges – if at all. The communication strategy in and of itself seems to have embraced some very innovative ideas but again it was not documented except perhaps through the record of meetings which the delegation did not have time to access during this study tour. Of particular interest would be the messaging reaching men and their response. This gap in documentation limits the possibilities of learning from this initiative. 



A key innovation in the initiative was to make symbiotic useof both directed intervention and non-prescriptive approaches supporting andfollowing women's natural organizational skills. The initiative was catalysedby the use of various forms of messaging and communication including thevisibility of high-ranking women within theMunicipality. This allowed women to decide what they want to do and to solicita response from the administration. This encouraged focusing on women for theirown sake and not in order to achieve government-driven targets or to seekownership of the process.

It targets and involves the whole city in understanding the importance of having women's potential realised in order for all to be happy. The messaging is very much inspired by the progressive teachings of the widely respected founder of the Turkish nation Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; it reminds people that Atatürk gave women political rights before most European nations and the world. It also urges the inhabitants of the City to return to the Ataturk mentality and his leadership role in recognising the importance of giving women's space in the management of society. 

The initiative is also sustainable in that it addresses the fundamental governance structures that will be required to keep it going. It has the political goodwill and entrenched support of the highest governing body, the elected Council as well as all subordinate organs of the Municipality described earlier. It has already delivered visible and tangible results to the people of the City. Any threat to the initiative will most likely come from outside the City and it would be good to build external support. Representation of women is a key issue that Türkiye is addressing as it works towards long-term interests in joining the European Union. Lüleburgaz City has shown the way in this regard and unless Türkish policy shifts the City is likely to attract only positive interest and support and may well end up serving as a model for other cities nationally and regionally – adding to the sustainability of the initiative.

Lessons Learned

In conversations with the citizens of Lüleburgaz and staff of the City Council, the role of Mayor Emin Halebak was repeatedly mentioned in almost every conversation. Mr. Halebak served as Mayor for 19 years and is credited with beginning the move to bring women on board. The current Deputy Mayor Kevser Özkan was the only woman serving in junior management of the City Council at the time when the decision to embrace affirmative action for women was taken. This is a lesson on the need for champions for women's representation – individuals within the system who understand the powerful possibilities and actively advocate for women's leadership wherever and whenever they can. 

The Mayor together with members ofthe Council were also ready to take on taboo subjects that remained unspoken and unchallenged. They bravely created a new point of view and replaced the taboos with a new ethos that was widely shared, namely 1) women' s leadershipmust be visible; 2) women must be heard; and 3) women must contribute to allideas.

There is no record of the specific steps taken before this initiative. However, it is clear that actions preceding the “Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices” initiative paved the way for election of a critical number of women to become representatives and the ability to input directly into the municipal agenda. Women currently make up 29 per cent of the Lüleburgaz Municipal Council of elected representatives – way above Türkiye's 4.2 per cent average with consistent growth over the years.

Although this preparatory phase is not included as an activity of this initiative, it should be considered as a critical lesson for success and also regarded as a buttress against roll-back of the achievements made so far. It also appears to be core to the institutionalisation of the initiative.

With Deputy Mayor Kevser Özkan (left) and six of the eight LüleburgazMunicipal Council members

The nine elected women members of the Municipal Council are drawn from different political parties and while there may be disagreement over budget allocations between women allied to conservative and the liberal parties, there is rarely disagreement over implementation of the initiative. 

The systematic engagement with and involvement of all governance institutions in delivering the initiative is key to sustainability. By way of example, this study tour coincided with the final days of Mayor Halebak in office as he resigned to seek election for national office. In elections thereafter, Mr. Halebak was replaced by former Council member Mr. Murat Gerenli who until his election was the chair of the Gender Mainstreaming Sub-Committee. This suggests that such deliberate engagement will serve to ensure continuity and expansion of the initiative.

The appointment of women to public service leadership roles that were formerly closed to them and in such significant numbers has been a catalyst for women's leadership throughout the City. As society's perception of women in management changes, women bankers, business owners and managers are becoming common. The initiative also teaches us the importance of addressing women's leadership and economic potential in the home because this builds the social capital on which the untapped capacity and agency of womenstands and can be developed. A secondary lesson is the importance of avoidingpatronising and prescriptive interventions in reaching out to women but ratherresponding to their requests.  

Although the process of getting women out of their households is not clear, one lesson that did stand out was the use of popular folk-lore, culture and historical precedent in messaging. The name and words of Ataturk resonate widely with the population. Under this initiative an annual pilgrimage to the grave of Ataturk has been instituted for 5th December as a reminder of his progressive ideals and a call to national pride.



Inclusion and participation of womenin all areas of life in their communities is a topical issue globally. Multiple efforts have been made to realize this ideal and huge financial investments have been invested in countless societies around the world towards its achievement. “Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices” initiative presents an important opportunity to understand factors that work to support the successful transformation of gender relations within the microcosm of Lüleburgaz City. 

This initiative demonstrates that involvement and participation of women at all levels of society is readily achievable with the right combination of factors. This includes the seemingly elusive achievement of equity in the representation of women in elected and appointive leadership. It is also clear that it does cost much to initiate such change, but it is achievable in a relatively short time span where conditions are right. 

This case study of Lüleburgaz offers so many insights into a question that societies around the world are struggling with. It also offers an opportunity to witness the outcomes of inclusive development and how it impacts the collective productivity of a community or City. The bold decision to focus on inclusion of women has had significant impact not only on both the direction of development and choice of projects, but also on change in attitudes and behaviour, causing the whole community to reflect on its collective goals and aspirations. It has resulted in changes to City planning and use as well as to aesthetic design giving priority to people's needs ahead of all else.

Lüleburgaz staff take the pursuit of happiness for City residents seriously and they lead by example. Women managers embrace and show off their multiple roles and interests. The Director of the Departmentof Culture and Social Services for the City Council also leads a traditional band of women drummers, a fact that is made more significant by the fact that drumming is traditionally done by men.

Mrs. Reşide Candan, Director of Culture and Social Services (third from right) joins members of the drumming band in a session at the Women's Academy in Lüleburgaz.

The vast majority of women working for the City Council are local and call Lüleburgaz home or live in nearby towns and villages. They have relatives and family in the area who are directly impacted and influenced in seeing their achievements and lifestyle which, in turn, further supports transformation. 

While all the process details are not available, the case of Lüleburgaz suggests that women can chart their own advancement given the chance. Allowing the organic evolution processes to happen demonstrates a respectful engagement with women who were not herded into pre-determined activities and training sessions but rather encouraged to explore their own health, talents and humanity and in doing so, to find the outlet and outcomes that best suited them. Women can then find their own level, some seeking jobs as managers, shop-keepers, waitresses, cashiers and clerks while others choose creative outlets and academic pursuits.  

This organic evolution allowed the City Council to recognise a huge un-met need for artistic and cultural expression. As women busy themselves with hobbies and created beautiful artefacts and clothes they quickly begin to recognise opportunities and to understand their own valuable contribution. One woman working on a piece of fine art began the piece without commercial intent; then she received offers of 400 TL, and learnt that in nearby Istanbul the same could easily fetch 2000-3000 TL.  

The tailoring class has women stitching clothes for their families – much appreciated by their husbands - while others upgrade to contracts for embroidery of wedding dresses and evening gowns for commercial outlets even before graduating. This is allowing natural progression to the development of a business and entrepreneurship culture. Individual women now offer dance and fitness classes for women and toddlers. Ceramics and art projects undertaken by the women are finding buyers as are clothes tailored by them. The Municipal Council has introduced 3D and laser technology to support women with their artistic projects and encourage them to take steps in using the latest technologies.

One restaurant owner revealed that the change in the status of women has been very good for business as many now have their own money to spend on dining out with their friends. An employee at the restaurant spoke of satisfaction seeing his wife happier and healthier now that she finds space to work out every day.

Women engaged in their hobbies say it gives them somewhere to go every day and makes them conscious of a different point of view such that “Even the sky is different,” said one. “I have become addicted to sewing,” says another, and she declares that she no longer wastes money as she now stitches even the suits her husband wears.

Finding happiness, expression and a bit of money through tailoring. A tailoring class at the newly opened Women's Academy.

In the words of one local father, he is happy seeing women leading in every sphere, “I want my daughters to be valued this way in society.” He is also proud of the fact that his wife recently found a job as the first woman ambulance driver in the city and that has changed his family income and the outlook of family and friends.

The initiatives “Sex, Egalitarian Approach and Directrices” began with the goal of getting women out of the house to release their talents, energy and spare time for their benefit. This in turn delivers personal fulfilment and positively affects their lives and their social status in society. Ultimately it demonstrates that inclusion and participation of women in the life of their communities pays off in terms of creativity and expression, improved security and expanded economy, improved health and general social welfare of all individuals regardless of their status or ability. 

“Where women are allowed to invest in themselves and to value their own humanity and support each other, the world benefits.” – Kevser Özkan, Deputy Mayor, Lüleburgaz Municipal Council.