Grassroots women ask for accountability

Canan Ergin wants one simple thing: A decent life in her neighborhood. She has been volunteering to make this a reality for over three years.


She is talking to people, identifying the needs and problems of the neighborhood and conveying these to local authorities to have a solution. But what she realizes is that asking for accountability to local authorities is key to see what happens once they convey their needs to the authorities:


“No one will give me an account of what they have done if I don’t ask for it. But the problem is that people who asks for accountability are seen as outsider in the community who is problematic and quarrelsome. We need to change this.”


Canan and her friends were organized in a neighborhood center in Konak district of İzmir. They first came together to identify the primary needs and issues of their neighborhood. The most important one was the lack of social venues where women can safely and securely enjoy leisure time.


The parks were scrap and full of young people who use drugs. The neighborhood was very unsafe, especially for women to go out at night, even during the day time.


Canan and her friends, which were called leader women, worked together with the mukhtar and created a nice park. They ensured that it encouraged women to go out their homes and to participate within the public realm.. The park was named after Leader Women and it was called ‘Leader Women’s Park’.


Canan says it was a great achievement for them and whenever she passes by the park she feels empowered. But she says there is more to do.


“I think the municipality should open Schools of Politics where women can develop skills to be more politically engaged because our lack of participation to decision making mechanisms affects our social engagements in our community.”


At this point, UNDP developed a small and timely initiative together with these women.


This three-month initiative established structured relations and discussion platforms for grassroots women in İzmir and in Trabzon about their needs and perceptions on governance, efficient use of public resources and enhanced accountability.


Sezin Üskent, who is the expert of this initiative tells why İzmir and Trabzon was chosen:


“Between 2012-2014, there was a neighborhood component in the Women Friendly Cities United Nations Joint Programme, which was implemented by UNFPA and UNDP, between 2012-2014. This component implemented activities like identifying the services that are needed most by the women at the neighborhood level, demanding these services, building capacity of grassroots women to ask for these services and raising awareness among local authorities on engaging citizens more into the decision making processes. İzmir and Trabzon were the pilot cities that showed the most successful results at the end of these activities.”


UNDP provided capacity building trainings, prioritizing gender equality, on local governance and accountability both for institutions and neighborhood women and generated recommendations for increasing participation of citizens in local decision‐making processes and effective monitoring of those decisions by citizens.


Canan says that these were crucial for them to bring their efforts to a next level and she thinks accountability is not only about the authorities:


“I think accountability means to work properly. You need to give an account of what you have done. For this, transparency is essential. First, my husband should be accountable to me. Then my son, then the municipality and then the government. The most important thing here is for me to ask for accountability. No one will give me an account of what they have done if I don’t ask for it. But the problem is that people who asks for accountability are seen as outsider in the community who is problematic and quarrelsome. We need to change this.”


Leyla Demirkır, who is an activist grassroots woman from Trabzon, talking about accountability helped them to understand who the services are really for:


“Accountability means that the municipality should be transparent. The municipality might think that they do what we want. But is it really true? In addition, how do they use the budget, according to what criteria? They do some sports centers but for whom? For women, men or children? That is not certain. It is usually for men. It is may be because in the planning, budgeting and implementing periods, there are men more than women.”


Saliha Belgin Yakkan from İzmir says everyone should be accountable but what equally necessary is for people who ask for accountability to know the official rules and procedures not to blindly blame the authorities:


“Everyone should be accountable to me. Most importantly mayors and the municipality. We tell them our needs and we wait for an explanation. Most importantly, our role is to know exactly what the processes are for the service delivery, what the real reason is for deficiencies in service delivery and who exactly is responsible. We should ask the accountability from the right authorities. For this, transparency is essential.”


The initiative had brought local administrations together with grassroots women on the discussions of accountability and efficiency. Sezin Üskent, project expert says, this made the authorities to realize something:


“Local authorities were always saying they have limited resources and they were trying their best in the existing conditions. Now, they understood that although this is true, the citizens can only see this if they are involved. If the citizens aren’t involved in the decision making processes and if transparency and accountability aren’t ensured, then citizens can really see the effort and reasons of drawbacks in the service delivery.”


On the basis of analysis of perceptions and needs of grassroots women on accountability and efficiency in governance, the initiative developed and supported implementation of small-scale initiatives for pilot neighborhoods in İzmir and Trabzon. The municipalities and grassroots women already started to take action to bring about the transformative change together for a decent life in their neighborhoods.


In İzmir, the citizen satisfaction survey conducted during the initiative will be integrated into service planning of Konak municipality. The City Council started to establish what is called neighborhood committees composed of volunteers, in order to improve participatory decision making processes.


In Trabzon, the City Council will establish a neighborhood based monitoring system. This system will ask for accountability and transparency of services delivered.


This initiative showed us how important it is to include women’s experiences within decision-making processes as well as policy-making and implementation for better accountability and efficiency in governance.


In the last instance, this initiative served for a strong democratic social system that relies on gender equality. 

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