HÜLYA BİLGİN
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HÜLYA BİLGİN

FIRST WOMAN MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF ATSO

Interviewer: Yeliz Gül Ege, Senem Yıldırım
Place: Antalya Chamber of Commerce And Industry
Date: 25.11.2015

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Interview


Would you like to introduce yourself to us ?
I was born in 1950 in Burdur. My father is from Antalya and my mother is from Akseki. My father was a doctor in Burdur, later, during 10 years he was the mayor of Burdur. For that reason I was close to politics. After finishing high school in Burdur, I went to Istanbul for university and studied civil engineering. I married while working for my master degree.
 
Can you tell us about your childhood years?
We are two sisters. My father was a very open-minded person. My mother was a very strong woman. My grandmother was also a strong, struggling woman. Both were brought up in difficult conditions. My grandmother absolved the middle school level. My mother educated herself after finishing primary school; she even made my father win the election. During the election preparations for the second term, my father broke his leg and it was my mother, who did all the election work.
My father was a child of the republic, born in 1915. During the time of Atatürk he went to high school and later to university.
Our upbringing period was the time when the 1960's freedom constitution went into effect. If you regard the women who grew up at that time, the women who studied after 1960, those women are liberal.
It was a lucky time, a very important period. Burdur was very small city in those years with about thirty five thousand inhabitants. The population of Antalya was fifty five thousand.
I graduated high school ranking first and got the chance to study in America, but my uncle died and my mother decided not to send me.

Maybe it was better like this, who knows?
So I did not struggle against my parents for the opportunity to study at university. I had an agreement with my family about studying at univerity, but if I could not succeed they could easily give up on that support. Years later I wondered why I wanted to study. Okay, you are getting a profession, but why did I actually want to study at university? Then I realized, that I studied to prove myself to my family. This is why I got a master’s degree. I had to prove it to myself.
 
How were the women in Burdur during those years?
Officials and distinguished personalities were always intellectuals. In fact, there were many intellectuals. The way of being dressed may have been different, but intelectual people were to be found in all population strata. There is an interesting folk culture in Burdur and I wish I had learned more about it at the time.
 
Tell us about your college years please.
I graduated from high school in 1967. Burdur high school was a very good school in those years. We had In 1967 I graduated from high school. Back then the grammar school in Burdur was very good. We had good teachers and many students went to the university later, so did I. At that time the different universities had their own examinations and I applied to some. In the central selection process of Turkey, I took the 10th place. Because of the best language teaching, we chose Robert College. At this time it was usual to live in the student residence.
Actually, I wanted to study medicine, because doctors or lawyers were role models for us in the small city Burdur. But my family did not agree to stay in Istanbul, although I called home for a week every night. The reason was that for my parents the accommodation in the student residence in Çemberlitaş did not seem safe enough for a girl.
Finally, I was satisfied at my school and studied engineering.

How was the number of female students?
There were only five girls in the engineering faculty. One of them was of Greek origin and emigrated later. Two other girls did not work in the construction sector, once of them choose computer science; the other worked as an English teacher. Only my husband’s sister, Cevher, and I worked in the construction sector. Cevher was very successful and became a planning manager. I worked at constructions.
In those years we had a general education in the first year and then we choose the department. I preferred Electrical Engineering, but later I found it too imaginary. I wanted to deal with more concrete things and transfered to mechanical engineering. We were drawing parts of the machine and they had big precision drawings. I realized that this was not for me, so I went to the chemistry department, but laboratory was nothing for me either.  Only civil engineering was left. Together with Cevher I studied civil engineering. Şahap Yalçın, the head of the department, told us that civil engineering is very difficult and not suitable for women. He recommended us to study Chemistry, but we told him that our decision was definite and started to study civil engineering even more stubbornly. Later, there they called me to study economy, because I was very successful in my economy lessons.
 
Were there any female teachers in the department?
There was no female teacher in civil engineering, only in electrical engineering and chemistry.
 
Did you participate in political movements in your university years?
Yes, there was a climate of freedom in those years. The university I graduated was called Robert College, later the name was changed to Bosphorus University. We joined movements, because we wanted an autonomous university. We were operating a student union and wenr going to Ankara, to draw the attention of the government for an autonomous university. At that time my family came to Istanbul and my mother opposed our movement, but my father gave me support.
 
Did you ever say, that you would not work after your university education?
No, it is a debt. An investment was made for you and you have to repay for it. To prefer not to work is not a very correct decision. Some do not want their wife to work, also that I do not find right. I think that spouses should respect each other. I do not know the necessities, but if a woman does not work, just because her husband wants so, I think that she has been taking some other person's right to study. I had a very dominant mother. Maybe it is because of her attitude that I do think like this.
 
How did you meet your husband?
My husband is three years older than me. He came from ODTÜ to have master’s degree to our school. His brother and his brother's wife were in my class. We got to know each other via a mutual friend. Later we decided to get married.
 
At that time, arranged marriages were widespread. How did your family make up the decision for your marriage?
My father got angry, that I found my husband by myself. I think, the way they got the news was a little inappropriate. My mother wrote me a letter mentioning that there was someone who wanted to meet me and that my father also agreed. I called my mother and told her, that I had a friend and that I wanted to marry him. My father first got angry, but later he loved my husband like his own son. Ours is a love marriage, I still love my husband. It is something very important to marry the person you love, to share a lifetime with this person.
 
Did you start working life together with your partner?
Yes, we got married in 1973, while I made my master degree. Later we started our work life. For the first four years we did not have children. After finishing our master degree we decided to work on the building sites. I would have preferred to pursue an academic career. In those years it was easier to be an academician. Working on the building sites is beautiful; you see what you are producing. You work together with different people. We worked professionally in various companies. After working for a company in Istanbul, we started with infrastructure. Together with my husband I worked for Konya Ereğli sewerage company. We lived in Konya for four years and my son and my daughter were born there. We worked in irrigation and tunnel construction in Kırklareli. We did pipeline construction works for the soda industry in Mersin. This was the most technical job. It was worldwide the first example of glass reinforced plastic application. After Mersin we went to Libya and stayed there for 1 year. In 1983 we returned to Antalya and founded our own company.
 
Was it easy for you as a woman to adapt to the worksite environment?
For me it was easy, because my parents brought me up like a boy. I always played with boys on the streets; my friends in high school were boys. My other girlfriends had a similar attitude, but changed when they started high school.
There was generally a sense of respect in the office. I do not know how this respect was established. When one day one of the buttons of my husband's shirt was missing, one of the workers asked me, "Why do not fix the button?" I answered, "Does he not have hands? He can fix the button by himself. " This is not an important event, but it explains how it is expected that everything is done by the woman. To their point of view, no matter if you are an engineer, the woman is responsible for the husband's button.
 
What do you want to say about motherhood?
My first baby was born when I was 27. Being a mother is something different, of course. I was at work until a day before birth and I was at work again ten days after birth. Today, I do not think anymore that this was right. I think I should have spent more time with my children.  My father-in-law, my mother and grandmother were very helpful about my children care. My working life never changed after having my children. At this time I was a person in love with her work. When my children grew up we were close to each other, later we became friends. I think I was a liberal and at the same time a strict mother. Also were my children very easy to handle.
 
How was it when you entered the tourism sector in Antalya?
At that time tourism was newly developing in Antalya. Our friends encouraged us very much. They said that City Hotels would be needed in the future. We had the property grounds and also we built the hotel ourselves. We opened the hotel in April of 1990, but than, in August, the gulf crisis broke out. Until the beginning of the crisis there were culture tours. Quality of tourism declined after the crisis, there were no culture tours anymore. Later we started to work with a Tour Operator with guests from northern countries. We tried to earn money by selling rooms cheaper. With the arrival of different people, Antalya changed, and people's mind changed with the mingling of cultures. Tourism has brought a lot to people.
 
What kind of work did you do at the Antalya Chamber of Commerce?
I am a person who believes in institutions very much. Institutions with legislation facilitate the organization. I became a member of the Chamber of Civil Engineers in Antalya. Together with Ibrahim Ekinci we started to work as assistant representative. In order to control the quality of the concrete we established a concrete laboratory. At this time, the City Mayor was Yener Ulusoy. We told him about the importance of the project and he provided a place for the laboratory.  I was also member of the first executive board of the Chamber of Civil Engineers. At that time, I was the only woman, but later there were more. I met with Osman Berberoğlu and he told me that I could be a member of the profession committee, but not the Executive Board. I entered the profession committee in 1991 and two years later I became a member of the Executive Board.
And crises after crises followed in tourism. In 1994 I was member of the tourism committee and of the board. People were heavily in debt and we needed to take action. We decided to gather the affected tourism companies. I asked the manager of the Tourism Bank, Nihat Güney, for a list of the borrowers registered in our chamber.
We started meetings and tried to convince the government to accept a payment plan.  We went to Ankara and met with Tansu Ciller, but she said, "No, there is no postponement of the debts." Later a prolongation of four years was accepted so that people could pay their loans. This was an important task and more important was, that I convinced the members that the chamber of commerce should be in the international business arena.
 
How was it to be ATSO board member as a woman?
Actually, there was nothing starting and ending there, it is a flowing process. I was a member of the plenum and I worked hard. While I was working so hard, I thought why I should not be in the executive board. And I dedided to candidate for board member.
I was the first woman in the presidency board. I also led the assembly. The day when I run the assembly, a number of people from other sectors entered the session and I introduced them to the council. During another occasion I met again with one of the men I had presented before and he asked me if I was also a member of the plenum. I answered that I had run the assembly during which he was accepted. That is such a good memory.
 
Were there changes at ATSO during your time?
There may have been developments, but there was nothing that took my attention especially. But when the chamber of commerce went to Ankara, they only visited the government party. For the first time during my period, also the opposition party was visited.
 
What kind of projects did you have?
The European Union launched a partnership fair for entrepreneurs. I promoted this to our members, to give them the possibility to benefit of this.
I was always interested in the activities of the European Union. As the state is making a contribution here, we have to take benefit of the advantages. For TOBB's (Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey) external relations a separate office was established and meetings about external relations were held in Antalya. I was TOBB's representative in the joint advisory commission.
I worked at AKTOB (Mediterranean Touristic Hoteliers Association) and I was among the founders of ATAV. I was also municipal council member in Muratpaşa Municipality. This was in the same period as ATSO (Antalya Promotion Foundation). I left the municipal council at the end of a term.
 
Do you have a woman role model?
One of them was a doctor, a friend of my father. She was a wonderful, hardworking woman. Her name is Muzaffer Ustabaşıoğlu. In 1945 she graduated in Istanbul. She always slept fully dressed, in case she was called to a birth on a sudden. And there is the founder of the Hisar Restaurant, Ms Emel and Professor Jale İnan. I met her during the restoration works of the Side Apollo temple in 1983. She was very intelligent and hardworking woman. Now I realise, that I was impressed by these women because of their diligence.
 
How are you with technology?
I use the new communication tools. I cannot say that I still follow closely the construction technology. I have an idea about the development of technology and the influence of engineering. Nowadays there are programs related to project design. These programs give you a result, but some recent graduate engineers do not have anymore the ability to interpret these results.  To my opinion, this is a matter of a deficiency in the education process.
 
Would you come again to the world would you be a woman, would you be Hülya Bilgin?
Despite my father's wish for a boy, I would prefer to be a woman. My father has raised me like a boy, because he wanted a son. As Hülya Bilgin I had a very satisfying and happy life. Sometimes I think that I should have made an academic career, but maybe then I would not have married with my husband, but I am very happy with him and my children.
 
Did you get support from your family during your working life?
I already worked with my husband. My husband always supported me in my work. He never made any trouble. For the children it was sometimes difficult, but they did not reveal the problem. Later they agreed with me and said that I had done well.
 
Did you ever think “Civil engineering is not a proper occupation for women”?
No, absolutely I don’t think that way. There is no such thing as a profession that is not for women. If the physical strength is not enough, you do the other part of the job. Women can do any job.
 
What recommendations do you have for young women? Especially those who will work in jobs that woman prefer less.
If she really loves the chosen profession, a woman must be stubborn in this matter, she must be undaunted. She may come across obstacles, but she must not give up.
 
What kind of social life did you have after coming to Antalya in 1983?
In the city centre there was the Büyük Hotel and we went there frequently. We also participated in events organized by Civil Engineers Chamber and sometimes we got together at our friend’s homes. We worked hard. Because there were no good movies at cinemas, we watched videos at home.
 
What do you think about women's work in Non-governmental Organizations?
I think women should work in these platforms. In this way awareness is rising, you have access to more information. You are dealing with more people, so you have more ideas. I am against that women should stay at home; they have to go out and be active. The reason why women are not very active in NGOs is probably fear. Therefore, we need to make some projects to overcome this fear and to raise awareness. For example, women could be encouraged to join the management levels of the chambers.
 
What other projects you had in NGO?
For the Antalya Modern Education and Culture Foundation, which was founded in 1995, we did very important first steps. The purpose of the foundation was to establish a dormitory and to give scholarships to students with limited opportunities. I was the chairwoman of this foundation from 2002 to 2008. During my presidency I put emphasis on the possibilities of EU funds. ANTÇEV was the first foundation to undertake projects with a share from EU funds. I began to go to the National Agency to see if projects had started and the "Parent Education in Disadvantaged Regions" project emerged. We started this project in a school in the Antalya Fatih district. We had meetings with parents at that school, we worked together. As a result of this project seven women went to Greece, the project partner country, where they met with other participating families.
The project was of big impact for the neighbourhood. Within the scope of the project women were trained on computers. At first their husbands said, "What will you do with a computer at your age". But when the women shared their experiences with their husbands, their attitude changed and they started to respect the women more. Also the children respected them more, because now they could help them with their homework. Those were very nice changes. The project was run for two years and was chosen as an example project by EU. We went to Holland for its presentation and the foundation is still continuing with this kind of projects. Apart from this, it was us who started first new projects with funds from İŞKUR. Because of my ex.
 
You also worked in politics didn't you?
Yes, I was a member of the municipal assembly. Apart from that, I worked in the CHP party, in which I was a member since 1992. I worked in the constitutional county assembly, where I had the position of the vice chairman for a long time. During some time I thought of being a deputy, but my husband was not so positive about this, so I gave up on the idea.
 
What do you think about the Antalya Women's Museum?
I was really happy, when I heard about this project. Turkey needs establishments like this. It's time for women to be visible. Women do a lot of things, but people do not know about it. I think, that the museum will contribute a lot in this regard and that women should participate and be interested about it.
 
 
HÜLYA BİLGİN