MUAZZEZ KAVAL
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MUAZZEZ KAVAL

ANTALYA´S FIRST FEMALE NEIGHBOURHOOD WARDEN

Interviewer: Senem Yıldırım
Place: Meltem Neighbourhood Ward
Date: 3.11.2015

Gallery

Interview


Ms. Muazzez could you please introduce yourself to us?
I’m the warden of Meltem neighbourhood and I’m currently in my sixth term. I’m married and have one child. I came to Antalya when I was two years old.  I’m originally from the Black Sea region. My place of birth is Zonguldak. My father is from Trabzon and my mother from Samsun. My mom was a clerk in a battery factory, and we settled in Antalya for that reason. I began with the Industrial Vocational High School in Konyaaltı Street. The number of female students there was very few, so I transferred to a girls’ high school. I was among the first female students in that school. My family was very progressive. It was my teacher who directed me to the vocational school, but given the circumstances I couldn’t continue and enrolled in the girls’ high school. After high school I applied for several jobs, but it was hard to get a job. I got married and gave birth six years later. My baby had complications in his feet and we faced many hardships.

How did you become a neighbourhood warden?
The grocer in our neighbourhood was the warden before me. My husband was a ward member. Three months later the warden left his grocery and moved to Germany. The position was left to my husband, though he worked at Kepez Electricity Works. As it was a fairly new settlement there were many incoming people and I was substituting for my husband. More and more residents started to get to know me leading towards the upcoming elections. Since I was getting more recognised inhabitants told me to stand for the election. It was a task I never foresaw. Meanwhile, the former warden returned from Germany and put himself as a candidate. We both entered the race. He didn’t even get a third of the votes. I received all of the remaining votes and was elected warden. The neighbourhood was small when I was first elected. When you look at Meltem neighbourhood the purchasing power of the inhabitants is low. It’s a neighbourhood composed of civil servants, workers and pensioners and who are highly educated. Their cultural background is very high. I became a candidate thanks to their encouragement and how fortunate that I did. I was elected for the first time in 1991 and became the first female neighbourhood warden of Antalya. I was only 29 years old and still very young. I started this work as a young woman. Being a warden isn’t as easy as it seems. At times, we will work together with the police at untimely hours and the warden is always the first person of reference. It is a job that requires a lot of sacrifices. Today the work is more systematic and there are specific working hours. In the past people used to come up to my door even after nightfall.

Did you receive any support from your family during your demanding campaign?
My husband was very supportive. If I didn’t have the support of my husband and son I wouldn’t be able to carry out my work. I had a great campaign and was highly honoured and appreciated as a woman. My male friends were very encouraging and didn’t deter me.

Do you intend to continue?
I don’t think I want to continue as a warden.  I already served enough and it’s no longer appealing. I can’t even cover my electricity and water bills. The money allocated by the state isn’t enough to cover my expenses. Previously we earned income from paperwork, but today we are even deprived of that. At the most one or two people come to my office per day. We are now serving only as notification officers.

What is it like to be a female neighbourhood warden?
A woman has no disadvantage in doing this work, in fact the opposite is true. You receive more respect as a woman. People are acting more cautiously. I was never excluded or snubbed by men.

Have you ever thought of entering politics?
No, never thought about it. I certainly have my opinions, but politics is too complicated. It's not something for me.

What sort of reaction did you get when you were first elected neighbourhood warden?
Antalya never had a female warden before me. Newspapers gave extensive coverage to me in those years. Our mayor was Hasan Subaşı during my first term. I went to the municipality to discuss neighbourhood issues. I was waiting for the other meetings to end. When it was my turn I entered the mayor’s office and he greeted me with “Yes ma’am?”. He was unaware and very surprised when I told him that I was the warden of Meltem neighbourhood. I was so well received by him and he said: “From now on you won’t have to wait in front of my office. Just knock on the door and come inside.” Our mayor’s warmth and generosity gave me great encouragement. He called and offered me a seat at the city council during the next municipal elections. I replied to him that I was new at this job and couldn’t accept his offer. When I was re-elected as warden he called and thanked me saying that: “Most people would jump at such an opportunity, but you refused this offer since you wanted to advance in your post.” Without such words of support this task would be untenable. I didn't go on a vacation with my husband and son for years. I’ve come along with this merry go round until today.

Did your family ever criticise you for not spending enough time with them?
Never, because I have to work. This is how I’m as a person and so is my family. We want to carry out and complete our task to the best of our abilities. It’s a huge responsibility. You carry the burden of the whole neighbourhood, whose population is steadily growing. The population has reached 30 thousand and all official institutions are based here. We have very busy traffic during the day.

Do you want a woman to take over from you?
Of course I would. So far, there were only male candidates and only one female candidate. Women often become candidates in other locations though they aren’t elected. Some political parties put forward candidates. I think that's wrong. I don't think they should involve politics in this matter. I find it more appropriate for a candidate to get out there alone.

What is the number of the female wardens in Antalya today?
I can’t say that it has increased a lot. Currently there are only six neighbourhood wardens in Antalya.

Did you have any negative experience because of being a woman while doing your job?
I came across some incidents though they weren’t that significant.  When you are doing this work as a woman you have to be ready for all kinds of situations. You can be insulted or wronged. But the citizen is always right.

Would you recommend this job to women?
Of course, women should be represented everywhere. Whether in politics or else, I would love to see an increase in the number of women in parliament. Women have a broader and more flexible mind. Being a warden requires a lot of patience. If a man were in my position he would easily beat up two or three people a week, but I listen to people very patiently. I'm trying not to get angry, but at instances that I do, I don’t reflect my feelings. There is no easy job. Women can do everything. Women are actually smarter.

When you attend meetings as a female warden do you get the right to speak?
Today at meetings some men try to subdue you and take the lead on certain issues. I think this is a matter of culture. But they adopt the ideas that I put forward. I’m at the forefront and the spokesperson when bringing up problems, but if it happens to be a group photo I stand at the back. The same applies at home. Good habits come from the father and bad habits from the mother.

Do you share responsibilities around the house?
Not so much. My husband and son are always expecting.  We all return from work and see each other in the evening, but they don’t contribute. They know that I’m tired, but they tell me they’re likewise tired. When they enter the kitchen they cause a lot of havoc. They’re very messy.

How do women live in the Meltem neighbourhood?
The number of non-working women in this neighbourhood is very low. All of them work and all of them are employed. Children face the biggest problems. It is becoming difficult for children when both parents work. Municipal courses for women are very much in demand this year. Therefore, the number of courses were increased. There is a wide variety of courses like handicrafts, painting, dance and soft furnishings. I will join the chorus. I have a beautiful singing voice. In my youth I wanted to attend the conservatory, but my family didn’t allow it.

When you go to the Black Sea region what are the differences between the women there and women in Antalya?
The last time I went to Trabzon was four years ago. My sister and I travelled to a rural district. We both have blonde highlights. We sat on the benches in the town centre, when my sister and her friend began to smoke. I felt highly uncomfortable by the people’s glances. So try to consider this disposition. Not to mention that Trabzon is the largest city on the Black Sea coast. There is a very heavy pressure on women. But on the other hand Black Sea women are quiet strong. They go on with their work and their voices count within their families.

Are you a typical woman from the Black Sea region at home? 
Yes, I get to say the last word. My husband is a very easy-going person and is sometimes compelled to. Responsibilities always rest on my shoulders. For instance, repair work is my responsibility. I’ll see to it that things will get repaired and my husband learns about it afterwards.  

How do you see the status of women in the future?
I'm worried that we’re deviating from the principles of Atatürk. I have a suspicion that we're going backwards rather than forwards. There are also differences among women's organisations. The population in Turkey is becoming estranged from each other. It’s high time to pave the way for mothers and women.

What can be done for the women of Antalya?
Perhaps establishing platforms on a voluntary basis. For example, there are so many retired teachers and civil servants in this neighbourhood. These people want to participate in activities. A voluntary organisation can be set up. The municipality can also do this. Many useful things can come out of this.

What are your thoughts about the Antalya Women Museum?
I’m so glad that such a comprehensive women’s museum is going to be established. I would like to thank all those who have conceived and contributed to this idea. Reading about women’s achievements gives me great pleasure, confidence, peace of mind and serves as an example. I will also be honoured if they get to know about me. It’s important for women to relay their experiences to other women in this museum.
 
MUAZZEZ KAVAL