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Economic Development

Selma Demirelli

Selma Demirelli Empowers Women to Economic Independence

On 21 April 2011 Sabancı Foundation's "Turkey's Changemakers" program hosts Selma Demirelli, who has founded Turkey's first women's housing cooperative to empower women as property owners while helping them gain financial stability in Düzce, a city in northern Turkey.

The 1999 earthquake in Turkey shook the entire country, broke down most of the buildings. Yet, those who lost their childhood playmates, partners, children, and families were the most broken-down ones.

Although the earthquake left her homeless and penniless without a family, Selma Demirelli was determined to hold on tight to life. Right after the earthquake, she started to work as the Düzce Field Coordinator for the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work (FSWW). While helping women start a new life from scratch Selma Demirelli realized that their single most pressing need was housing and economic instability. To provide solutions with some of the problems of women who are homeless and penniless like herself, Ms. Demirelli established the Water Lily Women's Environment and Cultural Cooperative in 2002.

Pioneer in the women's housing cooperative initiative in Turkey, the Water Lily Women's Cooperative has become a model for other localities inhabited with women who suffer economic hardships.

Since its establishment, the Water Lily Women's Cooperative provides an opportunity for women to involve in a series of entrepreneurial activities and therefore, empowers them through income-generating activities. Taking into consideration the need for childcare services for women to be able to participate in economic life actively, the cooperative also provides child day-care services for the 0-6 age group.

As of today, 48 women in Düzce have gained their property rights, 250 women were offered micro-credits, 500 children benefited from pre-school education services and 2.000 women and children received support on early childhood development at the Water Lily Women's Environment and Cultural Cooperative.

"A lot has changed in my life since the earthquake. Now I can stand on my own feet. I believe in myself whenever I want to go somewhere or do something; and I am very happy about that" says a woman beneficiary of the cooperative. Through the efforts of Selma Demirelli women's lives that were shattered by the earthquake 12 years ago are now placed on a more equal economic footing with men in Düzce.

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