FEMINIST pedagogy

The TransformatIve CollaboratIon between KESK Women and Femınıst Academıcs

For KESK and its affiliated unions the struggle for the social rights and economic interests of public workers was not independent from the struggle for democratisation, social justice and peace. For this reason, ensuring gender equality was among the principles adopted by the unions from the very beginning.

However, the determinant factor that enabled this principle to be put into practice was the active participation of women in union work as public workers and their multidimensional struggle in the unions. The relationship and cooperation established between union activist women and feminist academics, especially with members of the Ankara University Women’s Issues Research and Application Center (KASAUM), became one of the most important sources that strengthened this struggle. This relationship and cooperation are worth emphasizing in many ways.

The second half of the 1980s, when public workers took to the streets to obtain their right to unionize and carried out mass protests,  was also the time when another social phenomenon  appeared in the streets: the feminist movement.  

Together the women managed to leave their mark on the national agenda with the Campaign Against Domestic Violence. One of the results of this dynamism was – in the 1990s – the establishment of Women’s Research and Application Centers in universities, especially in Ankara and Istanbul. Ankara University Women’s Issues Research and Application Center (KASAUM), which was established in 1993, briefly stated the purpose of its establishment as follows:

To contribute to the development of a society based on gender equality by producing feminist knowledge in the academic field to oppose gender inequality on the one hand, and transforming this feminist knowledge into awareness and advocacy-oriented studies and training programs on the other.

The relationship between union women and KASAUM had a very important impact on the structure of KESK which was established in 1995, as is explained by Aksu Bora, a retired feminist academic who has worked at KASAUM for more than ten years:  


Eğit-Sen (later merging with Eğitim-İş and renamed Eğitim Sen) was a union with a large number of female members.

The administration was predominantly male.

The trainings we conducted with the women made them to find each other and develop policies against gender inequality.

We usually started with their daily life experiences – what they went through in their working life, in their families and the union; what knots they needed to untie, what tools they had at their disposal…

Everyday life experiences, inequalities in the trade union struggle, different aspects of gender inequality… We tried to grasp all these from the participants’ own experiences, and in this sense, the aim of our training was to raise consciousness.

I think the struggle of women who participated in our training units had a significant impact on the establishment of a women’s secretariat right after the establishment of KESK.”(Aksu Bora)

Feminist scholars, who were members of KASAUM, played a very important role in the development and implementation of the gender equality policies of KESK (and the unions affiliated to KESK, especially Eğitim Sen) with the training activities they organized, and the empowerment of female members, who developed a gender perspective. In the following years, the training for gender trainers, which were also held with feminist scholars, were effective in conveying this perspective to women members throughout the country.

While it was the aim of KESK women to transform women’s lives in every field, especially their working lives, and the unions, in which they struggled, toward gender equality, KASAUM’s goal was to develop training programs to contribute to the development of a society based on gender equality with the feminist knowledge produced in the academic world. But their aims and efforts were not only bringing together activism and feminist intellectual knowledge. The goal was also to transform both, and resulted in a highly effective collaboration. Feminist scholars from various universities, especially Istanbul University, Middle East Technical University, and Boğaziçi University, were involved in this transformative, productive and fertile relationship.

The participation of feminist scholars in KESK’s gender equality studies was not an “external” relationship, because the majority of them were organized in the Education and Science Workers’ Union-Eğitim Sen, which was founded in the field of education and science and was under the umbrella of KESK. Trade union activists and scholars were members of the same unions.

The relationship between scholars and activists was not a ‘teacher-learner’ relationship. In the training units KESK women shared the inequalities and discrimination they faced at their workplaces, in families, social life and union with each other. They realised that what they experienced was not unique to them, but that gender inequality was a social problem. The training activities in which they shared their stories were influential in transforming this awareness into consciousness. It empowered them to develop strategies to work towards gender equality within their trade unions, and organize campaigns for gender equality in their business lives and workplaces. Feminist scholars, on the other hand, also learned from KESK women and each other in trainings where stories were shared, knowledge and experience were transferred, and other collective work.

Aksu Bora’s account of that period gives a good example of this mutual learning experience:

“Of course, the training was not only for the participants, but also for us organisers. So, we learned a lot about adult education, feminist pedagogy, consciousness raising, by reading, through the stories of the women who participated in the group work and from interacting with them.

It is necessary to mention the contribution of Fevziye Sayılan in this process. Fevziye’s doctoral thesis was on adult education and she talked about a very interesting combination of Paulo Freirean education methods and feminist consciousness raising.

Thanks to her  I had the opportunity to reflect on the political meaning of education for the first time. In other words, it is necessary to worry not only about the content of education, but also about its methods, that a one-way education has a debilitating effect regardless of its content, and that consciousness raising is a kind of education as well…” (Aksu Bora)

Click here for Aksu Bora’s full story.

This relationship of scholars and activists strengthened and transformed the women of KESK, as is told in the narratives of Elif Akgül, Emine Akyazılı and Nilgün Yıldırım. This enabled KESK women to become stronger and change, to an extent that they could transform their workplaces, their families, the public places of the cities they lived in and their unions, as is told by Gülay Lale, Nilgün Aklar and Sema Tataroğlu.

This transformative relationship between feminist scholars and KESK women was not limited to training programmes. As Yaşar Tarakçı explains, women’s congresses, the preparatory work of which took almost a year, the preparation processes of the equality campaigns decided at these congresses, and the Democratic Education Conventions were other joint activities where feminist academics and union women worked together, produced information and  organized actions.

All this collaboration constitutes one of the most striking examples of feminist pedagogy in our country, because the activities, which emerged as a result of the productive cooperation in question, contained all the elements of feminist pedagogy. Feminist pedagogy suggests participation; discusses and makes visible multiple processes of oppression and discrimination; makes teachers and learners aware of authoritarian tendencies; emphasizes the emotional dimension of learning; teaches the ability to produce alternatives and implement them, gives us the chance to develop a sense of freedom; and aims at individual and social transformation. The struggle of KESK women against inequalities and discrimination in work life, union, family and in all areas of social life, and the relationships they have established with feminist academics that strengthened and transformed both sides includes all elements of feminist pedagogy.



Aksu Bora

Aksu Bora, retired feminist academic, member of Eğitim Sen

Describing the transformative and empowering relationship between KASAUM and KESK women

I am a feminist and a retired academic with written and translated books and articles. I was one of the founders and editors of Amargi Magazine and Ayizi Publications, both of which are no longer in existence.

As far as I can remember, we began the educational activities with unionized women before the establishment of the KESK women’s secretariat, even before the formation of KESK. In 1994, when I started working at KASAUM, the training sessions had already begun.

The General Directorate on the Status and Problems of Women had entered into a protocol with UNDP, initiating a project related to “short-term women’s training.” KASAUM conducted training sessions within this framework. In other words, the initial initiative did not come from the union; we went to them and expressed our desire to conduct such training.

At that time, known as Eğit-Sen (later merged with Eğitim-İş to become Eğitim-Sen), was a union predominantly composed of women. More precisely, it had a significant number of female members. However, men dominated the leadership. The training sessions we conducted with them led to women finding each other and starting to develop policies against gender inequality. I believe the influence of women who participated in these activities played a significant role in the establishment of a women’s secretariat in KESK shortly after its formation.

We usually started with everyday life experiences – what women were experiencing in the workplace, family, and the union, what challenges they needed to address, and what tools they had at their disposal.

UNDP had education sets, but they were not very applicable for us – developed for application in rural areas of Africa and Asia, and in my opinion, they were quite debatable. Therefore, we attempted to develop our own training methods through trial and error, discussion, and hands-on experience.

Experiences from daily life, inequalities in union struggles, various aspects of gender inequality… We aimed to help participants comprehend all these through their own experiences, treating education as a form of consciousness-raising.

Throughout my fourteen years at KASAUM, we conducted training sessions with women’s groups. Of course, education was not just for the participants but also for the organizers. We learned a lot about adult education, feminist pedagogy, and consciousness-raising, both through reading and interacting with women who participated in group activities. I must mention Fevziye Sayılan’s contribution during this process. Fevziye’s doctoral thesis focused on adult education and discussed the interesting combination of Paulo Freire’s educational methods with feminist consciousness-raising. Thanks to her, I had the opportunity to think deeply about the political significance of education for the first time. That is, it made me realize that we need to consider not only the content but also the methods of education, emphasizing that one-sided education, regardless of its content, has a disempowering effect and that consciousness-raising is a form of education as well.

KESK’s consideration of gender equality and the need to develop policies in this regard happened due to the insistence of women in KESK, especially in Eğitim-Sen. They introduced gender equality as a fundamental political goal, targeting both equality within the union and within their respective sectors. For example, women in Eğitim-Sen targeted gender inequality within the Turkish education system, from the sexism in textbooks to analyzing the gender aspects of the Ministry of National Education’s organizational structure. They identified various problem areas and discussed what could be done in these areas, bringing these discussions to the union’s agenda.

This collaboration between KESK and KASAUM also had an impact on the socialization of feminist intellectual knowledge produced in academia. It was not just a one-way flow of knowledge from the university to the union but, in my opinion, led to a significant change in perspective in the production of feminist knowledge. In other words, there was a two-way interaction, not just the dissemination of existing feminist knowledge but also a profound change in the approach to producing this knowledge. It was not about sharing existing knowledge; it was about creating a new form of knowledge – feminist knowledge.

Speaking for myself, the concept of gender itself became operational during these activities, as far as I can recall. I thought I knew what it meant for gender to be “social,” having participated in consciousness-raising groups before. However, understanding and realizing that thinking about gender together with class is much more complex, discovering the “interfaces” between patriarchy and individual women and men, became possible for me during these activities. In other words, listening to women who had both similar and very different stories, I discovered my own feminism. Discoveries of this kind are not something one can do alone; they are possible within political relationships. These educational sessions were not about sharing existing knowledge but rather about creating a new form of knowledge – feminist knowledge.