The collaboration between UNDP, Limak Foundation, and the Ministries of Family and Social Services and National Education aims to support young girls and women interested in becoming engineers in Turkey.
“When I was at university, before Turkey's Engineer Girls [programme], I did not have the courage to take steps on the path that I wanted to follow and to work in the private sector. I heard about this programme thanks to a friend of mine. Although my grade point average was very high, I did not think that I would be selected. But I was, and I came here,” says Ugurcan Kubra Asmaci, a graduate of Turkey's Engineer Girls programme.
Now a structural engineer, Asmaci adds: “Both the mentoring programme and English language classes had a huge contribution in my career path. I learned a lot from them and today I am a mentor too.”
Another TEG scholar, Aysenur Oruccu, admits that she used to be a timid, nervous student, but that has changed thanks to the programme: “In engineering, you need to control many things, be it an event or a project or people in the field. If a person cannot manage their own life first, how can they manage all the rest? Now I can manage my own life, I can draw the line where necessary, whether it’s society, or my own environment.”
TEG project assistant Pinar Engin explains that Turkey’s Engineer Girls was a project initiated in 2015 by Limak Holding, a conglomerate that “has operations in the construction, tourism, cement, infrastructure, energy, energy contracting, food and aviation sectors” according to the company website.
The project grew bigger in 2016 with the collaboration of the Limak Foundation, the Ministry of Family and Social Services, the Ministry of National Education, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Aiming to break the glass ceiling that holds women back in male-dominated fields, the focus of TEG is on engineering.
During the 2020-2021 school year, there were 130 students within the TEG programme in 36 state universities. Provided they fulfill the selection criteria, among them are “Students under state protection”, “Syrian refugee students,” “Students from the Turkey’s eastern cities (Siirt and Bitlis),” “Disabled students,” “students who graduated from Darussafaka (an established school that caters to orphans),” “students who are family of martyrs or veterans.”
UNDP Turkey’s Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Portfolio Manager Pelin Rodoplu tells TRT World that the TEG project is three pronged, covering high school, university, and professional environments. The main goal is gender equality in the engineering field. In high schools, TEG holds programmes to explain that there is no gender in vocations; it provides mentorship and introduces vocations to students.
They also make use of a board game they have developed with METU Design Factory –university students in Ankara– called “The Decision is Yours”: each high school student acts as if they were an engineer and tries to build a structure. TEG also provides Virtual Reality experiences to high school students of a construction site.
Then comes the second tier of the project, the university. TEG provides scholarships to female engineering students in Turkey, as well as attempting to address any issues or questions they might have. TEG supports six engineering branches: Computer engineering, environmental engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, industrial engineering, construction engineering and machine engineering.
Rodoplu says there was a necessity for the TEG programme because of prejudices against girls becoming engineers, whether that be parents or teachers steering female students away from engineering, or employers of female engineers steering them away from the field, to desk jobs, despite their success in science and mathematics.
Engin says that if one were to look at academic statistics, men and women are head to head when it comes to science and mathematics. Yet when it comes to making vocational choices, women fall behind, and even if they were to choose engineering, they are often asked to do desk jobs, rather than out in the field.
“Yet,” she says, “when females score high in university exams, they are steered towards more ‘domestic’ fields, with their families or some teachers suggesting they become a nurse, for example.” Engin says even if the women were to choose engineering, they encounter stereotypes in the business.
As stated by Rodoplu, this initiative was designed together with Limak, the Ministry of Family and Social Services and UNDP to fight against gender stereotypes in professional business life. The Ministry of National Education also supported the initiative in awareness-raising activities within the high school programme.
“Working in tandem,” Rodoplu says, “we help female students interested in engineering to study and then move into the field.” She says TEG helps female engineers to practice their craft and attain gender equality, striking a balance on and off the field.”