From Child Bride To Local Hero, Woman Becomes Mayor Of Turkish Town


There is nothing like the power of the human spirit to conquer all evil. It is seen in both men and women and truly shines after someone has been through a traumatic experience. The more people speak up about their struggles, the more people identify with them.

A woman in Turkey has just become mayor of her town, Kocakoy. It is a small farming town with only 17,000 people in Turkey’s Kurdish region, not far from the Syrian border. What is the most significant about her election, is that A) she is a woman, and B) a former child bride.

Yup, Berivan Elif Kilic is her name and she has become a symbol of hope in a region where women traditionally don’t have any rights or choices in life.

When she was 15 she was forced to marry her cousin who would beat her constantly. How families still think forced child marriages are advantageous in ANY way is beyond us. We hear nothing but awful stories. In Turkey the minimum age for marrying is 17 which is still far too young in our eyes.

She divorced her husband at the age of 28, but not before suffering 13 years of physical and psychological torture. There is no support system in society for women to run to when they need help and Berivan wants to be the woman to change this for her community.

Berivan was pulled out of school as a teenager by her parents so that she could get married. This is very common in countries like Turkey and Yemen where girls even as young as 6 and 8 are forced to marry men well into their 40s and 50s. They cite reasons such as financial stability and less of a burden on their family for being involved in such a heinous crime. Yes, it is a crime because essentially they are selling another human being for a bargained price. It is not that dissimilar to human trafficking.


Many of these marriage ceremonies happen under Islamic law which are seen as separate from state legislation. What this means is that these cases are harder to prosecute.

Berivan, now 33, was elected as the Mayor of her town on March 30 and is determined to fight for women’s rights. See, this is what happens when women get in power, they become fighters for a good cause!

A member of the Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), Turkey’s main Kurdish party, Kilic shares the post of mayor with her male running mate, Affullah Kar, a former imam. Under BDP party rules, all top positions are split between a man and a woman, in an effort to promote women’s participation in politics.

The Turkish Association of University Women, a pressure group, has put the number of child brides in Turkey at 181,000. The International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), a think tank in Ankara, said in a report in 2011 that one in three women in Turkey was below the legal age when she married.

“Nobody is questioning why girls are being forced to marry at such a young age,” she said.

Berivan became pregnant not long after being married and today has two teenage sons. One of her sons has a genetic disorder that has paralyzed him and is a result of Berivan marrying too closely within her own gene pool.

The other thing Berivan vows to fight against is honor killings, where women are killed because of a seemingly horrendous act they committed. Acts such as looking at another man, not dressing correctly, being desired by another man, you know, the really awful things that people should be killed for… (please note heavy sarcasm).

“In our society, men can do anything they like. Inferiority of women has been accepted as a fate, but it isn’t. No human is worth more than another,” says Berivan who says because of her own life experience and good reputation, many of the men in her village are becoming her biggest supporters.


“I am a role model,” she said. “There is a lot of hope here now. One woman said I was like somebody from another world. But look at me: I have no education, no job, and yet I am the mayor now. Women have been attending my rallies in droves. They say: ‘If Berivan can do it, so can I.’”

“When I was beaten I also struggled for other women who are victims of domestic violence. I said to women: ‘defend your rights’. [Men] tried to exploit Islam, saying [they] have more rights than women. They said men can beat their wives and make them stay at home. They said: ‘we can’t allow women to have a divorce.’ Islam is a religion of mercy and conscience, not of oppression. I could not accept my spouse oppressing me. After gaining my rights I have tried to be an example for women.”

“I have succeeded. You, too, can succeed. Perhaps I cannot change a person’s life by myself but all together we can change women’s lives. That’s why I’m here. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.”

“Only someone who has been beaten can understand another woman in the same situation. I can really help them. They say to me: ‘you’ve succeeded and you’ll do lots of things for us’. My first aim in the elections is education. I want to provide women with information about their rights and a general education. Women teach children and will make them aware.”

Berivan also wants to set up a market for women who make arts and crafts where they can be employed and experience financial freedom and independence.

Her story is further proof that there is a generation rising from all corners of the globe to take a stand for women. Whether they are from the east or the west, the mindset is the same: women have rights and we will not stop fighting until we achieve equal rights.

If there is nothing else giving you hope or inspiring you in life right now, take a moment to ponder Berivan’s journey and how awesome it is to have strong female women to look up to all over the world.




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