Reaching out to all is office seeker’s strategy .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - İnci Beşpınar, candidate nominee for the Ataşehir district from the opposition CHP party, is one of few female nominees to run for office. Beşpınar has worked face to face with someone from almost every house in the neighborhood, to the extent that people call her ’İnci abla,’ (sister İnci) something she says will make it easy for her to win.

Wearing a black chador, Behiye participated in a literacy class run by the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, lead Kadıköy Municipality on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. It was long before the so-called veil initiative of the CHP, which enabled women in black chadors to enlist as party members and drew criticism from staunchly secularist circles.

Behiye, 40, who could speak Arabic and Kurdish, but only a little Turkish, pulled down her chador like a skirt when she was in class and wore a headscarf to cover her head. One night the entire class went by bus to see a theater play, but Behiye hesitated. She said she was ashamed of going to the theater in a chador and asked for a long coat and a scarf to wear.

Attending a play
"We found a long coat among the newly cleaned second-hand clothes that we collect. She wore the coat and covered her head and then watched the play," said İnci Beşpınar, the architect of the Kadıköy Municipality’s social policies for nearly 15 years. Currently she is the only female from the CHP among five men for the candidacy for the municipality of the new Ataşehir district in the upcoming local elections.

Beşpınar spoke about Behiye when the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review asked her for her thoughts on the admission of women in black chadors to the party and criticism within party ranks.

’Wrong to be prejudiced’
"It is so wrong to be prejudiced about our own people, it is so wrong to categorize them. [The CHP’s initiative] is what should be done," she said. "What matters is not their clothes, it is their personal development."

Beşpınar has worked in local municipalities for 20 years. For the last 15 years, she has run the social policies of the Kadıköy Municipality. Beşpınar has primarily worked for underprivileged groups in society, such as women, children and disabled people. She is the founder of the Family Counseling Centers in the municipality that provide a range of services to family members. Providing training programs for women so they can seek employment, establishing cooperatives for women to enable them to set up their own businesses and opening a house to look after the children of working women are among other social services of the municipality.

Ataşehir is a new challenge as it is a newly formed district consisting of neighborhoods of Kadıköy and of other districts. Ataşehir residents who live in the center of the district are mainly middle to upper-class, while there are also neighborhoods in the district that consist of people who have migrated from different parts of Anatolia. Central Ataşehir is a place that has undergone urbanization, but western Ataşehir has a poor population who need and expect services, Beşpınar said.

"I want to have these kids’ houses in every neighborhood in Ataşehir," Beşpınar said, and added it was one of her dreams for Ataşehir. Another dream is what she describes as neighborhood houses, places where cultural, social and other supported activities can be held.

"These migrant people feel as if they have fallen into the middle of the ocean when they arrive in Istanbul, they are scared. They want their daughters to marry early, they cover their heads and so on," Beşpınar said, and added they would no longer be scared of the big city’s chaotic structure if they were able to become stronger.

Mother of two girls
Beşpınar, born in 1949, is married with two daughters. "I have shared everything that I have done and lived through with my daughters," she said.

Dedicated is how Sevil İrengü, an environmentalist volunteer described Beşpınar. Working for the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats, or TEMA, in Kadıköy, İrengü said Beşpınar works so hard she only goes home to sleep. Having known Beşpınar for over 20 years, İrengü said she would be sad if the party did not announce her as a candidate. "Sometimes bureaucracy prevents efficiency. If self-sacrificing people like Beşpınar hold decision making powers, they would be more effective," she said.

Women’s issues a priority
Energetic is another word that was used to describe Beşpınar, by Ümran Altıntaş, the head of Moda Soroptimist Association. "She is so sensitive about women’s issues," she said. Gila Benmayor, a columnist for daily Hürriyet, said she believed Beşpınar was the only candidate that could compete with the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Beşpınar also has no doubts that she would win if her party nominated her as a candidate. "I do not need to introduce myself to voters. Almost every household has one person I have worked with in Ataşehir. They already know me and my sincerity well," she said.