Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Greetings from Turkey!
(Ambassador: Reyyan Ayfer)

Spring is in the air... After a cold winter with lots of snow in Ankara, we are enjoying the blossoming trees, warmer weather and the fresh smell of nature after a spring rain. It is mid-semester at Bilkent University. All faculty and students are very busy with midterm exams, term projects; all kinds of activities ranging from research to social. Among these activities are ones organized by the ACM-W Students Chapter BilWIC (Bilkent Women in Computing), which in its second year became one of the prestigious student clubs among the 90 clubs at the university. In this month’s blog I would like to share my personal journey with ACM-W and present some of the issues I have been dealing with.

My interest in ACM-W began when I saw the decrease in the number of female students in my own department. During an Internet search I found numerous reports by the ACM-W so I sent an e-mail to the address on the web page, and immediately I received a reply from Anita Borg. It is amazing to see now that what she has started is touching lives of many women including some in Turkey.

The below message -which I still keep in my folder- is dated November 02, 2001:

Dear Reyyan Ayfer,
I am forwarding your message to Denise Gurer at the Committee for Women at the ACM. She will be able to help you with the Ambassador program. I would also like to direct you to the web sites for the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing ( We will be particularly hoping for international participation. I would be very interested in a list an contact information of any senior women in computing in Turkey. It is possible that the Institute for Women and Technology ( ) will be holding an event for which we would very much international participation.
Anita Borg

That was when I became acquainted with the ACM-W, the Grace Hopper event and when I started to become aware of women's status in my country. Until then I was so busy with my work, family and trying to keep up with the advances in technology and computer science that I had no chance to look around. At the beginning I thought that work regarding women in computing would be a luxury when the basic requirements about gender issues like the literacy ratio, women's representation in the work force, etc are considered. However, we had to start from some point. I took the role as the Turkish Ambassador of ACM-W.

I returned from Grace Hopper Conference 2002 with the idea of starting an ACM-W Student Chapter. I am thankful to Paula Gabbert for the support provided at that stage. I arranged meetings with students of related departments to discuss the possibility of establishing the chapter. We got together many times to discuss the problems female students encounter in their departments, especially during their first year. Students were happy to get together, eat pizza and share thoughts for arranging activities, but not willing to take responsibility for an ACM-W Student Chapter. One of the major reasons was that the students did not know anything about ACM. The first question I had to answer was: “What is ACM? Why ACM?” followed by “Why should I become a member?” I was a student member 35 years ago because it was a privilege to receive the printed ACM material. Now things are different. Students have access to all kinds of information online. Using presentations of my own, finally a group with 40 members was formed on March 31, 2005. The first active year for Bilkent University student chapter has been 2006. After a good start the chapter continued organizing activities with a new executive board in the following year. This year they have conducted three seminars: “Women in IT: Experiences from New Zealand” by Dr. Annika Hinze, ACM-W New Zealand Ambassador, “Grades and Students: Who is the Driver?” by Dr. Anders Berglund, Upssala University, “Turkish Women Throughout the European Union Process”, by Gulsun Bilgehan, Former Chairperson, Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe. Future plans include thematic courses for students and more seminars as well as social activities.

The major challenge when working with student groups, especially with students of CS related departments, is the very heavy and demanding student workload. Since the students have very limited time to use for extra-curricular activities, leading student groups requires very good planning and follow-up. In order to be able to realize the activities planned at the beginning of the academic year, we decided to hold weekly lunchtime meetings. Those regular, short, face-to-face meetings were important to ensure the sustainability of the chapter. We prepared a checklist to be used by organizers of the activities, which was very helpful for ensuring the success of the activity. While the students were able to keep-up with activity organizations and attending activities, they were not successful with their web page. Students prefer communicating with tools like Facebook, messengers, SMSs etc. Our future plans include the use of Moodle, the course management tool that is used widely in the university, to access more members of the chapter and additionally to use Facebook and SMSs for better communication among members.

Turkey is a beautiful country connecting two continents, surrounded by seas on three sides, a country of diverse cultures, beliefs, ideas, nature and history. (You may find a short film about Turkey prepared by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (3:28) at The population of the country is around 70 million of which 49% is female and more than 50% younger than the age of 29 [1]. From the early years of the young republic, women's rights have been considered seriously. Women have received equal rights in 1926, earlier than many other countries. However, we still have a long way to go. One urgent issue is to increase the literacy rate for women because around 90% of the illiterate population is female. Even though the literacy rate for women is increasing, it is behind the literacy rate of men. When we look at the ratio of women in higher education, 40% are women, in computer science related fields it is around 20% with a slight increase in the last 2 years [2]. I am hoping that the students who have awareness of the importance of female representation in CS will graduate and make a difference in their fields for the future generations.

With my best wishes and warm regards.

[1] Turkish Statistical Institute accessed March 30, 2008.
[2] Statistics by the National Student Selection and Placement Center at accessed March 30, 2008.