Federal Player of the Week

Helping advance the role of women in Turkey

hannah draper, U.S. Department of State, political officer, Istanbul, Turkey
hannah draper, U.S. Department of State, political officer, Istanbul, Turkey (Selda Serifsoy)
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The Partnership for Public Service
Monday, February 21, 2011; 5:46 PM

As a young State Department political officer based in Istanbul, hannah draper is focused on helping improve the standing and lives of women in Turkish society.

In the middle of a two-year assignment, draper is seeking to promote opportunities for Turkish women through a number of U.S. backed programs, including a project to teach more than 2,550 young girls in Istanbul and surrounding areas leadership and job skills such as resume writing and basic accounting.

She also oversees a U.S. grant for Turkish journalism students and faculty at five universities to address and deal with gender issues in the media and ways to overcome gender-based violence.

"I'm in Turkey at a time when there's an opening up of society and a willingness to discuss things that weren't previously discussed," said draper, who had her name legally changed to all lowercase letters.

The European Commission's 2010 progress report on Turkey praised the country for making strides on women's rights and equality, but cautioned that some key issues remain. These include discriminatory barriers to entering the labor force; continued violence against women; the illiteracy rate, which is about one-third among women; and the low level of participation of women in politics, senior positions in public administration and in trade.

In addition to women's rights, draper has been monitoring religious freedom in Turkey, and watching how minority religious groups in the predominantly Muslin nation are targeted and the ways in which the country is liberalizing.

draper said she is seeing positive steps in Turkey, including a worship service last August at the historically iconic Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon. The Turkish government had not allowed worship at the site for nearly 88 years, but gave special permission for more than 500 Orthodox Christians to gather for mass that day.

When she first joined the Foreign Service in 2007, draper spent a year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia working on visa security, and helped Saudi students understand that, contrary to a popular myth, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks did not make them ineligible for U.S. visas.

"hannah's exceptional linguistic skills went a long way in making visa applicants feel they were heard fairly, and some who had never met an American before were excited that the American who interviewed them could speak Arabic fluently," said Jessica Adams, a political officer in Cyprus who worked with draper in Riyadh.

draper said one "really fascinating" experience during this period was working closely with the Defense Department to assist Saudi military officers and enlisted personnel improve their operations, including modernizing and expanding their Navy.

Don Baker, a political officer in Baghdad and draper's former high school teacher and mentor, explained that her tour in Saudi Arabia was "a very difficult posting with a number of restrictions, especially for women."

"She could write her own ticket with any number of private corporations or contractors. Instead, she is serving her country in often difficult and challenging postings," he said.

In between her primary responsibilities, draper has taken on other assignments, including helping coordinate travel for U.S. Foreign Service Officers evacuating Egypt after the recent protests against the government erupted, and last year providing assistance to State Department officials in Haiti during the devastating earthquake.

draper still has a year left of her tour in Turkey before she will uproot and immerse herself in the challenges of a new assignment.

"You can't always point to one thing you did that changed the world," she said. "But I know my colleagues and I are really helping keep Americans safe and developing a more democratic and open world."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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