Christina Bache Fidan
by Christina Bache Fidan
We live in a more globalized and interconnected world through the use of technology yet, we are often disconnected from the policy decisions that impact our lives. Since governments do not have the resources or capacity to address all of the economic, political and social gaps that exist, it is crucial private citizens engage in the betterment of our societies. Civic engagement is one way citizens can help shape the collective future of their community albeit on a local or global scale.
Civic participation covers a wide array of activities in which citizens participate in the formal and informal political processes that address community needs and seek to improve the quality of life for individuals, groups and entire communities. There are three main themes of civic engagement. The first, civic, refers to regular volunteerism for a non-electoral initiative, active membership in a group or association, and participation in a fund-raiser for a charity. The second theme, electoral, refers to registering voters, volunteerism with an electoral campaign and contributing financially to a political campaign. The third theme, political, refers to speaking at government meetings, contacting officials, the media and concerned citizens about issues of concern to the community and protesting or boycotting.
Women’s Campaign International indicates that ensuring women participate in civic engagement is crucial to foster an environment that sustains peace through grassroots mobilization and community outreach. Through active participation in civic engagement women can learn critical skills which are key to a leadership role in their communities. Women are empowered through an increase in self-confidence, expansion of their professional and social networks, understanding of structural problems facing society especially issues that are of particular concern to women and vulnerable groups, how to become effective agents of change, and how to devise multi-dimensional strategies to address human insecurities. Some of the specific skills women gain through participation in civic engagement are advocacy, coalition building, consensus building, constituency outreach, communication skills, grassroots organization, negotiation and mediation, networking, and organizational development.
In order to ensure women from all socio-economic backgrounds are able to contribute to the betterment of society it is crucial to address the social and economic barriers that often prevent women from participating in civic engagement. Support mechanisms that encourage the inclusion of women in civic engagement might include childcare, children’s play areas near public buildings, convenient meeting times, food and water, and transport to and from meeting locations. It is also important to train both elected and non-elected government officials on gender sensitive issues and gender inclusion strategies.
I became interested in civic engagement when I was in high school in Copperas Cove, Texas. For a short period, I served as the president of the key club, which consisted of students interested in volunteerism. We cleaned up the yards of the elderly in our community and collected sports equipment for a Boys and Girls Club in the city adjacent to ours. I participated in an advocacy campaign to influence my local city council in support of Title 9 funding for gender equity in city sports programs in Texas. I thought it was important female sports initiatives received an equal amount of public funding as male sports programs. I collected signatures in support of Title 9 and also spoke at city council meetings in favor of the campaign. I also volunteered for a local school board election candidate that reflected my beliefs and campaign concerns to support gender equality and representation. I was selected to participate in Texas Girls State, a summer program geared towards educating young women on the political process at the Texas State level. After graduating from high school, I was asked to return to Texas Girls State as a camp counselor. My duties included instructing female participants on the electoral and legislative processes of the Texas state government. It was concerning that the majority of the student participants reflected more affluent backgrounds and not the socio-economic diversity of Texas.
Oftentimes women are encouraged to engage in civic participation because of support from their family members. In my case, my parents not only encouraged me, but they served as role models. My mother currently leads a democracy essay contest for young junior high and high school students in Texas. When I was a young child she lobbied the local municipal government to install a series of road bumps to ensure cars would stop speeding through our neighborhood. When my father was in high school, he participated in the civil rights movement and served as a volunteer guard for Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I have a dream,” speech in 1963. He also mobilized migrant workers to demand fair labor standards on farms. Listening to their stories helped me feel empowered to question my government and to address the gaps that political leaders were not addressing.
Civic engagement presents us with an opportunity to transform our communities. Through active participation in our communities we are able to identify and address social challenges that are specific to our society. Civic minded persons see themselves as being a member of a larger social fabric and their collective responsibility to shape one’s society for the better. We can either participate in the governance of our communities or become a nation of spectators.
About the writer:
Christina is currently a Research Fellow with the Center for International and European Studies (CIES), located at Kadir Has University, based in Istanbul, Turkey. Originally from the US, she is also a PhD Candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.
She wanted to write for Nina as she has always been inspired by the incredibly talented and courageous women of Iraq.
“Almost every time I worked alongside an Iraqi woman we shared stories about our personal life and professional experience. The conversations usually turned into how we can contribute to our society as active participants rather than sit idly as events unfold. Therefore, I thought it would be a great opportunity to be a part of the Nina mission to contribute to the betterment of our communities.”