An Extraordinary Woman: Şafak Pavey

Photo from Sabah

Şafak Pavey is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. She is charismatic in the true sense of the word, attracting people to her — and to her many good works — by the force of her personality, her knowledge, her charm, and through sheer admiration of her perseverance. Şafak is now coordinator of public relations and strategic communications in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR. She is responsible for pursuing policies on child rights, education and disability. She and her team have developed employment policies for UNHCR to recruit and retain disabled staff, a policy that will be implemented globally. She works together with UN goodwill ambassadors and supporters like Mick Jagger, Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie to promote minority and social rights around the world.

Working for UNHCR during the last six years, she started as the consultant for child rights and education from the Middle East to North Africa. Then she was appointed as external relations officer in Iran, which covers both the Afghan and Iraqi refugee situations and repatriation programs. Pavey has also lived in Algeria and worked with Sahrawi refugees for UNHCR while trying to change people’s point of view toward the disabled.

Şafak has also lived and worked in Jordan and other countries. She has done all this despite her own disability. About ten years ago, she lost her left arm and leg as a result of a train accident in Switzerland, and she uses prosthetic limbs.  She had a number of operations, mostly in England because Turkey does not have a prosthetic sector except in military hospitals. She attended London School of Economics in a wheelchair. She said she learned to live independently in England. “We need help of course, but disabled people also should also stop feeling like victims, stand for their rights and be ready to live alone.”

Şafak Pavey with her mother Ayşe Önal. Photo by Jenny White

After being harassed in many countries she has visited and facing difficulties both for being a disabled person and a woman, she was determined to change the landscape. “The legal system should work in favor of disabled people in the world.”…

[In Turkey] “Disability is like throwing a stone in a lake and the waves keep getting bigger. It affects the entire household of a disabled person. Family members face the same attitude from society. People look at you in another way,” she said. “Everything is segregated. And the sad thing is that there is no concrete action or initiative by the government. Whatever is done in Turkey is done by private individuals.”

She was invited to Turkey in 2003, the European Year for Disabled People, to receive the Presidential Award for outstanding persons with disabilities. But the route to the ceremony was troubled. When she got off the plane she asked for a wheelchair but Turkish Airlines agents informed her that she wasn’t disabled. When she explained that she was on her way to receive an award for being a successful disabled journalist, they explained that the government’s new definition of ‘disabled’ was limited to people who had lost two of the same appendages. Pavey sued the airline and sought a report from a Turkish doctor only to find that it too read that she, in fact, was not disabled. She is full of sad stories but she tells them with a chuckle rather than anger. Her motto is “whatever you experience is an example to others.’ [see my post here for an account of this incident. JW]

“That’s what I faced in my own country,” Pavey said, adding that she was also harassed by security officers at Bushehr Airport in south western Iran. “One of my legs was taken. They took away my passport and said they wouldn’t let me on the flight unless I took off my leg,” she recalled, adding that she understood security measures but it was nonetheless very difficult for her…

(click here for the full article) (click here for an interview in Turkish)

9 Responses to “An Extraordinary Woman: Şafak Pavey”

  1. The link to your previous post should be http://kamilpasha.com/?p=1150

  2. Thanks!

  3. Everything is segregated. And the sad thing is that there is no concrete action or initiative by the government. Whatever is done in Turkey is done by private individuals.

    The last sentence isn’t quite right (as an observation, that is).
     
    First paragraph in Article 30 of Labor Act [#4857] states:
     

    In establishments employing fifty or more employees, employers shall employ disabled persons, ex-convicts, and victims of terror – who must be engaged in work in accordance with the annex Article (B) of Act No. 3713 on the Struggle Against Terrorism – , and assign them to jobs consistent with their occupational skills and physical and mental capacities; the ratios to be employed in each category shall be determined by the Council of Ministers in a manner to go into effect at the beginning of January of each year. The total ratio of employees to be employed within the scope of this article is six percent. But the ratio of the disabled shall not be less than half of the total ratio. For employers who have more than one establishment within the boundaries of a province, the number that the employer must employ shall be computed according to the total number of employees.

     
    I’d say, it is the private individuals that on’t do much to help.
     
    First, private sector employers opt to pay fines instead of employing the required numbers of people with disabilities, or convictions.
     
    Private individuals are actually worse: Try getting some disability measures taken in buildings (block of flats/apartments) to see what I mean. Everyone will object to a lousy wheelchair ramp on the side of flight of stairs leading to the entrance of the building. How many doorbells have you seen that has Braille on it for the building assistant?
     
    None.

  4. Again a lot of deliberations but non to the point.
    One of the new constitutional changes is Positive Discrimination for the disabled. But who’s against it?
    A disabled, a widow, a gay etc. are not good for the TR society, so lets kill them on a decent way…neglecting them.
    Exactly what happens with the indegious people of Central Asia: Armenians, Kurdish, Hellenic, Persian Asyrians. The Sjesluk and Safavi Turks just gave an indication how to treat the misfortunes ones.

  5. Hans,

    Again a lot of deliberations but non to the point.

     
    Then, you come along..
     
    And guess what?
     
    You take the cake.
     
    Utterly off-point poisoned with fatal dose of prejudice.
     

    One of the new constitutional changes is Positive Discrimination for the disabled. But who’s against it?

     
    Wrong question.
     
    No one is against it.
     
    Trouble is, though, no one is actively ‘for it’ either.
     
    This is another one of those ‘not my problem’ type of things.
     
    Just like the ways you guys let the Muslim/Turkish population over there kill one another and never bother to lift a finger to investigate. :)
     

    A disabled, a widow, a gay etc. are not good for the TR society, so lets kill them on a decent way…neglecting them.

     
    You make it sound as if eugenics was invented in here TR.
     

    Exactly what happens with the indegious people of Central Asia: Armenians, Kurdish, Hellenic, Persian Asyrians. The Sjesluk and Safavi Turks just gave an indication how to treat the misfortunes ones.

     
    Did you actually have a point to make with this paragraph, or did you again find yourself unable to stop even though you knew you lost it.. ;)

  6. I am confused!.. Is Ms. Pavey a blonde or brunette?
    .
    Kudos to her anyway.

  7. Nihat: Dying your hair is fun!

    Turks have a troubled relationship with disability. The disabled are treated as a nuisance, and the disabled have not learned to fend for themselves.

    I know a disabled Turk who travels the West seeking treatment for her deteriorating condition (knocking out one of the senses). She has not worked much, but she receives a disability pension from an E.U. country she rarely visits. She begs and she borrows to cover her living and medical expenses. When the bill arrives she flees without paying and restarts the cycle. All this because she believes that the deck is stacked against her and that she deserves that much.

    Just an anecdote but I think it exemplifies the difference in attitude between disabled people in Turkey and in the West.

  8. CA: When is was writing, could not stop myself anymore..))!
    But nice that you read my comment.)!! Completely!

  9. Hans,

    But nice that you read my comment.)!! Completely!

    Didn’t really have a choice as I happened to have started reading :)

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