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Soap Operas Deliver More Than Romance For Turkish Women

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Refinery29 has partnered with Allison Rapson and Kassidy Brown, founders of the media company We Are the XX, for a documentary series exploring the lives of women around the world. "A Woman's Place" features the empowering stories of female activists working for real change in their communities. This story draws on interviews conducted by Rapson and Brown.

Drama, violence, romance, intrigue.

Many of the themes of Turkey's most popular soap operas would be familiar to fans of this type of show in the United States.

But Turkish soaps such as Gumus are providing more than entertainment to legions of female fans. The story lines are inspiring women to pursue equal rights and take a stand against domestic violence.

Gumus, which aired in Turkey from 2005 to 2007, featured the story of a young woman who marries into a wealthy family. The show has since been translated into Arabic, attracting a fan base across the Middle East.

"What women fear the most in the Middle East is to change and be judged by society," Sema Ergenekon, a writer who worked on the show, said. "When they watch Gumus, they realise they don’t have to change in order to be with the man they love and to succeed in life."

Now, more shows are following that mould, using scandal on the small screen to promote social change. In some cases, activists, female politicians, and soap opera producers have even joined forces to shine a light on important issues, Brown and Rapson found, such as the troubling trends surrounding femicide — the murder of women simply for being women. Activists say a record number of women were murdered in 2014.

"In Turkey, women face physical violence. They face lack of independence and they couldn’t live how they want to live because there’s so much pressure from the society on the women," said Pelin Distas, the general manager of Kanal D, Turkey’s number-one television network.

But featuring stories with strong female leads, she said, can help empower women watching from home.

"I think they just empathise with the character; all females," she said. "It’s just very ordinary females. Just power and the [strength] inside the character makes it successful."
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