Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Sports, professions, and entrepreneurship are traditionally defined, constructed and promoted as male-specific activities in Turkey, where there is a cultural inclination to regard these activities or priorities as “unfeminine” and a significant lack opportunities for women to exercise or work. As such, Turkey has significantly fewer women who engage in sports than men and only 26% of women participate in the workforce, leaving half of Turkey’s population largely absent from these fields.
There are clear health benefits of women’s participation in physical activity and sports. An active life can prevent a wide range of non-communicable diseases, which account for over 60 percent of global deaths, while it can also reduce the risk of chronic disease later in life. In addition to improving health, sports provide women and girls with an alternative avenue for participation in social life. Sports also develop essential life skills such as the ability to work in a team, set goals, and pursue excellence in performance and other life milestones.
In Turkey, where traditional gender roles are strictly reinforced in urban and rural settings, the realities of women’s daily lives -- domestic work, childcare, lack of money or time -- inhibit their participation in sports and the development of these skills. These social obstacles are further reinforced by the physical spaces where exercise takes place: private spaces are dominated by male-only activities, such as billiard halls, football fields, and body building saloons that make up 80% of all recreation enterprises. Other public spaces, including parks, are generally not secure or socially acceptable places for women to exercise.
Women in Turkey face similar challenges in their participation in work life – most women do not work due to traditional gender roles that keep them home, while the minority that do work experience dual career-family pressures, gender discrimination, lack of equal opportunities, and fewer women-friendly work environments. The difficulty in achieving a work-life balance for women in Turkey is evident in the low employment rates of women with children: only 24% of mothers in Turkey are employed after their children begin school, which is the lowest in the OECD. The average in OECD countries is 66% of women employed after their children begin school. This reality leaves women largely dependent on their fathers, husbands or other male family members and vulnerable to violation of their most basic human rights.
In short, traditional gender roles and the lack of environments and spaces that encourage women’s participation in sports and work life are leaving half of Turkey’s population significantly disadvantaged in terms of their access to physical & mental wellbeing and economic citizenship.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Bedriye’s uses the b-Fit health and sports center as a medium for female empowerment – which she believes requires women’s access to physical and mental space free from their traditional gender roles and male pressures, where they can discover their bodies and potentials as women. b-Fit launched in 2006 when Bedriye, a female entrepreneur struggling to exist in Turkey’s male dominated business world, came up with the idea for b-Fit and leveraged resources of five women entrepreneurs from various fields – including public relations, psychology and fitness –to make her idea of a women-only sports and health center a reality.
Within six years of creating her first “by and for women” b-Fit, thousands of women have come together as a result of Bedriye’s work. They have left their homes, enjoyed their bodies through sports, developed self-awareness and attended trainings on a wide range of issues including nutrition, hygiene, sexual health, communication, leadership and entrepreneurship. In addition, b-Fit enables hundreds of women to enter work life and gain full economic citizenship.
Today, b-Fit has become the largest and most widespread health & recreation center chain in the country, significantly transforming a sector that is largely dominated by male-only billiard halls, weightlifting saloons and football fields. It has also formed a community of empowered women entrepreneurs who are shaping attitudes towards women’s capabilities as leaders and decision-makers, especially in the traditionally male-dominated fields of entrepreneurship and sports industry. Co-owned, franchised, managed and used by women only, the b-Fit model combines a gym with a community center to form alternative spaces where women of all ages and backgrounds have the opportunity to develop a range of essential life skills. Having impacted over 90.000 women in 200 centers in Turkey, one in Northern Cyprus and another in Germany, b-Fit has plans to expand to the Middle East and to apply its model for the benefit of the elderly populations in the future.