Interview with Emine Bozkurt: Former Parliament Member and Current Advisor of International Institution for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)

by Eunice Park

Emine Bozkurt is an advisor for the International Institution for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). A former parliament member of the European Union, Ms. Bozkurt has extensive experience in politics. Throughout her 10 years in the European parliament, Ms. Bozkurt was a passionate advocate for immigration rights, women’s issues, and human rights. Currently, she is working to support emerging democracies and various human rights campaigns across the world.

I recently had the honor to interview Emine Bozkurt about her political experiences and advocacy. Although she initially had no prior plans to get involved in politics, she was inspired to become involved in politics after she realized that real change would not result until individuals stepped up. “Civic participation is not only a right, but also a duty”, she stated. She went on to explain how there has been a growing culture of political apathy, and the only way to combat such a culture was to educate the youth. Currently, she is working with the IDEA organization to develop specific programs that invest in the youth to provide civic education and volunteer opportunities for different communities.

Throughout her political career, one of the biggest lessons she learned was to work across the aisle and respect diverse perspectives. This empathy and open mindedness were instrumental to the success of improving women’s rights in Turkey, one of her most memorable projects she worked on during her career. Even if many countries were opposed to the European Union providing humanitarian and social aid to Turkey, Ms. Bozkurt continuously advocated for the European Union to step up its funding for Turkey, especially for Turkey’s marginalized women. Noticing that previous legislation did not have any specific policies geared toward supporting Turkish women, Ms. Bozkurt successfully fought for the creation of domestic violence shelters and legislation against violent practices against women such as honor killing bans. The primary reason for her legislation’s success was her willingness to work with different countries and government leaders with critical perspectives to gain their support after constructive conversation. “My approach has always been a balance”, Ms. Bozkurt explains, justifying why she believes different opinions enrich understanding to reach a well informed agreement.

When asked about her advocacy for other marginalized groups, Ms. Bozkurt was quick to correct that she does not fight for the rights of specific groups, but rather human rights. “Women’s rights are human rights. Muslim rights are human rights.” Ms. Bozkurt stated, emphasizing how different groups are oppressed and deprived of basic human rights. Coming from a Muslim family, she took on her knowledge about the Islam faith and passion for the Muslim community to fight discrimination against Muslim communities in Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Spain. However, she notes that despite her personal connection with Islam, everyone- “Christians, Muslims, Catholics, atheists, etc” should be invested in fighting discrimination without “religion bashing”.

Ultimately, Ms. Emine Bozkurt is hopeful for the future of politics, and believes that as long as people remain invested in democracy, governments will be held accountable to their responsibilities. As a final word, she notes that “people don’t realize that democracy can go away, and rights can easily be taken away.” Political participation and activism are the only methods both to prevent this from happening and to advocate for a better community.