Selma Demirelli

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2007
Water Lily Women's Cooperative


This profile was prepared when Selma Demirelli was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Selma has founded Turkey’s first women’s housing cooperative to empower women as property owners with full citizenship and financial stability. In the wake of Turkey’s most devastating earthquakes, Selma organized local women in a series of development, learning, and income-generation activities. But she recognized that their single most pressing need was housing. Beyond satisfying the basic need for shelter, owning property opens up doors for women and places them on a more equal legal footing with men, in addition to giving them critical financial stability. Their involvement in governing a housing cooperative helps them to learn key principles of finance, business development, loans, and urban planning, that they can draw on for future community or business ventures. 
Women’s property ownership in Turkey is very low, due in part to their rights being limited. The majority of married women in Turkey do not hold the deeds to their homes, and in the case of their husband’s death, the property frequently goes to the nearest male relative, usually a brother or uncle. Within Selma’s housing cooperative, single, widowed, and married women exclusively hold deeds. The women are responsible for the administration of the cooperative and are active in coordinating the design, architecture, and urban landscape of the first forty-eight unit housing plot. This kind of control and participation by women is unprecedented in Turkey and has generated national media attention.
Selma recently traveled to other parts of northern Anatolia to discuss the feasibility of establishing similar ventures that encourage women’s property ownership and catalyze a shift in their societal status.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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