Originally an off-shoot of the American Women of Istanbul (AWI), the Professional and Fabulous (PAF) women’s group voted in February to formally separate from the AWI and become their own independent group.
Christina Bache Fidan, co-founder of PAF, sat down with me and discussed PAF over a cup of coffee at a quiet café in Suadiye. What is PAF? What makes it different from other foreign women’s groups? Herself an expat living in Turkey for almost two years, Christina felt the need for a more active women’s group for working foreign women. Married to a Turkish husband, she quickly became active within the expat community upon her move to Istanbul. However, she felt that many of the groups did not fulfill her needs.
“The working expat woman needs a support group,” said Fidan. After talking with Christina for a few hours, her ambition and enthusiasm were contagious. It was easy to see why she and the other women who started PAF felt restless. Living in a foreign country is difficult enough, and those who work and have businesses or careers need a networking base where they can give and receive support. Many other women shared her view, and PAF was started as a branch of AWI. When I asked her where the idea for the name originated, she laughed and said that it was created with the working woman in mind. “I am not a writer,” laughed Fidan, who is employed by the Istanbul Policy Center, “and when the group started, we were only six or seven people. T” And who wouldn’t want to be considered professional and fabulous? Now, with a membership of over 100, the name has stuck.
Myself a working expat, I found that many Istanbul foreign women’s groups catered more to stay-at-home moms and non-working women, and their events and meetings were held during weekdays and impossible for me to attend because of my job obligations. After a year, I gave up in frustration and withdrew my memberships. One of the groups, International Women of Istanbul (IWI) had grown so big that the meetings I was able to attend seemed overwhelming, impersonal, showy and cold. I met very few women there whom I could relate to. As a contributor for the book “Tales from the Expat Harem,” (eds. Anastasia Ashman, Jennifer Eaton Gökmen, Doğan Kitap 2005) I traveled extensively within Turkey to various expat women’s groups while advertising the book with the editors. I was particularly impressed by the expat women’s groups in Bursa and İzmir. Many of these women also worked or owned businesses in Turkey, and they offered emotional support to each other. I longed for such an organization in Istanbul, but had despaired of ever finding one in this massive city that was a right fit for me.
I first heard of PAF from a friend and after much cajoling attended a Saturday meeting. I was told that PAF was a small group, but as of February, their membership increased to over 100 American/Canadian women or spouses with American/Canadian citizenship. Meetings are generally held the second Saturday of each month, perfect for women with job obligations. Each meeting features a guest speaker, and locations rotate between the European and Asian sides. The first meeting I attended was held at Schiller’s Café in Cevahir and featured Dr. Üstün Ergüder of the Istanbul Policy Center as the guest speaker. I was immediately impressed by the 30 or so women who attended the event. Expats who lived in Turkey ranging from two months to upwards of 15 years mingled casually, sharing stories, contacts and advice.
Before Dr. Üstün spoke, a general meeting took place informing the members about news for that month. Ideas were also exchanged on ways to improve the group and information sharing. The February meeting was held at US Consulate General Sharon Weiner’s residence, where PAF members presented her with a basket filled with samples, books and certificates representing the various companies and projects PAF members represent.
Since PAF was founded under the auspices of AWI, why break away? Fidan smiled patiently when I posed this question. “We had some differences of opinion on how PAF should be run and organized,” said Fidan. “We really want this group to grow and be active and not be slowed by small details. It was just easier for everyone involved if we just formally separated and went our own way.” To better facilitate members, PAF started a Google group open to members only, where questions, comments and information can be shared.
As PAF has quickly grown, the Google site has proved an invaluable resource for members to connect. The founders of PAF realize that women with families and who work cannot attend regular meetings, and can better make use of a Web site to keep up with events, make contacts and share information. Issues ranging from recommendations for dentists to tips for starting up a business have been shared on the site. Members include consular employees, housewives, business owners, teachers, lawyers, writers, etc. PAF also has three extra social groups. A book club, food club (called Foodies) whose members meet and review various restaurants and a writing/artistic group (called The Muses) who evaluate and support each other’s work.
In addition to offering support for members, PAF is also interested in being active within the Turkish community. Fidan hinted at possible meetings with the Turkish Women’s Business Association and promoting events where Turkish and expat women can meet and learn from each other. “Many of our members work in Turkish companies or schools or are married to Turks, and we want our group to be involved within the Turkish community as well,” says Fidan.
Both communities benefit from the exchange, and these are the type of goals PAF is interested in pursuing.
Although most members of PAF are working women, there are quite a few housewives who also are members. They too felt unsatisfied with the other Istanbul groups and have felt they could make a more worthwhile contribution in PAF. “We don’t want to limit our membership, and we believe that women from all professions can make a contribution,” continues Fidan. I next asked if women of other nationalities could join, but Fidan says for the moment, PAF is only open to American and Canadian women.
Regardless of profession, if you are an American/Canadian woman living or working in Istanbul, you should consider checking out PAF. If you are looking for something different and more open, then this is the group for you. The women involved are professional and fabulous, and a wonderful representation of the working expat women of Istanbul. For more information contact Christina Bache Fidan at firstname.lastname@example.org.