From Where I Stand: “While firefighting is traditionally known as a men’s occupation, women can easily do it”

21-year-old Merve Erbay is the first-ever woman firefighter working in the Turkish Parliament. After graduating from a Medical High School, then the Department of Dialysis of a university, she decided to take a job as a firefighter to fulfil her passion for firefighting. She took the entry examination for firefighting conducted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), outperformed her competitors to become the first woman firefighter in the Parliament.

Date: Friday, January 4, 2019

Merve Erbay. Photo: UN Women/Ebru Özdayı Demirel
Photo: UN Women/Ebru Özdayı Demirel

 It has been my dream since childhood to engage in an occupation by which I can touch people’s lives. For my studies, I chose occupations that save lives. I studied medical nursing in high school, and dialysis in university. Firefighting as an occupation started to draw my interest. My role model was my uncle who was a firefighter at an airport. I often used to visit him there.

After graduating from university, I started to work as a workplace nurse. As a healthcare person, I think it is very important to have training in firefighting. Therefore, I obtained a certificate of proficiency in firefighting from the municipality.

One day I saw a vacancy announcement by the Parliament for firefighters and immediately applied for it. Successfully completing the examinations, and outperforming many men, I started to work as the first woman firefighter at the TGNA.

Initially, I faced prejudice because it was an occupation dominated by men. I was the first woman to apply for a firefighter’s job. Those who heard that there was a woman firefighter at the TGNA came to meet me. They were surprised to see a woman firefighter for the first time. Then, prejudices diminished in time, and I started to get very positive feedback.

I faced resistance in my family as well. My mother said, “You’re a nurse, go do your own job.” My father supported me a lot. Together with him, I broke down my mother’s prejudices.

My dreams came true because I can save lives. As I am both a firefighter and a medical person, I work both as a rescuer and a first-aid person in case of a disaster.

While firefighting is traditionally known as a men’s occupation, women can easily do it. Strong muscles are not enough for being a firefighter. It takes good training, experience and ability as well.”

SDG 5: Gender equality
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

Merve Erbay, 21, works as a firefighter at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA). UN Women conducts gender-responsive budgeting trainings at the TGNA to ensure that the planning and budgeting practices of the Turkish Parliament promote equal opportunities for women and men, as part of the “Gender Equality in Political Leadership and Participation in Turkey” project, financially supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The story of Merve Erbay is related to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8, which promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, and also SDG 5, which promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment.