Müge Kökten Finkel: from Turkey to Pitt

Dr. Müge Kökten Finkel is a Turkish-born and raised professor at the University of Pittsburgh, teaching at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and in the Political Science Department. During her undergraduate years, she studied International Relations and Political Science at the Boğaziçi University, in Istanbul.

Throughout her college years, she worked at the Turkish Japanese Business Council, which, later on, gave her a full scholarship to study in Japan after she graduated. Dr. Finkel received her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in Japanese politics, comparing social policies for the elderly and unemployed in Japan and the values associated with these groups determine the social welfare and assistance they will receive. She has always appreciated theories, but absolutely loves the application, which is how she decided to go into policy.

Through interesting life connections and coincidences, Dr. Finkel found herself working at the World Bank, where she discovered her deep love for development work. She worked for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, where she started working in gender before actually studying it.  

Aside from teaching at GSPIA and the Political Science Department, Dr. Finkel is also the faculty co-lead of the Ford Institute for Human Security working group on Gender Equality in Public Administrations (GEPA), a collaborative research effort with the UNDP. GIRL – the Gender Inequality Research Lab – is where all the magic happens. Contrary to the name, it is not like most labs we know, but GEPAns (the affectionate term for the people that work with GEPA and GIRL) collect data on gender so it can be put into practice through policy recommendations.

Dr. Finkel and Dr. Melanie Hughes – co-founders of GIRL – hope that in the future, the initiative grows to be a resource to both scholars and practitioners.

What would be one thing you would say to students who want to go into policy or gender policy specifically?

“[Gender issues] are also not unique to one place. It is kind of arrogant sometimes for all of us who are sitting in these beautiful academic institutions to think that these are problems of less developed countries or are problems of countries that are certain religions or certain cultures; that is not the case. I would love an army of students who armed themselves with all kinds of evidence so that they can actually prove this to people because that's the hardest thing about studying gender. You constantly come against very well-meaning and informed people who assume things about gender or gender equality that are not true. We need to understand gender more holistically, more comprehensively too, to kind of open room to really understand all different inequalities that, in an intersectional way, pause on different groups of people."

What is the best way for students who are building up that foundation to better understand how gender policymaking works?

“If I had one wish for all students at all universities is for them to step out of their comfort zones.  Most of my own learning happened when I started traveling. There’s only so much that you can do in reading and in classrooms, but there is so much that you do and learn from true lived experiences and that cannot be replaced. I think we should be ready to travel to places that are not our TripAdvisor's list. When you observe how men, women, and all gender identities live their lives, you understand that there are certain things that are happening in these countries that allow certain outcomes, and policies are nothing more than those."

What would you say to future potential policymakers or students interested in the areas in which you continue pursuing and fighting for gender equity across the globe?

“What I've learned through GEPA is that the decision-making positions hold a lot of weight. When we look at diversity, we appreciated diversity as a symbolic case, but our research shows that there is so much more to it. I also understand that we want women to play different roles. We want them to come up so that they change our lives. And sometimes they may not be up for it. Diverse groups of people need to run in the elections for us to have that diversity at higher levels. I feel like sometimes we are asking for too much self-sacrifice for the global common good to happen, but I do not know how else we are going to get [equality]. We are going to need people from this generation to step up when it's not comfortable when it's not easy. When it means giving up on more lucrative and easier careers elsewhere to do the public service, we need to really find ways to make sure that public service is understood and appreciated for it. It has to be a two-way street. If we ask people to sacrifice better lives and more lucrative careers elsewhere to be in the public service, we need others to appreciate that and show respect. That's not always the case. We know that the more women step up and put themselves up for these public service careers, whether it's in elected office, or whether it's in public office, they face more violence. It's proportional to their presence in these public spaces. What we need to do is to make that go away, stop that from happening, so the pipelines are not broken, or otherwise we all suffer.”

Curious to know more about Dr. Finkel and her work? Check out these links!

Gender Inequality Research Lab: https://www.girl.pitt.edu/ 

Gender Equality in Public Administrations Workshop: https://www.girl.pitt.edu/

Ford Institute for Human Security: https://www.fordinstitute.pitt.edu/ 

Research Themes: https://www.girl.pitt.edu/research/research-themes

Previous works and fields of study: https://www.girl.pitt.edu/people/mkf