Dilek Demir, the sole female neighborhood head (mukhtar) in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakır, has saved 40 girls from underage marriage over the course of her time in office. The 49-year-old mother of four, herself forced into marriage at 14, hung an anonymous "complaint box" outside of her office where young women could submit letters saying they were being forced to be child brides or otherwise mistreated.
Demir was forced into marriage, violently, by her father when she was 14.
“My bib was stripped off, I was put in a wedding dress, and I became a child bride,” she told Demiroren News Agency. “My father forced me into marriage, beating me violently.”
Demir was staunchly against it. She wanted to study and become a police officer. So, when she separated from her husband 17 years ago, she began on the path of public service - she became a neighborhood head eight years ago. She has now finished high school and is preparing for university exams.
She said she became a neighborhood to serve the people of her community, especially the girls.
“I love my neighborhood. I love service. I think of service like a mother’s duty,” she said.
One of her primary goals when she became mukhtar was to prevent other young women from experiencing the same pain and abuse she did. That is why she hung the complaint box outside of her office, so these young women would have somewhere to go.
“I had a wish/complaint box made for the young girls who were taken from school so they would not be made victims, for the young girls who were being forced to married early, and for those who were afraid to come to me with other complaints. I always have the key to [the box], I open it, I close it. They were afraid in the beginning, but now they come to me,” Dilek said.