Özlem was born in Turkey in 1976. She lived in Finland for two years while her parents worked as caretakers/cleaners in the Turkish Embassy in Helsinki. The family moved to Denmark at the start on the 1980s. Özlem’s parents had taken up unskilled jobs to earn money to achieve their big dream: 40 sheep and a house in a village in Turkey. Özlem lived with her Kurdish grandmother for a short time, but has lived permanently in Denmark since 1986 so she considers herself Danish, but with Kurdish roots.
Özlem was the first in her family to go to high school after which she completed a nursing education. She worked in the psychiatric department from 2000 to 2007 with mentally ill children and youths, traumatised refugees and drug addicts. She broke out of an arranged marriage after 7 years and lived alone with her son who was 4 years old.
Özlem was elected to the Danish parliament and served from 2007 to 2015 as one of the first female politicians with an ethnic background. She was the first chairwoman of The Domestic, Social Affairs and Children´s Committee with an ethnic minority background and was the spokesperson for many political issues for her party. Özlem was consistently voted one of the country’s top debaters for a number of years in recognition of her ability to stimulate debate about social issues.
Since 2015, Özlem has given talks and provides advice in Denmark, and internationally, on how to build bridges between ethnic minorities, companies, organisations and local government. She devised the dialogue coffee concept, which involves her regularly holding dialogue coffee meetings, where she contacts people who have sent her hatemails and arranges to meet them over a coffee – usually at their home. This is based on the belief that what binds us together is far greater than what separates us. The BBC made a documentary, which was shown around the world to an audience of 5 – 10 million, about Özlem and her work involving #dialogkaffe (dialoguecoffee)
Özlem is also the founder and chairwoman of the Bridge Builders Association (Foreningen Brobyggerne), which aims to prevent hate and violence.
Özlem is the author of the following books:
”Why does he hate you, mum?” in which she contacts people who hate Muslims, Danes, Jews, homosexuals and democracy to investigate the origin of the hate.
”From Føtex to Folketinget” (supermarket to parliament), which is a biography about her journey from a working class family to a member of parliament.
She also writes children’s books about a girl called, Ayse, who experiences difficulties in the Danish society because of her ethnic minority background. The most recent story was made available to nearly 180,000 school children.
Özlem also writes column in several Danish newspapers and she has been the host of a number of TV programmes.
Özlem is also an ambassador for a number of NGOs and has received many awards for democracy.
She is married to Devrim and has three children, Furkan, Yasmin Aze and Yusuf.
She has approx. 100,000 followers on social media.