Gender equality: the women of Turkey speak out

Last week the bell rang loud and clear for gender equality in Turkey.

Ahead of International Women’s Day the Istanbul Stock Exchange hosted an opening bell ceremony in support of women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.

The bell ringing was part of a series of global events that highlighted a need for a world without discrimination in cultural, economic and politics.

The UN Women regional director for Europe and Central Asia Ingibjorg Gísladottir spoke in Istanbul, emphasising the the importance of women in economic life.

“We see more women CEOs, engineers, scientists, doctors or factory workers today, but the limitations over the full and equal participation of women into the labor force remain. Women are also affected disproportionately by abuse and discrimination in their workplaces,” she said.

“The more women participate in the economy, the more economies will grow.”

Sabanci Holding chair Guler Sabanci agreed, saying that women in the workplace is “more than a human right.”

“Studies show that that organisations that give more women a voice in decision-making processes are more successful than others.”

Turkish women in the spotlight

Gender equality TurkeyTurkish women have hit international headlines in the last few weeks with a number of protests held throughout the country to protest against violent attacks against women.

High profile celebrities have also lent their support, including British actress Emma Watson, who took to Twitter to encourage the cause. 

Many Turkish men have also showed solidarity, tweeting pictures of themselves wearing skirts with the hashtag #ozgecanicinminietekgiy, which translates to “wear a miniskirt for Ozgecan,” the young woman who was killed by a bus driver in February. The tragic incident has triggered a debate over sexual assault and harrassment, and may well mark a turning point for women’s rights in Turkey.

Women at work

Only a third of Turkey’s workforce is made up of women, according to a report released last week. 27.1 percent of women are unemployed - a stark contrast to other European countries, for example Sweden, where 72.5 percent of women have jobs. Even Greece’s 39.9 percent seems high compared to Turkish figures.

Women hold just 12.2 percent of top management positions, meaning Turkey is ranked at 45 out of 48 countries for the percentage of women in high level positions - below Thailand above Ukraine.

Head of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions Ergun Atalay says Turkey needed to change its mentality - starting with equality training. “The perception of women must change. Woman should be seen first as individuals rather than as ‘ideal mothers’ or ‘wives.’”
Woman at work

Education holds the key

It’s well known that higher levels of education equal higher levels of participation in the workforce. This is the root of the problem in Turkey, where the rate of illiterate women is five times that of men.

Other factors are wages and the lack of flexible working hours. Director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey says that if wages are low, women have less incentive to hire domestic help. “Hiring help for household chores and childcare is almost impossible at lower wages. Add that to Turkey’s haphazard social support system and all women are left with is taking care of the household.” This is particularly true in the countryside.

Changing perceptions

The way both men and women view gender equality in Turkey is changing. The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey showed that three quarters of women agreed that men should do housework. The same number agreed that women should be more involved in politics.

That last statement is becoming a reality, with Turkey’s women starting to get political. Half of the Gezi Park demonstrators were women. Women are at the forefront of social media campaigns decrying violence and demanding change.

In 2012, a 12-year compulsory education scheme was introduced, with heavy fines levied on parents who did not allow their children to attend school. This measure is beginning to address the double-whammy of low literacy and educational levels that are stymieing Turkey’s women. 

The government has also introduced a project called Women Deserve a Second Chance, helping more than 12,000 female school dropouts to complete their education. Aimed at women who had left school to earn money for their families and then became stuck in a cycle of child rearing, the project offers free distance learning programs that allow women to complete their high school education. Financial support is also included, allowing women to cover daycare costs and school fees.

Another positive note for women is that prenatal care has improved dramatically, with 98 percent of women receiving care, a 28 percent rise from 2002.


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