Monday, March 8, 2010

A Long Road to "Equal": A Glimpse at the Status of Women in Turkey

Turkey should be praised as being one of the first countries to enfranchise women (in 1934) and for making equal rights for women a key part of the Ataturk reform era. At the same time, the status of women in Turkey seems to be getting worse on a number of fronts. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, Turkey came in 129 of 134 countries surveyed, consistently falling in the rankings over the past years. And, according to the UN Development Program's Gender Empowerment Measure, Turkey ranked 101 out of 109 countries surveyed, placing Turkey, the 17th-largest economy in the world, among countries far less developed.


Last week the Global Post's Nichole Sobecki ran an article exploring the low rate of female employment in Turkey -- 21.6%, and down from 34.3% in 1988. The average in the European Union is 57%, and Turkey trails all OECD countries. Female employment has been dropping for a variety of reasons, among them the decline in agricultural employment. However, apart from structural changes to the economy, a number of impediments prevent women from entering the workforce, including the low level of female education, the lack of adequate childcare facilities, sexual harassment, and conservative attitudes when it comes to women working and leaving the house/traveling about. Patriarchal laws like one requiring employers to allow women a monthly five days leave for menstruation do little to lift these barriers. And, as with other countries, promoting equality between women and men delivers for the whole society as well. Sobecki interviews the World Bank's Country Director for Turkey, Ulrich Zachau, who claims that just a 6-7% increase in women's employment would reduce the poverty level by 15%. According to a recent joint report by the World Bank and the Turkish State Planning Organization, three in four women are unemployed and not looking for work. The women's branch of the AKP has recently published a brief report on the subject.


Though women constitute 43% of undergraduate university students despite the discriminatory headscarf ban, men and women are still quite stratified in terms of fields of pursued study. And, though women make up 40% of all academics (a statistic frequently touted about), they comprise only 10% of university rectors and 15% of deans.

Problems are worse when it comes to primary school education. An estimated 70% of girls in the southeast of Turkey receive primary school education, and illiteracy rates are much higher for women than men. Compulsory education has been suggested as one means of redressing these problems. At the moment, eight years of school ae compulsory Enforcement in rural areas, particularly in the southeast, is, of course, also a major problem. Projects like Kardenler have worked to draw attention to the problem and provide scholarships to young women. See also the Prime Ministerial General Directorate on the Status of Women (KSGM)'s report entitled "The Situation of Women in Turkey".

Domestic Violence

Women continue to face significant domestic violence despite the laudable efforts of civil society groups in recent years to provide shelters, training, and rights education. The government has passed a law mandating that cities with populations of more than 50,000 provide a women's shelter, but there are no sanctions in force to give the law teeth.

According to a report by a parliamentary commission designed to address gender equality, one in four women are married under the age of 18. Under the Civil Code, which was overhauled in 2003, women may marry with parental consent at 17, and at 16 with permission of the court. However, in rural areas, women frequently marry much earlier. A proposed solution has been to pass a law making it a criminal offense to marry one's child if under the legal age, though the proposal has never gone very far.


Only 9.9% of parliamentarians are women while an even more disturbing 0.42% of women were elected in municipal elections. Only two of Turkey's 81 greater munciipalities have female mayors. Though women's rights groups have disagreed on a gender quota, women's representation remains remarkably low across all political parties with the exception of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Women's branches often play a subordinate role in political parties, and women rarely reach top political posts. A notable exception is Tansu Ciller, who reached the post of prime minister in the National Salvation Party.

UPDATE I (3/9) -- According to a UN released statement, a reported 42% of women experience physical and sexual violence in their marriages. As for the women's shelters alluded to above, the UN puts their number at 52 for an estimated population of 35 million women.

UDATE II (3/19) -- The Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIT) is launching a campaign to raise awareness of the low rate of female employment in Turkey. The campaign will target businesses and politicians, and the group is working with the World Bank to devise measurable criteria to be used in granting certificates to businesses for their employment practices in regard to women.

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