Women’s economic, political and social empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable economic and social development. Achieving women’s empowerment requires sound public policies, a holistic approach and long-term commitment. Moreover, gender-specific perspectives must surely be integrated at the initial stage of designing the policies and national programmes. Although improvements in women’s participation in economic, political and social life have actually been seen in Turkey, they are not sufficient to comprehensively empower them. In this article, women’s economic and political condition and the situation of violence against women in Turkey will be explained in detail; and the implementations, challenges, opportunities and suggestions regarding the participation of women in the economy will be described.
Women in the Economy
Women’s participation in the labour force still requires significant attention in Turkey as it was 30.8% according to the 2013 household labour force data of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat). Women still have huge potential to be tapped by the Turkish economy. Equality between women and men is one of the major priority areas for policy development throughout the world. Turkey’s 2023 targets and the EU 2020 strategy overlap in several fields. Clear country targets and goals for women’s empowerment in the economy should be identified to achieve success.
Women in Political Life
Turkey needs to make solid and uninterrupted efforts to increase women’s political representation. Compared with the European Union average and international standards, Turkey lags behind in terms of women’s representation in political decision-making at national, local and municipal levels. In the 2011 elections, women’s participation in Parliament increased approximately from 9% to 14% of its membership. This is still about half of the European Union average.
The number of female candidates in the local elections in March 2014 increased for all main political parties. Three metropolitan mayor posts are now held by women. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) brought in a co-chair system in municipalities where it won the vote, so that each of these municipalities has a woman co-mayor. However, women’s political representation still remains low. No legislative changes were introduced to promote women’s inclusion, representation and participation in politics. The last local elections, however, was the first time that women would have been running for metropolitan municipalities ‒ three, in fact, which are Diyarbakır, Gaziantep and Aydın.
Strengthening women’s participation in political decision-making processes at all levels can be realised by enabling women to act freely, encouraging their participation in elections and government, favouring their active participation in local communities and civil society organisations as well as in national political life, adopting targeted policies and instruments, providing them with the necessary tools, notably in the form of guidance and protection models, and addressing their problems and concerns in the political process through the creation of the parliamentary groups on the status of women.
In Turkey, 281 women were murdered last year. Known as the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s Convention includes preventive measures considered ground-breaking by experts because of the heavy responsibilities the report puts on the governments
Violence against Women
In Turkey, 281 women were murdered last year. Known as the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s Convention includes preventive measures considered ground-breaking by experts because of the heavy responsibilities the report puts on the governments. Turkey became the first country to approve the convention in its Parliament in 2012. With its Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women, Turkey committed itself to protecting women, children and family members of victims of domestic violence and providing services such as shelters, financial aid, and psychological and legal guidance. The Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women is still implemented, though it requires additional human resources and coordination. Policy changes and legislative reforms have been the first steps, but are not enough. An integrated multi‐sectoral approach is needed, including training for the implementers.
The Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence was passed by the Turkish Parliament in 2012. At the time, the law was hailed by the government as a present to women, designed to fight violence against women by making it easier for victims to receive police protection when under threat. There are three structural problems in Turkey that cause problems related to domestic violence and protection, which are as follows: 1) lack of specialised staff and units at police stations, even in larger cities and major regional centres; 2) lack of adequate, ongoing, and thorough training of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges who deal with domestic violence cases; and 3) lack of privacy in police stations or family courts when reporting family violence.
Turkish law enforcement and judicial officials do not have the expertise, and often the will, to deal with cases of violence against women and would rather preserve the family unit than protect the victim.
Challenges, Opportunities and Suggestions
Guaranteeing equality between women and men in the field of employment could be undertaken by providing women with equal access to full employment, equal pay and social protection, promoting a healthy work environment (safe and free from harassment), guaranteeing safe transportation to and from the workplace, fighting against involuntary part-time work, as well as implementing conditions enabling reconciliation between family and professional life, such as paid maternity and paternity leave, increased protection of women in the workplace in relation to pregnancy and maternity, equal distribution of family and home tasks between women and men, and childcare and dependency services.
The main problems are women’s employment in rural areas, the low level of women’s employment in urban areas, unregistered employment, the huge wage gap, exclusion from social security, male-dominated structures of unions excluding women, pre-school education, and enrolment rates to help promote women’s participation in the workforce through improved childcare services.
The female employment rate remained very low at around 31.8% in 2013, although it was up by 1.1% on the preceding year. Despite the low proportion of the female population actively looking for work, the female unemployment rate is higher than the male. In addition, about one third of women who are considered to be employed are unpaid family workers in the agricultural sector.
Improvements in women’s employment in the private sector could be achieved by remedying the shortfall between the skills taught at school and those required in the labour market, guaranteeing equal access to quality learning, fostering women’s education and training in science and technology universities and similar centres, introducing on-going learning programmes for women and encouraging private enterprises to launch training programmes for women graduates, encouraging the private sector and foundations to invest in programmes and the improvement of skills to favour women’s enterprises and career opportunities for women and girls, and supporting recruitment, retention and progress of women and girls in the fields of science, technology and innovation by means of transparent criteria.
Women face more challenges in business life and in their professional careers, but drawing up rules on gender equality and closely following their implementation in the company are the keys to closing the gender gap
A study in Turkey simulated an increase in the relatively low participation of women in the labour force from 23% to 29% and meant that it could help to reduce poverty by 15% if women took full-time positions, or 8% if they had part-time jobs.
Women face more challenges in business life and in their professional careers, but drawing up rules on gender equality and closely following their implementation in the company are the keys to closing the gender gap.
We need measures to prevent gender discrimination in recruitment and promotions. Therefore, we must closely follow the implementation of the rules. The female presence on the executive boards of Turkish companies is only around 11%.
Numbers are worsening for women’s presence at the senior management level. The proportion of women on the executive boards of the first 100 companies listed on the Stock Exchange is only 11.3%. If membership based on kinship ties is ignored, this decreases to 3.8%. Women’s presence in senior management posts of public enterprises is not much better, at 9.3%.
Women were underrepresented in decision-making positions in the public sector while improvements were reported in the private sector. The percentage of women in senior management is around 31% in Turkey, up from 25% in 2011. Strengthening women’s participation in economic decision-making processes might be possible by encouraging their representation in the corporate governance structures, as well as within trade unions and employers’ associations, and by mobilising private and public sector resources to support equality between men and women and women’s emancipation in executive positions. Important issues are: mentoring, networking and role models for women’s career advancement; quotas as an instrument of gender balance in politics and corporate boardrooms; the gender pay gap in management; and creation of tools on how to encourage senior men to promote women to senior decision-making positions in their organisations.
In employment policy, the first national employment strategy was adopted, signalling long-term policy planning and setting ambitious employment targets. Turkey is also preparing its first employment and social reform programme while labour market performance remained quite stable.
In recent years the government has also encouraged female employment in the private sector. For instance, since 2008, the government has offered to pay a company’s share of female employees’ social security benefits for 54 months if it hires women who have been unemployed for six months or longer. Meanwhile, the Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) also supports women by offering training courses in various fields of occupation, including computer management, programming, sales, and so on. Some of these policies have prominently influenced the female employment rate which, while very low, has been steadily rising in the last decade from 23.3% in 2004 to 29.5% in 2012, as confirmed in the 2013 report of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat). To maintain this trend and achieve 35% female employment by 2023, the Turkish government has recently implemented new policies, such as an 18-week maternity leave, a flexible part-time working model and the establishment of workplace day care centres to allow women to work while starting families. However, some still remain sceptical about the feasibility of the government’s 35% objective – despite the fact that it is only a six-percentage-point increase, the same that occurred in Turkey between 2004 and 2012. The Equality at Work Platform was established during the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia on 4-6 June 2012 in Istanbul, headed by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, with co-presidency of the President of Sabancı Holding and Doğuş Holding. The Platform is an initiative to ensure gender equality in the process of female participation in the Turkish economy. The initiative forces the participation of the public and private sector, trade unions, NGOs and academia.
In employment policy, the first national employment strategy was adopted, signalling long-term policy planning and setting ambitious employment targets. Turkey is also preparing its first employment and social reform programme while labour market performance remained quite stable
In February 2012, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies and the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology signed a Cooperation Protocol on Developing Entrepreneurship Activities toward Women, Disabled Persons, Relatives of Martyrs and Veterans and Increasing Women Employment to explore strategies to support female entrepreneurship and achieve better promotion of childcare. Law 657 on Civil Servants and Law 4857 on Labour were revised with the goal of increasing the numbers of women in the workforce through strategies to help balance work and family life. The discrepancies between standards for female workers and civil servants (such as the length of paid maternity leave) were removed. The strengthening of the legal framework with regard to more flexible jobs (such as on-call positions or telecommuting) was achieved with the amendments of Articles 3 and 14 of Law 4857. In addition, the government and industry leaders agreed to increase the number of childcare centres in organised industrial zones to better support working mothers. During the period, the government also initiated a plan called the Operation on Promoting Women’s Employment (2011 – 2013). The Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) is to provide services, especially at the local level, to make women more employable, to create more and higher quality jobs, and to remove obstacles to their participation in the workforce. The Turkish government, as part of a plan to boost the nation’s economy, recently set a goal of a 35% employment rate for women by 2023. The goal, defined as an objective for Turkey’s centennial as part of the National Employment Strategy 2014-2023, would aid Turkey in becoming the 10th largest global economy.
- Ensure that gender equality is adopted as the fundamental principle of Development Plans, linked to quantitative and qualitative targets within the development axis and industry-specific priorities.
- Authorities should act in accordance with the target of ensuring gender equality in maintaining both financial and monetary policies; and medium-term programmes, medium-term financial plans and annual plans should be redesigned to this effect.
- Special budget items should be included in the budget for active measures to transform sexist structures.
- Implementation results should be evaluated and audited continuously by the independent monitoring mechanisms.
- Strengthen pre-school education and increase enrolment rates to help promote women’s participation in the workforce through improved childcare services.
The country that aims to be among the top 10 world economies in 2023 needs to mobilise all its human potential. A comprehensive approach is needed, which includes measures to ensure better working conditions, equal pay for equal work, lifelong learning, flexible work schedules and a fair balance between family life and work. Efforts to ensure better working conditions should encompass measures to combat all forms of discrimination in the workplace, including gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and benefits.
Efforts to ensure better working conditions should encompass measures to combat all forms of discrimination in the workplace, including gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and benefits
Creating new employment areas and ensuring that they are open to women have been the fundamental responsibilities of the state and the private sector. In this regard, active employment policies devoted to the mitigation of unemployment should be designed, and a comprehensive women’s employment policy should be incorporated. A plan comprised of concrete and time-limited targets should be made to implement these policies in a timely manner. Related institutions and mechanisms should be provided with sufficient funds and human resources, via allocated funds from the budget, to enable them to implement the equality policies that will be determined. Public and private sector institutions should develop active mechanisms that will ensure the questioning and transformation of gender-based discrimination that women are subjected to in every aspect, such as employment, vocational training and promotion, to ensure gender equality and to struggle against all kinds of discrimination. Labour relations in the Labour Code should be defined to include an engagement process to eliminate discrimination during the recruitment process. Strengthening pre-school education and increasing enrolment rates will help promote women’s participation in the workforce through improved childcare services.
Promoting public-private partnership via networking and awareness-raising projects that facilitates close cooperation and partnership among different countries and stakeholders is significant. That is why KAGIDER thinks that it is necessary to encourage partnership between the different actors from the public and private sectors throughout the Mediterranean region, with the objective of improving the situation of women. Turkey is one of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) countries that has largely overcome the barriers to the rights of women posed by legal measures.
On the other hand, the European Union would be another solution to overcome the obstacles facing women in economic, political and social life. Providing funding and access to different funds and expertise for civil society and supporting the visibility of public-private partnerships will help Turkey.
As a candidate country to the EU, Turkey is committed to develop certain policies for the promotion of gender equality. At the European Union level, gender equality is also part of the common values and successive treaties that have recognised and strengthened the instruments for the achievement of gender equality in all spheres of life. Gender mainstreaming is, therefore, considered to be a binding requirement for both member and candidate states.