Turkey needs ministry of women's affairs

Not only would a ministry of women's affairs help to integrate Turkish women into politics, it would boost the country's economy.

al-monitor A woman waves national flags during a visit to Anitkabir, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara, Oct. 29, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

women's rights, women's issues, women, violence against women, turkish politics, turkey, gender discrimination, economics

Feb 5, 2014

The time seems to have come to separate women’s affairs from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies.

There is a women’s issue in Turkey.  Do you ever think about it even for a moment in all this meaningless political debate raging in the country? Those who govern us definitely don’t think about it. Best you keep it in mind, because one day these political squabbles will end and turbulence will calm down, but the women’s issue will continue to be a source embarrassment for Turkey. Why?

Simple: Turkey doesn’t take women’s issues seriously. You can’t cope with those issues by setting up a showcase Ministry of Family and Social Policies to give the impression of caring about women. You can’t tackle that issue by declarations or shows of how upset the ministry is with violence against women. You can’t solve it without a women policy. It can’t be done unless the Ministry of Family and Social Policies gets interested in Turkey’s industrial policy or in the country’s non-existent educational policy. You can’t tackle women’s issues without remembering the women in every free trade agreement signed. Women’s issues can be solved only if we never forget about them. This is what needs to be done to boost the status and visibility of women in Turkey.

Many talk but few do anything about it. Why is that?

First, some interesting figures on the status of women in Turkey. Among OECD countries, women’s participation in the workforce is lowest in Turkey with 30%. As if this is not embarrassing enough, our country — the world's 17th-largest economy — occupies the 68th place in the United Nations Gender Equality Index. In the World Economic Forum’s gender discrimination listing, Turkey is 120th among 136 countries. Unless women’s participation in the workforce climbs toward 50% from today’s 30%, it will not be possible to achieve the goal of a per capita income of $25,000 in 2023. Unless we increase women’s visibility, Turkey will be confined to the middle income rut.

So, what can be done?

I see three ways for a solution.

First is better education of women. Turkey is on the right path in this regard. Today 9% of women in 50-55 age group are university graduates. In the 25-29 age group this figure is about 30%. These are positive signs. In the coming years, Turkey will need more engineers and scientists. Universities will need mechanisms to increase the number of women who study in those fields. More scholarships for women will be a good starting point.

The second issue is municipal council representation. We have 31,000 municipal councilors in Turkey, but not even 1,500 of them are women. Women, who constitute 50% of Turkey's population, don’t make up even 5% of municipal council members. That is a shame. I advise women to have a good look at the gender composition of candidates fielded by political parties in the coming local elections. Sure, the government is not sensitive to the issue, but the gender composition of municipal councils is not only its fault.

Third, we have to make sure that that industrial and economic policies pay attention to women’s affairs. Special attention must be paid to sectors that could boost women’s employment. In this context, Turkey’s textile and ready-to-wear sectors must be handled with velvet gloves. In free trade agreements, concessions that will mean a loss of women’s employment should be avoided. Turkey’s priority should be to incorporate women’s labor into the growth process or Turkey will remain stuck in the middle income gutter. Why not have a look at the gender equality report card TEPAV drew up for our 81 provinces? Look and see how your province is doing. Be angry with your leaders for their shortsightedness. Be very angry, indeed.

In 1980, when late Turgut Ozal separated the Treasury from the Ministry of Finance, we were very angry. But it worked out well. Perhaps time has come to separate women’s issues from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. A woman’s place is above all in the workplace. Women’s issues are not matters of social assistance and social policy. Rather, they are issues of economic policy.

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