Şahin, Wahlund, Raiser: Getting to Work - Turkey’s road to equal opportunities for women

October 22, 2013

Fatma Şahin, Lars Wahlund, Martin Raiser

A society, a nation is comprised of two genders: male and female. Is it possible to lift a huge block up if you concentrate on one side of it and leave the other side completely unattended?

Since the time of Atatürk Turkey has been a front-runner in providing equal rights to women and giving women the right to vote (1932). In recent years, Turkey has taken big steps to strengthen the social status of women and improve women’s welfare, especially by ensuring equal access to health and education. Maternal mortality has fallen fourfold in the past decade, already meeting Turkey’s Millennium Development Goals and the gender gap in access to basic education has virtually disappeared. 

Despite this commendable progress much remains to be done.  One particular challenge is the low employment rate of women. Here, too, recent data are promising: while the female labor force participation rate was 26.6 percent in 2003, it rose to 29.5 percent in 2012. In 2003, 71 percent of working women were informally employed; by 2012 this rate was reduced to 51. But compared with the rest of the OECD, Turkey still lags significantly behind. As a result, a huge economic potential remains untapped. Indeed, increasing female labor force participation to average levels in the OECD could boost long-term economic growth by around 0.6 percentage points.

But female employment is about more than economic growth statistics. Improving the socio-economic welfare of women would also improve the welfare of the whole society.  

Over the past few months, we have spoken to many women in the context of the Adım Adım Anadolu series of events, where women share their experiences as entrepreneurs, as founders of cooperatives, as workers and as family mothers and wives. The overwhelming message from these women is: the chance to work is a chance to realize one’s aspirations; a chance to achieve one’s full potential. The smiles on the faces of women who have experienced this transition speak for themselves and the many reactions from the audience confirm: Turkey’s women are ready to play their own part in this country’s dynamic development.

Women who have their own sources of income are far more likely than men to spend it on their children. Educated and working mothers are an opportunity for their kids. And, as experience from France and Sweden in particular shows, there need not be a trade-off for women between working and having children. Improved childcare facilities, development of more flexible contractual work arrangements including part-time work for example, adequate parental leave – these are some of the measures that can help women and men balance work and family life. Furthermore, the sufficient maternity leave practices in Sweden have positively contributed to the rise in birth rates.  

The Government of the Republic of Turkey has placed female employment at the top of the policy agenda for a long time. Incentives to encourage employers to hire female entrants into the labor force were introduced in 2008 and expanded in 2011. Vocational training through ISKUR and support for young female entrepreneurs through KOSGEB have been significantly expanded. The Prime Ministry Circular no. 2004/7 dated 2004 on Observance of the Principle of Equality in Staff Recruitment and the Prime Ministry Circular of 2010 on Increasing Female Employment and Ensuring Equal Opportunities are critical indicators of the political commitment to achieve gender equality in the labor market.

But we know that more can be done. This is why the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the World Bank have partnered in a multi-year effort to improve women’s economic opportunities. We are partnering to develop improved access to affordable and high quality childcare as part of balancing family and work life, promote more flexible working arrangements for men and women in the context of the New National Employment Strategy, expand female entrepreneurship, raise awareness throughout society and support women’s cooperatives.

To this end, the project for increasing the access of women to economic opportunities aims at strengthening the evidence base required for designing policies in these areas; compiling information and sharing it with key actors and stakeholders; and implementing targeted supports for specific groups to serve the basic objective.

A call for proposals will be made for a Research Project of 300,000 $ to ensure and inform evidence-based policy development under the project on October 22, 2013.          

Turkey’s women deserve equal economic opportunities. Many Turkish women already lead by example. Together with them and with many partners throughout the country, the Directorate General for Women’s Status (on behalf of the Ministry of Family and Social Policy), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the World Bank will continue to work together to ensure that women in Turkey can realize their opportunities and achieve their full potential.

Oped on Occasion of the Launch of Project for Increasing Access of Women to Economic Opportunities, by Fatma Şahin, Minister of Family and Social Policy