Turkey’s Greatest Untapped Potential? Women

September 15, 2009

Female labor force participation can yield substantial social and economic dividends, says a new report from the World Bank and the Turkish Government.

ISTANBUL, September 15, 2009 - Increasing the number of women who are actively employed in Turkey would reduce poverty, increase national economic output, and lead to improvements in social indicators like health and children’s education outcomes, according to a new report from the Turkey’s State Planning Organization (SPO) and the World Bank.

“This joint report investigates the reasons why a lower share of women participates in the labor force in Turkey than in the EU and OECD on average, and why that share has been decreasing. The report intends to inform policies promoting more and better jobs for women in Turkey,” explained Kemal Madenoğlu, Undersecretary of State Planning Organization.

While the share of women participating in the labor force has risen since the 1980s in countries with a similar starting point, it has fallen considerably in Turkey – from 34.3 percent in 1988 to 21.6 percent in 2008. By 2006, Turkey had fewer women participating in its economy than any other country in the OECD or the Europe and Central Asia region.

“All of Turkey stands to benefit from greater involvement of women in the workforce. More and better jobs for women will mean higher incomes and better lives not only for them, but also for their families—including better education and health for children,” said Ulrich Zachau, World Bank Country Director for Turkey. “If, for example, six or seven percent more of Turkish women start full-time jobs, which means Turkey reaches the Government’s 9th Development Plan target for women’s participation in the labor force, this will reduce poverty by around 15 percent.”

The report suggests that the government can encourage more women to work by removing barriers to businesses hiring women, by increasing education levels among women, and by making it easier for women to get out of the home and seek employment.

"In the same way that you wouldn’t play football without a full team, countries can’t compete globally if they don’t use the full potential of all their citizens,” said Diego Angel-Urdinola, from the World Bank, one of the authors of the report entitled ‘Female Labor Force Participation in Turkey: Trends Determinants and Policy Framework’. "Together with our World Bank colleagues, we found that there are significant barriers for urban women with poor levels of education to get jobs. Available jobs are often in the informal economy, pay little, and working conditions are harsh," added İlyas Çelikoğlu, State Planning Organization Department Head for Social Policy.

The Government of Turkey recently introduced a program that subsidizes employers’ social security contributions for newly hired women for up to 5 years. Programs like this will likely help increase the rate of employment for women, especially in times of healthy economic performance. One are barriers to businesses hiring women.

Studies show that investing in education and vocational training, along with skills development and entrepreneurial education, are the ‘building blocks’ of creating gender equality. Vocational training in particular spurs equality in wages and in labor market opportunities.

Lastly, the high cost of hiring someone else to help working women with childcare and domestic work is an important barrier for women to seek jobs in Turkey. Women in Istanbul stated that they would have to pay between 500 and 600 TL per month just for childcare if they decided to work, and more for other extra costs of additional household help. These costs would use up most of their additional earnings. More Early Childhood Education programs can help dramatically improve children’s learning, school, and life opportunities – and help break the cycle of poverty being passed on from parents to children through generations. In addition, children have a safe and caring place to go, so more women can work, increase their skills and incomes, and improve the lives of their families.

“I want to work to provide a better future for my kids. To send to extra courses for the examinations and help their school” said one housewife interviewed for the study, “to gain my economic independence, in order to help my family and my husband. I want my kids have education as higher as possible. So, I would like to use the money I earn for their school needs…”

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