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The Way Forward: More Women in Turkish Labor Force

March 8, 2011

Ankara, March 8, 2011- 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 the ‘Female Labor Force Participation in Turkey: Trends Determinants and Policy Framework’ report from the Turkey’s State Planning Organization (SPO) and the World Bank.
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.”
One of the findings of the report is 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. 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.
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.  
“Studies show that investing in education and vocational training, along with skills development and entrepreneurial education, are the ‘building blocks’ of creating gender equality” said Cris Ridao-Cano, from the World Bank, one of the Team members who worked on the report.  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…”
 The Turkish people focus increasingly on the major opportunities that Turkey can realize as more women will be able to gain jobs, contribute to the economy and earn incomes for their families. Stakeholders all around Turkey have come together to discuss the findings of the report and options for Turkey to advance the agenda of “More and Better Jobs for Women” in Turkey- in Ankara, Erzurum, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Samsun and many other cities. Also, work has started on the introduction of a Gender Certification Program with stakeholders such as KAGIDER, Koç, Sabancı, Price Waterhouse, Ernst and Young, and private sector firms.
 “Gender equality model will serve the objectives of Turkey to increase female employment and disseminate the concept of social gender equality in the labor life. We aim at achieving concrete results in identifying the discriminatory practices in the private sector and encouraging companies for equitable treatment. We, as KAGİDER, are enthusiastic and proud of implementing this project in Turkey together with the World Bank” stated Dr. Gülden Türktan, Deputy Chairperson of KAGİDER.