The gender gap is narrowing in Turkey
Last week, the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) announced its third Gender Inequality Scorecard, with the particular aim of raising awareness about gender inequality in the Turkish countryside. The results were surprising this year, showing significant improvement across the board in gender equality.
We collect data on the provincial level, and the most improving provinces were Van, Tunceli, Antalya, Maraş and Artvin. Apart from Antalya, all of these provinces are in eastern Turkey.
The study was conducted by applying the UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) methodology used in Human Development Reports. The UNDP’s GII covers the employment, health, education and political representation of women. It’s basically about social inclusion. Having a formal education, a job, and no children at an early age, together with political representation, lowers gender inequality. Despite what clickbait journalism may have you believe, that’s what has been happening in Turkish provinces from 2012 to 2018.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all is well. It is not. Let me start with the numbers. In 2009, employment of those aged 15-74 in Turkey was 40 percent, with female labor force participation around 23.5 percent. As of 2016, employment of those aged 15-74 in Turkey is only at 48 percent, significantly lower than the OECD average of 61 percent. That is partly due to the low rate of female employment at 27.9 percent, again significantly lower than the OECD average of around 48 percent. So Turkey is still not doing well when compared to rich economies, but it has made significant progress.
Look at the unemployment rate. It is now around 10.3 percent overall. But in the 20-24 age cohort it is 21.50 percent: 18.3 percent for young men and 26.8 percent for young women. The latter are better educated than their male counterparts, trying to use all the mechanisms provided by Turkish Employment Agency to find a job. But too many fail. This is often because of their traditional social role as women.
Also have a look at the average fertility rate of women in Turkey. Births per woman declined from 2.15 in 2011 to 2.10 in 2016. Back in 1960 it was as high as 6.5. The proportion of Turkish citizens living in urban areas back in the 1960s was around 30 percent, while it is now around 75 percent. Despite all the political rhetoric about “having at least three children” in recent years, Turkish women know what they are doing. Urbanization is getting gradually more girls out of the house and into schools, while also making them less likely to have many children.
When it comes to the UNDP’s GII, Turkey is 69 out of 159 countries in the 2015 index. Turkey is still no easy place for women. We are the 16th biggest economy in the world but 69th when it comes to gender equality. Only 14.9 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women, while only 43.5 percent of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education compared to 64.8 percent of their male counterparts.
Local GII data compiled by TEPAV indicates that the situation is gradually but consistently changing around the country, especially in the east. Why? The largest impact between 2012 and 2018 came from the increasing representation of women in local municipal councils. More women are elected in local elections now.
I first thought this could be related to the now collapsed Kurdish peace process and the greater number of female Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) local councilors in the southeast. But a closer look reveals that the improvements reach far beyond that. Perhaps the debate around wearing headscarves at universities also set a trend for strong women on the right of the political spectrum.
What is clear is that slowly but surely women are coming out of their homes in Turkey. All is not as it may appear.