Policy suggestions to solve or exacerbate gender equality problems?
ŞAHİZER SAMUK – MİNE TAFOLARThere are serious inequalities among different groups with respect to economic status, social status and gender. Friedrich Engels nicely said that “the first inequality was the one between men and women.” We echo Engels’ perspective and believe that the gender gap in several areas is a crucial problem in our current society, which should be addressed in a systematic manner.
Imagine a country that stands 68th among 148 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) in terms of gender equality. Furthermore, imagine a country where only 26.7 percent of adult women have acquired a secondary or higher level of education in comparison to 42.4 percent of their male counterparts, and where women merely hold 14.2 percent of parliamentary seats. Last but not least, imagine a country where there is gross disparity between female and male participation in the labor force: 28.1 percent compared to 71.4!
Then against this background, imagine a country where the leaders suggest that women should bear at least three children, if not more! Imagine a country where text messages are sent to husbands or families of women providing information as to whether female patients are pregnant or not. In addition, imagine a country where state officials warned families to establish control over their daughters, as vividly observed in text messages sent by the Education Ministry to parents. State officials are also worried about the fact that girls and boys communicate with each other in the same groups. As a result, the Higher Education Credit and Dormitories Institution (Yurtkur) has decided that dormitories should be separated between girls and boys from now on, and that 16,000 female students should therefore move to new dormitories.
You would think that there is a serious mismatch between the existing problems that this country confronts and the policy suggestions advocated by their politicians and bureaucrats. We definitely agree. Unfortunately, this is the current situation with respect to gender equality and the policy prerogatives undertaken by leaders in Turkey. We believe that let alone serving as a panacea to existing grave situation in terms of the gender gap, these policy suggestions actually have the potential to deepen existing problems. We observe that the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) has taken an incentive to increase the population. Demographically, women seem to be assuming more of a burden in this scenario, with our Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asking women to have three children at least. With all the above-mentioned policy suggestions, it seems to us that the reproductive role of the woman is being used to keep “families together as one inseparable unit,” within a conservative logic that has actually always been embedded in the language of the government. We assess this conservative rhetoric as a reflection of the conservative projection of Turkish society, where a woman’s reproduction and the separation of the (role of) men and women are focal points.
In a country where female participation in the labor market is quite low compared to that of men,
“having three children at least” could cause women to be further restricted to the domestic space.
Unless there are kindergartens nearby or relatives to help, unless there is guarantee that women who take maternity leave will be able to find a job when they come back to work-life, the bearing of children could become one of the main mechanisms to keep women away from self-realization in the work place and self-flourishing in any space outside the home.
We believe that Turkey needs and deserves some more fruitful policy suggestions and concrete implementations of these policy suggestions to diminish the existing gross gender disparities and eliminate hurdles against girls’ participation in education and in the labor force. Furthermore, we believe that we need to assure the development of more equal dynamics and division of labor within the family, which would prevent the potential for unequal gender roles that attach entire responsibility to women as nothing more than bearers of their children.
Şahizer Samuk is a PhD student at the Department of Institutions, Politics and Policies, at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies. Mine Tafolar is a PhD candidate at the Government Department at the University of Texas, at Austin.