A nation of women

A nation of women

“Anadolu” (Anatolia) may very well be the “land of mothers,” but as Turkey finds its place as a global leader, it needs to become a nation of women. According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report released this week, it has a long way to go. 

Though it is ranked the 16th largest economy in the world, with an astonishing growth record, Turkey ranks 122 out of 135 countries when it comes to male-female disparity.

Much of the disparity gap is a result of Turkish women being under-represented in the labor force and in politics. Men make up 74 percent of the Turkish workforce, compared to only 26 for women. In Ankara, Turkey’s Parliament is dominated by men. Eighty-six percent of Turkey’s legislature is male with the remainder comprised of women. Female representation in government ministries is even worse with only 8 percent of those positions being filled by a woman.

So it would seem that increasing the number of women at work or in Turkish politics would solve the problem. Not quite. The kinds of jobs and positions women fill are critical. Merely having women in the workforce or in Parliament without true power to add value, make contributions and extend influence is useless. Ensuring that Turkish women have an equal say in the governance and development of their country requires the empowerment of girls. 

For the past week I’ve been researching answers to challenges facing Turkish education, particularly when it comes to girls. With statistics that show that here is at least a 25 percent drop-off in the number of girls attending secondary school and then a considerable drop-off when it comes to college, there is clearly an issue. Yet, when looking for resources and explanations as to why, I only came across tons of information about girls in Africa.

In many African countries, girls drop out of school after the first five years for a variety of reasons. The most pressing was because their families can’t afford to pay tuition and other educational expenses such as books. This is a problem in Turkey as well. 

A bigger problem in Turkey is cultural. Girls are forced to drop out of school after the fifth grade because there are societal expectations and pressure for her to remain chaste and marry. This is exactly why my grandmother was illiterate. 

My late grandmother wasn’t allowed to attend school. Her parents didn’t see what she could do with education other than “write boys love letters.” When my grandfather suddenly passed away in his 30s, leaving her with two young daughters, that was a problem. She couldn’t find a proper job and was forced to take jobs as a cleaning woman. Even then she suffered the stigmatism of being a single working woman.

Turkey needs to shatter these gender perceptions. Ensuring girls stay in school beyond their primary years is a start. The United Nations and World Bank have shown that a girl receiving a secondary education decreases poverty and improves health and living standards. It allows them to realize their potential and become a productive member of society. It also allows them to become productive partners, not just to potential spouses, but to entrepreneurs starting ventures, politicians working in communities and boards leading corporations. 

As Turkey is a place that is still associated with honor killings and violence against women, educating girls is critical to the country’s overall progress and standing as a global leader. But, it is just a start. More needs to be done to empower girls so that they can realize their potential.

This week the Turkish Philanthropy Funds will host a Twitter discussion about this issue in order to find answers. Please join us with your views and ideas on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 2 p.m. EST/9 p.m. Turkish time. We’re looking to hash out practical steps for girls’ empowerment in Turkey and close the country’s gender gap.