Gender equality and Turkey’s 2023 goals

Gender equality and Turkey’s 2023 goals

Emine Bozkurt
2023 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. The symbolism of this date has led to 2023 being set as the “deadline” for many financial, political, and social targets. However, any growth needs to be social for it to be sustainable.

The fundamental question is how to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate violence against women. As long as violence against women is widespread and accepted, there can be no genuine mention of gender equality. The Law on the Protection of Family and the Prevention of Violence against Women has brought major improvements to the protection system. It is of utmost importance that the authorities are very well aware of this new system. For this reason, training should be provided for police officers, prosecutors, judges, and health personnel. Unfortunately, it is still very common for police officers not to take the complaints of women seriously when it comes to domestic violence. 

A zero-tolerance policy toward violence against women is needed – one which encompasses effective measures against honor killings, including research to be conducted on female suicides. 

Turkey has managed to increase the participation of girls in primary education to a level where the gender gap is virtually closed. However, the government should also ensure that girls stay within the formal education system. Since Turkey has reorganized its education system into one that consists of different blocks, it is important that the government ensures that the new system does not lead to girls dropping out of school. 

Female participation in the labor market is currently at 30.2 percent, while male participation is 70.8 percent. This gap is acceptable neither from a gender equality perspective nor from an economic perspective. A country that aims to be among the top-10 economies of the world in 2023 needs to mobilize the entirety of its human potential. A comprehensive approach is needed, which includes measures to ensure better working conditions, equal pay for equal work, lifelong learning, flexible work schedules and a fair balance between family life and work. Efforts to ensure better working conditions should encompass measures to combat all forms of discrimination in the workplace, including gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and benefits. 

When it comes to the political participation of women, the steady increase in the number of female MPs in Turkey is encouraging. However, it is not taking place at a pace quick enough to ensure gender equality in the Parliament any time soon. There can be no real democracy if half of the population is being represented by such a small percentage. 2014 will be the year of local elections in Turkey. It is important that political parties adopt a gender-equality approach while forming their lists. In order to prepare women as candidates for the upcoming elections, work has to start today. 

Even though the first step in improving women’s rights is adopting legislation that ensures gender equality, it is a grave danger that this equality may be destined to remain on paper. In Turkey, the main obstacle in the way of achieving gender equality has never been the legislation, it has been the patriarchal mentality. 

The real question is how to transform the male-oriented system into one that is based on equality. 
In achieving this, the role of the media cannot be emphasized enough. Gender bias in the media strengthens stereotypes and normalizes violence against women. Media organizations must take responsibility for changing their approach. 

There can be no accession to the EU for Turkey unless women’s rights are guaranteed. To ensure this, women’s rights should be placed at the center of accession negotiations. 

Emine Bozkurt has been a member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands since 2004. She is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on women’s rights in Turkey. This abridged article was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ).