We all display selfish pragmatism on gender equality in Turkey

We all display selfish pragmatism on gender equality in Turkey

“My husband does not want me to work,” the wife of a religiously conservative man complained to her psychologist. “He insisted I see a women psychologist,” she added. Then as the psychologist raised her eyebrow she realized her husband’s inner contradiction: A pious man who disapproves of women working but insists on his wife seeing only a woman professional! 

The pious conservative segments of society, especially those in urban areas, often live with such contradictions but they are not always aware of it. I came across such a case at a credit-signing ceremony last week between the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Industrial Development Bank of Turkey (TSKB).

The AFD, which is active in 90 countries, has been active in Turkey since 2005. To this day it has provided 2.2 billion euros in financing to 44 projects. It says its strategy in Turkey is to strengthen the French-Turkish partnership on climate and environmental issues. 

However, the AFD has taken a strategic decision on being active in the empowerment of women and providing equality between men and women. At least half of the projects financed by the AFD have to focus on women’s issues or gender equality.

When you look at the AFD’s performance in Turkey, renewable energy and energy efficiency, sustainable urban development and forestry and climate have been the main areas of focus.

It is therefore very encouraging to see that the AFD has agreed to provide the TSKB with financing of 100 million euros to support “women-friendly” companies’ investment projects in line with sustainable criteria. While women’s empowerment was an indirect component of previous projects, this is the first time the AFD has provided direct financing on women’s empowerment. 

Muriel Domenach, the predecessor of the current French Consul-General in Istanbul Bertrand Buchwalter, as a woman diplomat spearheaded several initiatives on women’s issues. I am sure she played an important role in diverting the AFD’s focus on women’s empowerment projects in line with its mandate. 

Domenach would have been happy to hear that companies who set goals to increase women’s employment and equal opportunities will benefit from loans of up to 8 million euros thanks to the agreement signed between the AFD and the TSKB. 

The signing ceremony provided an opportunity for “women-friendly” companies to share their experiences at panels organized to mark the event. One of them was the Betek paint company, which is active in a rather male-dominant sector. The search to answer the question, “How can we make a difference?” ended with a project to encourage women to become painters.

In cooperation with the Family and Social Affairs Ministry, 400 women received professional training in several cities over the course of last year and started to work recently. There is no shortage of interest in their abilities. Women painters are high in demand, and part of that demand comes from conservative families.

As women often stay at home, I assume that conservative households feel more secure having a woman paint their homes while the husband is away at work. But I wonder what kind of effect a professional woman creates working in a conservative household. Would that same family let their daughter become a painter and go to “foreign” households to paint? I would not be surprised if some would say that although they prefer to have a woman painter at home, they would not let their daughter do the same. 

But let’s be frank. Conservatives are not the only ones approaching the issue with a selfish pragmatism.

Some CEOs complain that they want to employ women in high positions but they cannot find the right candidate. That is an easy way to dodge the issue. Where there is a will there is a way. “When I was told by HR that there were no appropriate woman candidates for high-level positions, I said ‘OK, I’ll wait until you find one.’ They found her within a week,” said one CEO in an anecdote recounted by one of the panelists at the credit-signing ceremony.

Even those women who you might think would be the most sensitive to gender equality issues display selfish pragmatism. You may hear a lot of women severely criticizing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for saying women should prioritize motherhood over having a career. But if you ask these women where they work, they tell you that they quit working after giving birth to their child or after getting married. And they won’t add that they were too lazy to go back to work even after their children have grown up!