Quit work when married

Quit work when married

In Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s (anachronistically) “undemocratic” Turkey, women won the right to vote in municipal elections in 1930 and were granted full suffrage by a constitutional amendment on Dec. 5, 1934; 25 years earlier than Swiss women. Turkish women obtained 35 parliamentary seats in elections in 1935.

On the 77th anniversary of the merry event of 1934, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a formal message that pledged “an exemplary country where women take roles in all walks of life in a more efficient and participatory way.” Nice? Very nice. But the trouble is with facts and figures.

The gender inequality index prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2011 put Turkey to the 77th place out of 146 countries. According to the UNDP, only 9.1 percent of Turkish women hold parliamentary seats; 27.1 percent of adult women have a secondary or higher level of education, compared with 46.7 percent of their male counterparts; and female participation in the labor force is 24 percent compared to 69.6 percent for men. Moreover, Turkey is probably better known to the rest of the world for its habitual honor killings, rape stories, underage marriages and violence against women than its beaches, sunshine and kebabs.

This is not surprising at all in a country where the prime minister perpetually prescribes at least three children for every family. But of course, that is not the only explanation. Women’s suffrage was granted in Egypt in 1956; in Iran in 1963; in Iraq in 1980; in Jordan in 1974; in Morocco in 1963; in Oman in 2003; in Qatar in 1997; in Libya in 1964; in Tunisia in 1959; and in the United Arab Emirates in 2006. Saudi women do not yet enjoy that right.

Being an “exemplary country where women take roles in all walks of life in a more efficient and participatory way” is not about anniversary-day speeches by dignitaries. It is about the mental paradigm.

The findings of a 2011 survey by a team of academics from Istanbul’s Bahçesehir University revealed hints about the related Turkish mental paradigm: 33 percent of Turks think women deserve to be beaten; 60 percent (both male and female) think women should obey men and surprise, surprise, 81 percent identify themselves as religiously devout. A separate study in 2010 had found that 25 percent of Turks think it would amount to sinning if women and men worked in the same office.
Not enough to be pessimistic? Then you should try to understand the reality behind the household profiles of Turkey’s conservative rulers whom you might naively expect would make Turkey “an exemplary country where,” for instance, our first lady graduated from secondary school at 14 and married (President) Abdullah Gül when she was 15. She never worked.

I do not want to go into the stereotypical details of the professional careers of the lady members of the families of our esteemed prime minister and Cabinet members since they are boringly analogous and tell you one thing: for the pious mind, the only suitable profession for a female family member, even if she holds a degree from the world’s finest university, is housewifery.

A clear majority of such profiles sport the fancy “quit work when married,” with only a couple of ministerial wives in EU-candidate Turkey following professional careers. And simple logic would tell you that this cannot be an unpleasant coincidence.

I do not mean to be disrespectful about the private choices of Cabinet members or toward their spouses and children. Whether their wives and daughters should work or not is entirely their free choice, which no one has any right to approve or disapprove of.

My point is about the undeniable linkage between the choice to avoid work and piousness. And about the irony that the “liberal Muslims” publicly pledge to do what they meticulously avoid at home.