Chick-nomics: Arbeit macht frei!

Chick-nomics: Arbeit macht frei!

The sheer number of news articles and columns on International Women’s Day seems to highlight women’s woes in Turkey.

To “prove” my point, I downloaded a March 8 newspaper from each of the 71 countries in Pressdisplay’s newspaper depository whose language I could (sort of) speak and counted the women-related pieces in each- no, I am not a protocol droid like C-3PO, but French and Spanish alone let you cover three continents, and many countries have an English-language daily. I then adjusted for the number of pages in each newspaper. With an article per page ratio of 1/3, our sister daily Radikal simply blew away the competition! 

Graphing these “normalized women’s article” figures against World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) rankings yielded a negative relationship, although there were several outliers like Saudi Arabia: While the country has the privilege of being one of the handful below Turkey, ranked 122 out of 135 in the GGGR, there was only one piece in the Saudi Gazette. Maybe, I should have controlled for democracy and strength of the press. 

The papers had so much to write about because it was certainly a busy Women’s Day in Turkey: In addition to several other events, Sabancı Chairman Güler Sabancı spoke at a U.N. conference on gender equality, Ukrainian activists FEMEN were in Istanbul for their trademark topless protest, and last but definitely not least, lawmakers passed a bill to curb violence against women. 

In fact, with daily Milliyet reporting on the results of a survey and Ankara think-tank USAK releasing an extensive report on the topic, violence against women was the most popular subject on Thursday, and for good reason: All the different surveys find that around 40 percent of Turkish women have been subject to violence. Turkey is number nine, among 47 countries, in the wife-beater rankings in the United Nations World’s Women 2010 report.

Another popular topic in Thursday’s papers was women’s role in business. While I have written about the low labor force participation rate of Turkish women, Turkey does not fare that badly in terms of the ratio of women managers, according to a recent survey from Grant Thornton. Their 31 percent figure seems based on more institutionalized firms, as the official number is 21 percent, and only 7 percent for small businesses. Perhaps this suggests that women’s labor market issues should be discussed along with the informality and small size of Turkish firms. 

More interestingly, these two seemingly- unrelated women’s problems may be connected. In a recent note, Istanbul think-tank Betam’s researchers show that working makes a woman less likely to be subject to violence, even after controlling for education, spouse’s education and age. 

As Gökçe Uysal, one of the authors, explained to me, over woman’s thigh meatballs (the literal translation of a Turkish croquette dish) at Bahçeşehir University, this is all about outside options. A man is less likely to beat his wife if she has the means to leave him- even if she does not explicitly threaten to do so. 

So by getting women into the labor force, we may be hitting two birds (no pun intended) with one stone.