Can Turkey create a new economic narrative without half the population?

Can Turkey create a new economic narrative without half the population?

Turkey needs to create a new economic narrative. Several problems, old and new, have been squeezing the basics of the country’s economy of late. In addition to escalating security concerns, problems in the judicial system and the media climate, as well as economic woes in Turkey’s oil-exporting markets, have worsened the situation. 

There is a lot to say about each of these problems, but let’s do that another time. There is another huge, largely ignored part of this story: The much smaller space given to women in Turkey, in all public fields, compared to that which is given to men. Turkey’s economic, political and social life will be no better than it was in the past unless solid and urgent solutions are found to improve gender equality conditions. 

Let me elaborate on the issue by using data, as there are many local and global figures that show just how bad the situation is. 

Although women account for 49.8 percent of Turkey’s population of around 78.7 million, the literacy rate for women is five times lower than it is for men, according to data released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) this week to mark March 8, International Women’s Day. This means there are around 4 million women in Turkey who cannot read or write. 

Besides this, the overall employment rate of the population aged 15 and above was 45.5 percent, but this rate was 64.8 percent for men and just 26.7 percent for women in 2014. The participation of women in the job market in Turkey is still much lower than the EU average, while female workers are paid lower than their male counterparts. 

The OECD countries with the lowest overall scores in gender equality are Turkey, Japan and South Korea, with Turkey seeing the lowest labor force participation, Japan the lowest share of women in parliament, and South Korea the largest gender wage gap.

With these figures, Turkey was ranked 130th among 145 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The latest global gender gap report revealed that Turkey was one the worst 15 performers in gender equality among 145 countries. 

Worse of all, throughout Turkey the proportion of married women or formerly married women who reported being subjected to physical violence during their lifetime was 35.5 percent in 2014, according to the Domestic Violence Against Women Survey conducted by the Family and Social Policies Ministry. Four out of every 10 women are subjected to physical violence in Turkey. At least 400 women were killed last year alone. 

Any progress in improving gender equality cannot be possible without a joint effort by individuals, public institutions, politicians and businesses. 

A working man can be a father, a working woman can be a mother, and both can manage all fields of life simultaneously. 

First of all, the above mentioned actors need to stop seeing women as a gender that either should stay at home and care for her children, or otherwise can be subjected to violence or even killed. 

Secondly, many businesses have talked about creating fair working conditions for women, but I wonder how many of them have a nursery center, or offer a paid maternity leave for their employees. 

Everyone needs to take responsibility here. 

After all, Turkey is unlikely to write a new economic (or any other) story without offering equal opportunities to its female citizens.