Send the fathers home

Send the fathers home

“What to do with women” has always been the grand Turkish question. What to let them wear, where to let them go, to what extent…

Reddite ergo quae sunt Caesaris, Caesari; Erdoğan urging families to have at least three children is not simply a vulgar ideological demand. There is math behind it.  According to Turkish Statistics Institute, Turkey’s birth rate is decreasing. The median age in Turkey is 30 from 2014 and on. Turkey is no longer a country that has a young generation; Turkey is instead becoming a middle-aged country. The numbers indicate that Turkey could share the destiny of Western Europe soon; a large older population living off pensions and a lack of a working younger population to pay taxes. So at that point, the solution is simple: Young couples should “work harder” to become the young working generation who will be paying taxes, spinning the wheels for the economy. But then a second question arises: who will take the burden of looking after three children at home and how? Here comes ideology in action. 

Like any nationalist movement, Turkish nationalism places women as the symbol of the regime. Kemalism defined women primarily to be mothers, giving birth to the new “ideal” generation. But the young Turkish republic also aimed at the visibility of women in social life and in the work force (at least to some extent) with their “brand new look:” without headscarves, in Westernized dress. Kemalist Republic took pride in the new generation of women, working at schools as teachers or as nurses in hospitals. Only there was “the format” that women had to comply with.

Islamism in Turkey fought for the borders of the format. The Islamist movement fought for visibility of women in the public space also but this time with headscarves. Even the Justice and Development Party (AKP) owes most of its popularity to this struggle. Women preferring Islamic outfits demanded the same rights as their fellow sisters. It took women with headscarves literally years to be able to work as civil servants even after the AKP came to power. 

Now women with any kind of outfits are visible in the public sphere and can work in any position they wish. However, the devil is in the details.

A draft bill is in the parliament this week. To be honest, the draft sounds tempting at first. When a mother gives birth for the first time, she will have the right to choose working part-time for two months. With the birth of the second infant, the time will increase to four months, and with the third infant, to six months. Mothers will be working part-time but will be paid like they are working full-time. 

Existing laws allow for 18 weeks of maternity leave. Last year, 24 weeks of maternity leave was discussed but the government put that draft aside, worrying that too long of a maternity leave would leave women out of the work force.  Now, it seems that the government has found a middle way with this new draft. Women will not be working whole day; instead, they will be spending half of their working hours at home with their kids. However, how this will not leave women out of the work force is a serious question. Who would want to employ a woman who may spend most of her working hours at home with three kids but still be paid for a whole working day?

The dilemma is simple. If the Turkish economy needs babies, there will also be the need for baby sitters. At the end of the day, somebody has to take care of the three children the government demands. Politicians are discussing formulas for women that would let them mother their children and exist in the work force too. But nobody is discussing the situation of fathers. Maternity leaves last for weeks but paternity leave lasts just for a week.

We have been discussing femininity for over two centuries. I think it is high time we start discussing masculinity in Turkey. Paternity probably needs a new definition. Why wouldn’t fathers take the burden of taking care of infants at home, while mothers are struggling in the professional life? Maternity leave could be divided between mother and father to provide an equal opportunity for all sexes.