Turkey neglecting women while trying to improve image
Barçın YinançTurkey’s government is continuing to neglect its women as it seeks to improve its image abroad following July’s attempted coup, according to the head of the Turkish Businesswomen’s Association (TİKAD).
“Women’s NGOs should have been present” in the delegations sent abroad, but they almost all consisted of men, Nilüfer Bulut said. “I favor equal representation.”
Women’s organizations were instrumental in forcing lawmakers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to withdraw a controversial bill on the sexual abuse of minors. What can you tell us about that specific experience? What have you learned from it?
First of all, if you were to ask me what made me happy, it was the fact that it was consolidated by faith in democracy, because non-governmental organizations can only survive and maintain a presence in democracies. We came forward as NGOs and said that the motion was not acceptable and that we would pursue this issue to the end. We were very happy to see this outcome.
We have seen that representatives of civil society are strong; we have seen that we can make ourselves heard and the fact that this whole thing resulted in the way we wanted gives me hope for the future.
Don’t you think that this whole episode has shown us that motions on women are being prepared without even soliciting the views of women? Even the female parliamentarians of the ruling party were resentful that the motion was prepared without even informing them.
This is indeed something I complain about a lot. You can see it in all aspects of life. Women’s views are not sought. This motion reflected a male-dominated mentality. When I met the justice minister, I told him: “I will ask just one question. How many women were there on that team that wrote that motion?” No woman could have written those sentences.
Some women’s NGOs would say that in its initial years, the AKP was more willing to listen to women’s NGOs and that it was more sensitive to women’s issues. Some of them feel that women’s empowerment has become less of a priority on the government’s agenda.
I can’t limit this issue to the current government. I have been actively working since 1995, and women’s problems have always been seen as secondary issues. But I have to say that several positive steps were taken during the initial years of AKP rule. There are still additional laws that are being endorsed – the law that enables part-time work for women who give birth, for instance. We said taking care of children should not be seen primarily as the duty of the mother and that fathers should also benefit from part-time work. And that’s how it was endorsed.
Some believe that the government is giving priority to increasing the population at the expense of having fewer women in the work force.
We do need a young population. I don’t see these [policies encouraging women to have more children] as something being forced upon women or as a policy that aims to imprison women in the house.
We need to develop policies that will foster an increase in the population, but we also need the presence of women in economic life.
But indeed, we do have a situation whereby women stop working after giving birth. That’s why I think governments should have specific laws on women that should also open their way in the economic life.
There is a recent law, for instance, that will go into force in pilot regions where the state will pay the wage for the childcare of working mothers.
Let’s talk more about the women’s solidarity that emerged during the campaign against the bill.
We were all people with different views. But we managed to get organized in one night and we realized our own power.
If they want, women can change a lot in Turkey. They have such power. That’s what we saw.
Some argue that it might not have ended like that had it not been for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intervention.
We would have pursued the issue until the end.
The motion has been withdrawn; what is your view; do you think the lawmakers have drawn the necessary lessons?
I think so. I don’t think a similar motion will be introduced again. I think men will no longer scribble something on their own on issues pertaining to women.
What was the key to success, and what would you recommend to women in other countries?
Women can bring about change if they are organized. Sometimes we women cannot manage to get organized. This time, however, all women’s NGOs were there. We were there, KAGİDER [Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey], KADER [The Association to Support and Train Women Candidates] were there and KADEM [The Women and Democracy Association], which is known to be closer to the government, was there, too. Having all the NGOs from different views was very influential. Joining forces brought success.
Some said that the reaction of conservative women played an important role. There is a general conviction or a prejudice that conservative women are usually more silent on women’s issues, but this time, they raised their voice, too.
I don’t accept the notion that conservative women are not present in the women’s movement. They are very educated and they work in a much more organized way than the women some might define as more modern. Women’s organizations have an important role in the success of the AKP. Conservative women raise their voice for women’s rights.
But indeed in the latest incident, there was such a perception. Some say the president would not have listened had it not been for conservative women.
The presence of conservative women was obviously influential but it would be unfair to other women NGOs to attribute the outcome to their presence.
They could have failed if they had been left alone.
What do you think as a businesswoman about the recent economic developments?
Turkey is experiencing difficult days. But this is not just about Turkey. The existence of the European Union is being questioned by Europeans just as Turkey is trying to enter the EU, for instance. What we need is to develop realistic policies while maintaining our unity. I just attended a meeting prior to our interview and as the business world, we see a significant brain drain; that’s a big risk for Turkey. So we need to maintain our unity. We need to develop complementary policies together with the government, the business community and civil society. And we need to have a common language.
What do you mean by that? Are you for instance referring to debates about turning our back on the EU and entering the Shanghai Five?
We need to decide what we really want. If we don’t want the EU, then let’s abolish the EU Ministry and look forward and see what we should do. But we need to have a common understanding. We need clear and serious policies to increase investment, to move toward a productive economy.
What do you think about Turkey’s relations with the EU?
I dream of a country that has endorsed, by itself, EU norms like human rights, freedoms, democracy, rule of law and a country that is integrated in the world, the West and the East.
What should be the role of women in this endeavor?
Following the July 15 coup attempt, delegations were formed to send abroad to explain developments in Turkey. These delegations were again made up of men. There were a few women among them, but women were not represented on an equal footing. Some reacted to me when I said that, but I will insist on saying it. I favor equal representation. Women’s NGOs should have been present in these delegations.
Who is Nilüfer Bulut?
After receiving her master’s degree in economics from Istanbul University, Nilüfer Bulut started a career in the finance sector. She developed her career as an entrepreneur by founding an advertisement and management consultancy in 1995.
Bulut founded the Turkish Businesswomen’s Association (TİKAD) in 2004 and has been an active participant in forums to empower women.
In 2005, she hosted the World Businesswomen’s Summit in Istanbul, with the attendance of the wives of male world leaders. In 2006, she became one of the 11 founding members of the Network of Entrepreneurial Women Worldwide (NEWW). One year later, she received the Outstanding Service Award of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
She organized the We Are All Mothers Conference in Istanbul in 2009 with the attendance of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in order to draw attention to international terrorism. In 2013, she was one of the organizers together with Georgetown University for an international conference on The Role of Businesswomen in Peace and Development in Washington.
In 2015, she received the World Women’s Leadership Award in India.