Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lack of progress on women's rights in Turkey?

Today the Turkish Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will present its sixth report, which will summarize its progress over the past five years towards achieving, well, their name. The meeting will be at the UN in New York, which makes me suspect they will emphasize the few gains (such as possible increases in girls' school enrollment).

In advance of that meeting, a coalition of 20 women's organizations has released their own report, stating little to no progress has been made in the past 5 years. The main points:
  • Conservative gender roles continue, and statements by top officials have only supported them. Prime Minister Erdogan has lately taken to telling every married young woman he meets "have at least three babies!" to prevent the Turkish work force from shrinking. Child rearing is apparently the highest aspiration Turkey's leader has for its young women.

  • Not only is female labor force participation low, but it has been declining since 2005. The report notes that the Turkish employment agency İş-Kur has done nothing to promote female employment despite stated goals of increasing female labor force participation (FLFP) to almost 30% by 2013. This is an issue I have been doing background research on, and hopefully a future priority for TEPAV, which can play a special role thanks to its strong connections with Turkish industry leaders. TEPAV was founded by TOBB, the Turkish chamber of commerce, and is just launching a large, high profile project with İş-Kur to retrain unemployed people in strategic sectors. So to grow more engaged in this, to actually create change, the next step for TEPAV would be to work with the relevant agencies, chambers and NGOs to design, implement, and evaluate programs to increase FLFP.

  • Domestic violence is widespread. A survey from last year shows 39% of women are "affected by domestic violence," which I assume means directly and indirectly, though I can't find the original report. It is clear that the government response has been inadequate; rhetoric and legislation without action. A 2005 law required every municipality with a population of 50,000 (164 by my count) to establish a women's shelter, to date only 52 have. The problem - no funding - this was simply an unfunded mandate, designed to make the government look good while doing nothing. A further consequence is that 42% of women were unaware that the law protected them from domestic violence.

  • Social services - family planning only targets women, women must have consent from their husband to have an abortion, and women are somewhat dependent on husbands or fathers to receive free health care.

  • There are too few women in the media - aside from the attractive women on screen, it's mostly a men's club.
So what can be done? Personally, I'm less interested in advocacy, though of course I see the role for it. The symptoms and perhaps some of the causes are pretty clear, and Turkish society is aware of them. I'm more interested in actively discovering solutions to some of these problems, especially female employment, with the perhaps naive view that this has the potential to empower and combat traditional discriminatory gender roles. So the next step for TEPAV will be, as I mentioned above, to work with the right partners to begin the learning cycle of design, implement, evaluate...

A final point - it seems mainly "women's organizations" are working on women's rights issues in Turkey, which I would guess is the norm around the world. The problem in Turkey is that it is too easy for men to dismiss these organizations as pastimes for the wives of rich men or outlets for angry feminists, even when they are doing good research, advocacy or service provision. In a policy environment where men hold most of the power, what can be the catalyst for change? I argue that on issues such as female employment, it will take an organization such as TEPAV, which powerful men cannot dismiss so easily.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, no response on my controversial last point. I guess no one read it, or found it worthy of comment.

    I of course overlooked an obvious channel of change through building a movement, which many of the women's orgs are doing. Bottom up vs. top down. Which will ultimately be more effective? There is far more potential for changing people's attitudes than I realized: 42% of women think domestic violence can be justifiable. But my instinct is that this is not an either or question, that perhaps change can be accelerated through a grassroots movement AND influencing the powerful, even if they happen to be men. Though there must be thousands doctoral theses and books on the topic...