New Threats to Women’s Rights in Turkey

turkey women

Talking about diversity and gender equality is not always that simple. As a matter of facts, the concept is frequently a central subject in several debates; a high number of women – and men too surprisingly – claim that gender equality is a crucial value in modern society. It is receiving growing attention day after day, international companies are focusing on including the concept daily in their business agendas while facing global challenges. But these issues shouldn’t be addressed only for philanthropic reasons.

When it comes to reality, we realise that there are still plenty of places and countries in the world that are far beyond from being considered gender neutral; the lack in promotion of effective measures is affecting not only developing countries but also the developed ones. Although the latter have potentially better chances to implement concrete actions and reduce the gender gap, they often show problems in dealing with gender equality issues.

Turkey represents a perfect example of a developed country which is facing significant difficulties in overcoming the gender gap. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2015 published by the World Economic Forum, Turkey belongs to the final positions in the European and Central Asia Region; since 2011 it has improved its overall score but nevertheless it is still one of the lowest-performing among the OECD countries. In 2015 it is ranked 130 out of 145, while in 2014 it was 125 out of 142 countries computed in the index.

Just to be more precise, we should remember that the Global Gender Gap Index aims at measuring the gap between men and women considering four different fundamental categories: Economic participation and opportunity, Educational attainment, Health and Survival and Political empowerment. Turkey is scoring high on the education and health dimensions, while it runs low on the other two. Indeed, only 13% of legislators, senior officials and managers in Turkey are women and in addition, women in Parliament are just 18% if compared to the 82% of men.

Numbers give us evidence of the real discrimination of women in this country; to be honest, cities like Ankara and Istanbul hide better opportunities for women to study, exploit their abilities and break the so called glass-ceiling while building themselves a good career. But the recent events are seriously threatening all the rights that women have conquered and are still slowly trying to gain.

At the 2014 summit in Istanbul on justice for women, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood. Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood”. Moreover, Erdoğan claimed that women and men can’t be treated in the same way since “it goes against the laws of nature”. “You cannot make women work in the same jobs as men do”, he added. “You cannot give them a shovel and tell them to do their work. This is against their delicate nature.”

Depicting women as delicate, weak and fragile is a dangerous attitude. Limiting their role to motherhood has its critical consequences: the female labour-force participation rate is around 32% in Turkey today and the estimated earning income is far lower than the men’s one. The most common fear after the failed coup of Friday 15th is that the government’s suppression of several human rights will create a new obstacle to Turkey’s EU membership.

However, we should feel at least the same awareness for the side effects on Turkish women’s condition. The most conservative religious groups are now exhorting women to stay at home while men are supporting the government on the streets. The main concern is to witness a deep regression in female’s rights and to see primitive individuals repressing their freedom by taking advantage of a difficult political crisis.

Francesca Gradara

Women in Business_Bocconi Female Students Association