The way forward: True gender equality

07 Mar 2011

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Gender inequality is still a global epidemic. However, it is no longer acceptable to live in a world where young girls are taken out of school and forced into early marriage, where women’s employment opportunities are limited, and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality.

Shahid Najam
UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Turkey

Ankara (UN Turkey) - The neglect of women’s rights means the social and economic potential of half the population is underused. In order to tap this potential, our world must open up places for women in political leadership, in science and technology, and as heads of corporations.

To this end, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”.

Global figures testify that we must act fast and collectively if we want to create decent work opportunities for women and, thus make true gender equality a shared legacy of humanity in the 21st century. But the challenges are high.

Statistics confirm that gender gap is a global epidemic

  • Up to 70 percent of women are victims of violence during their lifetime.
  • Women make up nearly two thirds of the world’s 759 million illiterate adults.
  • Women dominate low-pay, low-status, part-time or contract work that offers limited opportunities for social security coverage. Even for similar kinds of work, women are typically paid 20-30 percent less than men.
  • At the tertiary level, women now dominate in some sub-fields of science, particularly life sciences and social sciences. Less progress has been made in engineering. In 2007, the global median share of female university students was 21 percent in engineering, manufacturing and construction.
  • Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.
  • Gender-based discrimination, trafficking in women and girls, integration difficulties, under-representation in politics, unequal access to resources, unequal employment strategies, and lack of access to basic services, are the key factors behind the unequal status of migrant women.
  • 49% Percentage of migrants worldwide who are women
  • Refugee women face several protection problems today such as safety and security; equal access to humanitarian assistance; registration and documentation; and procedures; and trafficking in women and girls.

In Turkey, although important achievements have been recorded, there are areas that still requires improvement

  • Comparing to labor force participation rate for men that was 70.4 as of November 2010, an estimated 27.5 per cent of women were in the labor force, which falls far behind the global average rate of 52 per cent.
  • Due to the prevalence of negative gender stereotypes based on social, economic and cultural barriers, women face serious difficulties entering and remaining in the labor market. This is clearly seen in the 19.6 non-agricultural unemployment rate for women, as of November 2010.
  • The adverse affects of the current economic and financial crisis have put women in an even more vulnerable position in the labor market. In the past few years, more women were forced into part-time and informal jobs, which in turn increased the marginalization of women workers in the labor market.
  • Gender wage differentials are particularly present in many occupations in the private sector. For example, male accountants earn up to 30 per cent more than women accountants.
  • Informal work is more widespread for women in all areas of the labour market. In 2010, 58 per cent of working women had no social protection whereas the share of women in vulnerable employment is 51.2 per cent at global level.
  • Women are mostly employed by the agriculture sector in rural areas and by the services sector in urban areas.
  • One out of three women in Turkey is a victim of violence during her lifetime.
  • Honor killings are serious crimes targeting mainly women.
  • In western parts of the country only 3.3 percent of births are delivered at home, whereas this figure increases to 27.3 percent in eastern regions.
  • According to the 2008 Turkish Demographic and Health Survey figures, in urban areas 5 percent of adolescent women between the ages of 15–19 bear children compared to 8.6 percent in rural areas.
  • The Millennium Development Goals Progress Report for Turkey highlights the existing structural inequalities; especially those related to geographical and social gender disparities, as remaining challenges for the achievement of MDGs. A key gap found is in the participation of women in decision making. The representation of women in politics at the parliamentary level is 9.1 percent (with only 50 seats held by women in the 550-member parliament) and that of local government is less than 2 percent.
  • The Gender Inequality Index (GII) reveals gender disparities in reproductive health, empowerment and labor market participation, with Turkey ranking 77th out of 138 countries.
  • According to the 2010 MDG Progress Report for Turkey, the country has almost reached the target of eliminating gender inequality in primary education. However the proportion of girls who are not taking up secondary education is noteworthy.

United Nations agencies in Turkey are working with the government and NGOs to empower women and for gender equality. 

  • FAO provides technical support in the gathering and analyzing of sex-disaggregated data for the agricultural and rural development sectors. It also raises awareness on the importance of gender, equity and decent rural employment issues for achieving food security and agricultural development.
  • ILO, in line with its policy on gender equality and in cooperation with the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) has implemented a pilot project for enhancing women employment in Turkey.
  • ILO, through several workshops and seminars promotes gender equality in the labour market.
  • IOM, as it enters its 21st year of operations in Turkey, continues efforts to uphold the human rights and dignity of migrant women. Key areas the IOM is moving forward with include advocating for gender sensitive migration policies, for sex disaggregated data on migration, and policy oriented research on the gender implications of migration.
  • UNDP and UN Women‘s recently developed Joint Program on Fostering an Enabling Environment for Gender Equality in Turkey, in cooperation with the gender equality machinery in Turkey, aims to strengthen an enabling institutional environment by providing targeted assistance to capacity development of duty bearers and rights holders.
  • UNDP’s Local Agenda 21 (LA-21) Programme has been implemented since 1997. The Women Councils, established in the scope of LA 21 Program, set the ground for the visibility of the women as the stakeholders of the communities. The women coalition established by the women councils has contributed to the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Committee in the Parliament.
  • In Turkey’s southeast Anatolia region, only 3 per cent of women are engaged in paid labor, Within the scope of the Project, Innovations for Women’s Empowerment in the GAP Region, UNDP and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) are supporting hundreds of women to become fashion entrepreneurs, through forming and owning their own cooperative.
  • UNFPA and UNDP, through a new joint programme in partnership with the Ministry of Interior, the Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and the Sabanci Foundation, is promoting gender equality at the local level. The programme will support dialogue building between local women’s NGOs and local administrations, to ensure women enjoy their human rights fully.
  • UNFPA’s another new initiative will increase involvement of young people in promoting gender equality and combating gender based violence.
  • UNHCR provides training for civil society, NGO staff, host-country border guards, police, military units and others who come into contact with refugees. UNHCR works with the Ministry of the Interior, other governmental institutions and NGOs to build the capacity of the national reception and Refugee Status Determination (RSD) system.
  • UNICEF led a drive to achieve gender parity in primary school enrollment by mobilizing families, school personnel and administrative authorities. The Girls’ Education Campaign has succeeded in reducing the number of out-of-school girls and the gender gap in primary education from 6.34 percent in 2002-2003 to 0.91 percent in 2008-2009. It also resulted in a significant increase in boys’ enrolment.
  • UNICEF’s catch-up education initiative is a second chance education porgramme for 10-14 year-old-children, who never enrolled or dropped out of primary school. As of November 2009, a total of 35,000 children – two thirds of them girls - were benefiting from the catch-up education programme introduced during the 2008-2009 school year.
  • United Nations Joint Programme “Growth with Decent Work for All: National Youth Employment Program and Pilot Implementation in Antalya”, which is implemented by UN agencies, FAO, ILO, IOM and UNDP in partnership with Turkish Employment Organization (İŞKUR), aims at reducing youth unemployment and increasing the participation of young women in the labor force. The UN Joint Programme launched at the end of 2009 and will end at the end of 2012.
  • With the aim of enhancing the international competitiveness of Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) and promoting decent work opportunities in the textile and clothing sector of Turkey, ILO, UNDP and UNIDO, in cooperation with İTKİB (İstanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters Association), has launched a Joint Programme on “Harnessing Sustainable Linkages for the SMEs in Turkey’s Textile Sector”.

The UN takes the lead to spur global progress in gender equality

As a result of the frustration with the slow pace of progress in gender equality globally, the UN General Assembly decided to merge four agencies to establish a new powerful unit, namely UN Women, to globally advocate women’s rights.

UN Women will help women have access to secondary education, good jobs, land and other assets. In return this will secure national growth and stability, lower maternal mortality, and improve child nutrition and greater food security all around the world.

In Turkey, all essential elements required to achieve the empowerment of women are present and at work -- a determined government, a strong private sector, effective NGOs and a vibrant media. And, the UN in Turkey will continue to combine forces with all parties involved to promote women’s rights in Turkey.

Historically, the world is at a point of great potential and change for women. Now, the world must seize and deliver on this opportunity.