Turkey need affirmative gender policies

01 Apr 2010


“In the fifteen years since 1995, despite genuine progress on many fronts, overall advancement toward gender equality and women's empowerment has been uneven and slow. Women’s political participation is rising too slowly, women remain more vulnerable on the job front, and maternal mortality rates remain unacceptably high in many regions.” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in her statement for International Women’s Day on 8 March 2010 calling for equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all.

New Horizons - Ten years into the millennium with only five more to go in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, women in the world are far from having equal rights or opportunities, hindering human development and progress. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic, while little way has been made in reducing maternal mortality rates. Out-of-school girls accounted for 55 per cent of the 75 million primary-age children not in school in 2006. Illiteracy remains a serious constraint for women, who continue to account for nearly two-thirds of the 776 million illiterate adults in the world.

Despite substantial improvement in the status of women over the past decade in the Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (ECIS) region, encompassing Turkey as well as 27 countries in central and eastern Europe and central Asia, no country has achieved gender balance in high level decision-making bodies.

Turkey in the Regional Report

Although an emerging economic leader with a progressive women’s movement, Turkey’s situation is particularly alarming, suggests UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS Region’s (RBEC) report titled “Enhancing Women’s Political Participation” launched on 8 March 2010. The country’s traditional social and economic structures continue to restrict women’s active participation in politics as well as hinder the growth of women in both local and national assemblies. In Turkey, women face serious difficulties entering and remaining in the labour market due to the prevalence of negative gender stereotypes that create social and economic barriers for women. This is clearly seen in the 20.8% rate of non-agricultural unemployment rate for December 2009. Women are also more likely than men to have low-paid, unsecured, low-status and vulnerable jobs. Today, 70 percent of women living in rural areas throughout Turkey remain unpaid family workers. In 2009, 59 percent of working women across the country had no social protection.

Men Earn Three Times As Much As Women

According to the report, Turkey continually ranks lowest in the region in economic indicators such as the gender income gap* with where women earn only 28% compared to men. The fact that men earn three times as much as women in Turkey is cause for concern especially when neighbouring countries such as Georgia and Armenia, as well as countries with similar economies like Macedonia and Albania all have smaller gender income gaps. In Armenia, for instance, the ratio of estimated female to male income is almost twice that of Turkey at 55%, while the Russian Federation’s ratio stands at 63% and Azerbaijan at 66%. The situation in EU’s most recent member states, Bulgaria and Romania is also far better than in Turkey. Women in Bulgaria earn 66% of what men earn. Romania fares even better with the second highest ranking country in the region with a ratio of 70%.Lithuania is the highest ranking country, with a 72% income gap ratio that is nearly three times the figure in Turkey.

Highlighting that equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes is a democratic and economic necessity “Enhancing Women’s Political Participation” presents a set of pragmatic recommendations that will enable policy makers to promote greater participation of women in governance. Although the policy report underlines Turkey’s recent achievements in the field of gender equality during the past decade, it also paints a bleak picture of the long road ahead to adopt more comprehensive and effective measures to increase women’s participation in politics.

Based on the evidence and regional data collected and analysed through the six national roundtables in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Turkey, and Ukraine and the subsequent culminating regional conference in İstanbul in 2008, the policy note sets forth policy and action options in three areas: legal and institutional frameworks to promote women’s political participation; mechanisms and strategies to enhance participation, and partnerships with civil society organizations and the media to support women’s participation in politics. With these recommendations, the policy note proposes to remove barriers in increasing women’s participation and representation in formal politics, assist women in becoming effective political actors, ensure that governments are accountable to women and mainstream gender equality and social inclusion in all policies.

With regards to strengthening legal and institutional frameworks to promote women’s political participation the policy note proposes harmonizing national laws with Gender Equality Laws, international standards promoting and advancing gender equality, as well as implementing the recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against women ((CEDAW). The policy note further argues that a strong and active public and civil society remains a precondition for holding governments accountable to national gender equality legislation. On 22 November 2001, the Turkish Parliament ratified a new Civil Code replacing the 1926 Civil Code which subordinated women to the family and fuelled a movement to change discriminatory provisions. This new Civil Code introduced many changes regarding the status of women in the family. In May 2004, Turkey passed amendments to the Constitution which provide for equality of women and men (Act No.5170). Guarantees against discrimination are also codified in other laws. Provisions on gender equality related to family law, maternal health, child care, discrimination, labour laws, minimum wages, honour killings and gender-based violence were passed. According to the policy note, physical and psychological violence ranging from hindering women’s efforts to carry out their official duties, or silencing women to harassment by the media and sexual assault can undermine women’s ability to enter or stay in politics. The Family Research Institute in Turkey has stated that domestic abuse is one of the most common forms of violence against women in the country. The new Turkish Criminal Code has incorporated modern provisions for gender equality and violence against women. As a result, a parliamentary commission in 2005 was formed to investigate the causes of honour killings and of violence against women and children, and to identify what responses were required. Despite such developments, Turkey is still hesitant in taking affirmative action to ensure gender equality such as the introduction of a gender quota system as a temporary measure to increase the number of women in the parliament, in municipal bodies and at higher levels in the Foreign Service.

Turkey has done well in the area of forming alliances of women across country lines, which the policy note presents as strategy in some countries of the region to increase women’s political participation- often with support and input from civil society organizations. In Turkey, the women’s movement has worked to establish a network of women across party lines. This has led to the creation of the Equal Opportunities Commission in parliament in 2009. In a similar context, an important force for change, particularly in the beginning, the Parliamentary Group of Women in Poland formed in 1991, has become less visible, gradually distancing itself from civil society organizations and lost its reputation as being above the political fray, according to some experts.

Though advances towards enhancing women’s participation have been made in all countries within the ECIS region, greater participation of women in parliament and other decision-making bodies, together with their strong representation in civil society organizations, are needed to ensure government accountability to gender equality legislation.

“Enhancing Women’s Political Participation” lists quotas, proportional representation, the formation of women’s political parties, the creation of women’s party sections, and the fostering of alliances across parties as important mechanisms and strategies in promoting women’s political participation. Among the examples provided from Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Ukraine, Turkey is the only country in the without a quota system in place. In comparison, a quota system was established in Bosnia and Herzegovina over 10 years ago. Drawing attention to the fact that there are many women party members, but few are able to move into positions of power, the policy note ties this to the argument that in many cases, parties recruit women especially during elections campaigns, and limit them to organizational work. This, in turn, creates the impression that women have little political knowledge, experience or skills and generates an unfavourable environment for women’s political participation and gender equality. A public perception survey conducted in Turkey among members of political parties and parliaments within the context of a project on Enhancing Women’s Participation in Local Politics and Decision Making conducted with citizens before the 2007 general elections underlined the difficulty of promoting women to positions of responsibility due to the existing stereotypical gender roles. Instead, the survey showed the roles given to women politicians replicated those they held at home and in their communities. 82 percent of respondents said they would like the number of women politicians to rise, while 77 percent said the most important reason why women are represented at a low level in politics is that ‘women are not given a chance’. The policy note advises that to ensure better representation of women’s in parties, the male-dominated political culture needs to change by introducing appropriate measures and policies such as political party quotas, funding and capacity building for women candidates and women political party members.

Finally the report underlines the role of civil society organizations throughout the region in supporting women’s political agendas and women’s campaigns and in producing strong women candidates, in providing opportunities for networking, support and financial assistance and in developing women’s capacities to support gender-sensitive policies. According to policy note, the diverse profile of civil society organizations in Turkey reflects the country’s complex makeup, which includes both women’s groups dealing with sexuality to conservative groups, promoting traditional gender roles. The report points to the importance of civil society organizations in the country during the last general elections in 2007, where the solidarity among women working for NGOs and women’s movement organizations in reaching out to women in political parties helped to increase women’s political representation at the national level. Highlighting The Women’s Coalition - a network of women activists, consisting of independent civil society organizations and women’s rights experts, – as key to these efforts, the policy note points out that political parties and civil society organizations worked together to double women’s parliamentary presence to 9.1 percent in the 2007 elections. The election campaign led by KADER, a civil society organization drawing on other civil society groups and the international community and media, was able to raise crucial support for women candidates. Civil society organizations operating in different areas before the elections made women’s political representation a common focus. They formed the Women’s Coalition, which monitored political parties’ behaviour towards women candidates and produced a report entitled Card of Political Parties. Women’s groups also campaigned at the local level with other civil society groups. For example, the Local Agenda 21 Women’s Assemblies conducted a quota campaign. All these activities put pressure on political parties to include more women in their lists of candidates and eventually more women in politics.

Similarly the ‘moustache campaign’ led by KADER, very successfully used the media to ask the public: ‘Does one need to be a man to be elected to parliament?’ For the first time, due to the media’s focus on the moustache campaign, all levels of society debated the question of women’s political participation is presented as a good example to the critical role of the media in influencing public opinion to achieve better coverage of women’s politics in improving women’s election chances.

In order to overcome certain barriers presented in each of the three fields, the policy note details policy recommendations to increase women’s participation and representation in politics, help women become effective political actors, maximize governmental accountability to women and mainstream governance, gender and social inclusion into all governmental policies. “Enhancing Women’s Political Participation” also provides a list of on-line resources with links to UNDP publications and other UN and institutional publications and websites working on expanding women’s political participation, both regionally and globally.

Providing a comparative analysis of results gathered from different regions, the report not only presents policy guidelines for policy makers in Turkey but may also be beneficial in understanding the reasons behind Turkey’s comparatively low standing in gender related human development indices.

Table 2: Economic Status of Women According to OECD Gender, Institutions and Development Database 2009(GID-DB)