Decoding Pro-Family Policy in Turkey

(From Jan 9)
Turkey has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the workforce among OSCE nations, at just 26% of all of-age women. The number fluctuates a bit depending on what statistics you look at, and whether you count women working in agriculture or just female workers with contracts and wages, but regardless of the source it’s always low.

Despite having a host of other free or reduced-price social services, such as free education to university, heavily subsidized health care, and functioning pension funds, the state offers no public child care, which makes returning to work after childbirth a huge decision for most mothers. If they live in close proximity, retired relatives often look after children (which is partially how all of E’s female relatives have been able to pursue careers). But for women who don’t have that option, returning to work brings a financial burden.

The current party has proposed policy they claim will ease this burden on working women: all working mothers will work half time but receive full salary until their children reach five years of age (and enter state schools).
At face value this is a great policy – for those already employed, especially in government offices where they have limitless contracts. But if we actually look at this policy, it bodes terribly for women who want to enter the workforce or don’t currently have such contractual security. Unless the policy covers both mothers and fathers, private firms (which understandably wouldn’t want to lose profits by paying for absent workers) would reduce hiring women of child-bearing age. (On a related side-note: government offices are increasingly filled with loyal party members, which would ensure that working mothers would be disproportionally represented by members of the current – supposedly conservative, pro-staying-at-home – party). This would in turn effectively halve the incomes of families where both parents currently work, and make families fully reliant on adult male salaries, thus possibly diminishing women’s economic power. Obviously a policy that covers only women is also sexist – it assumes that, despite sexual equality granted in Turkey’s original constitution, child-rearing is ‘women’s work’, and not a responsibility in the realm of men, that men and women are fundamentally different and deserve differentiated legal preferences and protections.

This policy could still be good for women who wanted to work *if* it was accompanied by a stipulation that a certain percentage of all employees *at each pay level* be women (if the stipulation didn’t specify a quota for each pay level, women would most likely only be hired at lower pay-levels to mitigate the company’s financial loss when they took half-time), and neutral for companies if the government offered some financial compensation or incentive. But it’s fairly easy to see that paying two people to look after ten kids (or establishing large-scale preschools, either in neighborhoods or attached to workplaces) would be far more efficient and cost-effective than having all working mothers commute back and forth to work for half-time work days.

The true aim of this policy is to bar women from the workforce and force them to stay home and take care of children, which the current president has stated is the ‘natural occupation of women’. Regardless of how it’s packaged, this isn’t a woman-positive or pro-family policy. It’s meant to push the population into a mediocre middle class and keep women from larger participation in the workplace or civil society.
Apparently E’s relatives and I aren’t the only ones to come to this conclusion either. For further reading, see:
Bloomberg The world bank blog
And an earlier, rather jumbled piece with more labor statistics: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/women-employment-in-turkey-shows-high-rise-but-low.aspx?pageID=238&nID=58384&NewsCatID=347

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