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GTE Question of the Month, December 2014


Turkey today ranks 125th of 142 nations in the WEF's Gender Gap Index, in comparison to 105th of 115 nations in 2006. What explains Turkey's growing gender inequality?

Meltem Müftüler-Baç

Gender equality in Turkey has always been problematic. Yet recent years have turned out to be particularly disturbing. First, we have witnessed an explosion of domestic violence against women, with an increase in the number of murders. Second, women’s participation in labor markets and the political realm has steadily declined. The rhetoric of public officials condemns gender equality and targets feminists, while government policies increasingly keep women in their homes and encourage their role as homemakers and child-bearers. These developments, in turn, add up to portray a situation in Turkey where gender-based discrimination is rampant.

(Meltem Müftüler-Baç is Professor of International Relations and Jean Monnet Chair at Sabanci University, Istanbul)

Senem Aydın Düzgit

Turkey’s growing gender inequality can be explained by the perpetuation and worsening of existing patriarchal hurdles and institutional obstacles in the way of women’s rights by the policies of a conservative government. This government is inspired by a worldview in which women’s primary role is located in the ‘family,’ with a minimal presence in the social, economic and political life of the country. This worldview, in turn, lends itself to complacency and even resistance to the struggle against the dominant dynamics of gender inequality, resulting in women’s low participation in the workforce, their minimal representation in political life and high rates of domestic violence. Thus, while Turkey advances in certain global indicators such as the Human Development Index, its track record in gender equality paradoxically worsens.

(Senem Aydın Düzgit is Assistant Professor at the Istanbul Bilgi University and Senior Research Affiliate of the Istanbul Policy Centre (IPC))

Daniela Huber

In the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, Turkey does not only rank last in all categories in comparison to its OECD peers, but is also among the laggards in the upper-middle income group. While it ranks at the top in terms of health and has lower-middle scores in terms of education (specifically in primary education, less in secondary), it lags behind significantly in terms of political participation (ranking 113 out of 145) and economic participation particularly (ranking 132 out of 145). The labor force participation rate was at 29 percent in 2012 according to World Bank data, and the ratio for wage equality for similar work is currently at 62 percent. Hence, Turkey is at a crossroads. It can either decide to seriously address this inequality and continue its economic growth path, and thus also boost its role as an economic and political model in the neighborhood; or it can engage in cheap rhetoric against gender equality, remain stuck in the category of middle income countries, and risk losing its regional leadership role to faster progressing neighbors in both the Asian and Arab neighborhoods.

(Daniela Huber is Researcher at the Istituto Affari Internazionali)

Sinan Ekim

To answer this question, we first need to tease out the composition of those factions that are voicing their discontent against what they claim to be the government’s preferential treatment towards its male citizens. An overwhelming number of these protestors are Kemalists, and are unenthusiastic about the foisting of a regime that has strayed away from the principles of Kemalist social and political thought. As the conservative cadres moved into key positions within civil society, the social environment has correlatively become more conservative. Subscribing to an orthodox worldview, the so-called foot soldiers of the AKP promote traditional roles for women that restrict their engagement within the public sphere and exert control over their moral choices – propagating patriarchal values that have come to be associated with an Islamic mindset.

These patriarchal values do belong to Islam, but to its orthodox interpretation. Indeed, a religious society does not have to curtail women’s agency. The concept of women’s agency includes the right to expand opportunities for empowerment through religion – which was never realized in pre-AKP Turkey. With the marginalization of every variant of Islamism, including the modernist and participatory variants, its subscribers gradually became radicalized. Their resentment now finds an outlet in the assertion of these orthodox values, as anything connected to the traditional interpretation of Islam serves as the primary vehicle of political opposition. The growing traction of patriarchal social norms in Turkey should therefore be understood as a way for those that were targeted under the Kemalist crackdown against any manifestation of Islam to reassert their identity. The question of why Turkey witnesses growing gender inequality – and, correlatively, the triumph of this narrow-minded approach to Islam – is then best answered by examining state-religion relations in the pre-AKP Turkey – particularly in the Kemalist regime’s treatment of the religiously-minded.

(Sinan Ekim is research assistant at the Istituto Affari Internazionali)