Monday, October 18, 2010

Recent Changes to Turkish Constitution Present Opportunity for Gender Equality Advancement

A majority of Turkish voters recently approved a referendum to amend the Turkish constitution. These accepted changes bring Turkey further in line with EU standards, including equality before the law. The modification regarding gender equality ensures that measures can be implemented that will increase the participation of women in the social, economic, and political spheres. Many women’s groups are now hoping that the government will actually institute such actions.  

The inclusion of women into public spaces is imperative since gender disparities remain high in Turkey. Large numbers of Turkish women are illiterate, many do not participate in the labor force, and their representation in politics is low. While illiteracy rates for women have decreased from 33.9% to 19.6% since the 1990s overall, illiteracy rates continue to be much higher for women in the southeastern part of the country. Women’s labor participation has declined from 34.3% in 1988 to 22% in 2008, in sharp contrast to other countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while 97.2% of all employers in the country are male. Political representation of women in parliament increased to 9.1% of the total seats in 2007. However, in 2009 only 0.9% of mayors (27 out of 2948) were women. Causes cited for these discrepancies include inadequate education, cultural traditions, childcare issues, limited knowledge of political processes, funding deficiencies, women’s lack of confidence, and a shortage of advancement opportunities.*

Despite these challenges, philanthropic foundations and individual philanthropists can take actions to ensure progress continues to be made regarding the inclusion of women. Fields that need to be supported include the following:
  •  research that advances knowledge regarding gender equality;
  • innovative programs that educate and encourage women;
  • opportunities for the facilitation of linkages between local, national, and international women’s organizations that can provide access to new models, best practices, and serve as support networks;
  • efforts to strengthen funding for women’s initiatives; and
  • policy reform endeavors.

There are many excellent organizations working to support women in a variety of areas in Turkey. Some of my favorites include the following:
  • KAMER Foundation; 
  • Turkish Philanthropy Funds - Gender Equality selections; and
  • Women for Women’s Human Rights - New Ways.
The approval of the referendum presents all of us with the opportunity to renew our efforts on behalf of women. While many women’s groups are calling on the government to put measures into place that will increase the participation of women, each one of us can be a part of the solution now by incorporating the principle of gender inclusion in our businesses, philanthropic efforts, and in the daily choices we make. It is my hope we will all find ways to give meaning to the passage of the gender component of the referendum by fostering positive change on behalf of women each and every day. 

* The statistics and some ideas contained in this section come from Eder, M., (2010). Turkey. In Ellen Lust, The Middle East (pp. 730-760). Washington, DC: CG Press.

Lou Anne King Jensen is a licensed master social worker recognized for independent practice and President of the Chrest Foundation, a private foundation that has been supporting social projects in Turkey since 2001. She also serves as an advisor or board member to a number of philanthropies and non-profit organizations including those related to Turkey, women, diabetes research, and college scholarships for students.    

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