Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gender Equality as Smart Economics: Solving the Turkish Dilemma

By Asli Gurkan

Robert B. Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, was in Turkey last week. During his four-day visit on July 19-22, Zoellick praised Turkey’s economic progress with caution. On top of his agenda was the need to increase female participation in the Turkish workforce. It wasn't a coincidence that Zoellick commended Turkey's remarkable economic performance and spoke of the growing gender-gap in Turkey concurrently. The Turkish case presents a dilemma: Despite Turkey's successes in macroeconomic stability and poverty-reduction; the participation of women in economic life is abysmal. Turkey was among the lowest scoring countries in the 2010 World Economic Forum Gender Equality Gap Report and scored 126th out of 134th in the UNDP Gender Inequality Index. What is more worrisome is that women's economic participation rates have been declining in the last decade. The latest figures stand at 25 percent, significantly lower than the OECD average.

Female workforce Participation Rates- Turkey vs. Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

Source: "Turkey's Greatest Untapped Potential: Women": Turkish State Planning Organization and World Bank Presentation, 2009.

Why is women's labor force participation so low and declining? Two recent studies supported by the World Bank, “Turkey's Greatest Untapped Potential: Women” (2009) and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK)’s “Women Employment in Turkey" (2010), give us helpful clues.

According to these studies, urbanization is a key contributor. Women, many of whom are unpaid agricultural laborers in rural areas stay home when they move into urban areas, citing reasons such as family pressures, security reasons, harsh working conditions, and low-wages. This is particularly the case for those with little or no education. While young men, even in the rural areas, are transitioning from agricultural jobs into better-paid jobs in the manufacturing and services sectors, women are staying home. A top reason cited by women is the lack of affordable childcare. According to the TUBITAK study women in Istanbul have to pay “between 500 and 600 Turkish Lira per month (about $350-400) just for childcare if they decided to work and more for other extra costs of additional household help."

Among other contributing reasons to staying home, women list "harassment" and "gossiping." In the interviews, they said "men often make sexual gestures towards women employees and that women do not know how to protect themselves against sexual harassment." Rumors are also considered a concern even for educated women. TUBITAK study quotes a female engineer who, despite being extremely qualified for a particular job, was not hired. Apparently, the employer said: "I am looking for someone who can have business trips with me. But how could I go with a female worker? It can lead to rumors."

The new initiative, Women Gender Equality Certificate, that Zoellick announced jointly with Turkey's prominent women's organization, KAGIDER, is a highly encouraging step to overcome some of these challenges. The initiative attempts to bring new rules and regulations to fight against gender discrimination on promotion, training, and working conditions. There are other notable initiatives such as subsidizing employers’ social security contributions for newly hired women for up to five years. Yet, women's stories indicate that focusing solely on employers and structural reforms is only half of the problem. Their voices point to deeper socio-cultural issues of a society that is still struggling to balance conservative values with realities of a global era and internalize men-women co-existence in the workforce.

Whatever one's beliefs and values may be when it comes to equality in the workforce, Turkey cannot afford excluding the women. The reason is simple. As Diego Angel-Urdinola, the lead author of the World Bank study so succinctly explains: In the same way that you wouldn’t play football without a full team, countries can’t compete globally if they don’t use the full potential of all their citizens.”

Asli Gurkan is a Social Development Specialist at the World Bank based in Washington-DC.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Turkish Athletes’ Special Revolution through the Sports

By Pelin Cebi

Don’t we all want to live in a society where equal opportunities are based on tolerance, social inclusion and acceptance regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, and abilities? I know that I do. I want to live in a community where each person’s uniqueness is appreciated and nurtured. That’s why I paid attention to the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games which took place between June 25-July 4 in Athens. World Games are one the most influential events that promote social inclusion and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.

This year’s games celebrated the lives of more than 7,000 special athletes from nearly 180 countries. Turkey was one of the 180 countries and participated with 105 athletes. Team Turkey competed in seven different disciplines. The enthusiasm of these brave athletes captured the hearts and minds of the many and sent a powerful message to the world, “everybody can win”. There are just over 14,000 athletes in Special Olympics in Turkey receiving training on Alpine Skiing, Aquatics, Basketball, Football, Gymnastics, Powerlifting, Table Tennis and Volleyball.

“Special Olympics Turkey relies mostly on private philanthropic funding” explains Maureen Rabbitt, the Director of Communications at Special Olympics who is responsible for the Europe and Eurasia regions. Since its inception, Dilek Sabanci, an outspoken supporter and an inspiration to people with intellectual disabilities in Turkey, has been at the heart of the movement. 30 percent of Special Olympics Turkey’s funding comes from commercial sponsors.

Melih Gurel, the National Director of Special Olympics in Turkey, describes the most prevailing challenge in Turkey to be the lack of awareness and understanding from parents on the potential of training for their children. “Special Olympics Turkey finds it difficult to encourage athletes to leave their homes or schools to train due to resistance by their parents. This is an educational and public awareness matter that Special Olympics Turkey is working to address.”

Wilfried Lemke, the United Nations Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace, spoke at this year’s opening ceremonies and also made a point on

awareness. “Special Olympics transforms communities from closed to open ones, from intolerant to accepting ones and by using sport to accomplish this, has come to represent the good, the power and the true spirit of sport.” True, the challenge is due to the indifference and prejudiced attitude towards the intellectually disabled. Living standards of people with disabilities and quality of services offered are also important indicators of a country’s health, education and economic development.

In recent years, Turkey has made progress in acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities thanks to a few organizations like Special Olympics Turkey, the Human Rights in Mental Health Initiative (RUSIHAK), and one of TPF’s grantees, Tohum Autism Foundation and many more. Efforts of such organizations reflect a growing movement towards the inclusion of the intellectually disabled into society. There are many ways in which you can help to promote the advancement of people with intellectual disabilities. You can volunteer as a coach or run events, and write and share stories of your experiences.

"The Key is Opportunity," as Special Olympics so simply puts it. These and other organizations provide the keys for change to athletes and supporters alike. Will you take the opportunity to make a difference?

Pelin Cebi is a former Associate Director for Development for the New York City Region of Special Olympics. Ms. Cebi currently lives in San Francisco and works as a training program specialist in a leading financial institution.

From Top:
Turkish Athletes during the opening ceremony;
Muhtar Kent, Chairman of The Coca-Cola Company, marched with Special Olympics Turkey in the Parade of Athletes
Credit: Will Schermerhorn

Thursday, July 7, 2011

UN Report Praises Turkey’s Women Movement

Posted by Ayca Ariyoruk

Despite remarkable legal advances women made around the world in their quest to attain equal opportunities – there is a wide gap in implementation and delivery of justice matters. This is the message of Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2011; In Pursuit of Justice, the first global report on women released yesterday by UN Women. The new supra-departmental agency UN Women was founded in 2010 with the merger of four separate UN entities working on the advancement of women.

“Justice is the foundation of gender equality” said Michelle Bachelet, the undersecretary-general of UN Women and formerly Chile’s first female president, at a press conference yesterday. That why the UN Women has chosen legal rights as the theme for the inaugural report.

According to the report, 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence. Turkey is one of them. Turkey changed penal and civil codes in 2004 and 2005 to increase sentences for honor killers. The problem remains in implementation and the delivery of justice. “Two thirds of countries have laws against domestic violence but legislation is only the first step…In Muslim countries, you have the laws but there is a gap in implementation” argues Bachelet.

The report puts forward proven and achievable recommendations that work. For instance, placing women in front line of law enforcement helps. The study observed increased reporting on sexual violence in countries where more women serve in the police.

Bachelet praises women activists who made it clear that “culture and religion cannot be used as an excuse to justify gender discrimination and injustice. Injustice is not inevitable or natural. It is not a basis for any culture or religion and we have the power to change it.”

In a case study on Turkey, UN Women recognizes Turkey’s women movement that launched “a bold campaign” and “culminated in a new penal code in 2004, which included the criminalization of marital rape and sexual harassment in the workplace, the revision of all articles discriminating between single and married women and the strengthening of provisions on sexual abuse of children.”