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Why Turkey is no paradise for women

Turkey is no paradise for women, a country whose leaders urge them not to laugh out loud in public

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

Turkey is no paradise for women, a country whose leaders urge them not to laugh out loud in public. Domestic violence against women is double the level in the United States, and 10 times more prevalent than in Europe, according to a U.N. report. Another deep-rooted problem is men’s determination to prevent women working.

Women joining the workforce would contribute to any country’s economy tremendously. However, Turkish society has developed a culture that actively discourages women from doing so. As experience is vital to getting a good job, it becomes extremely difficult for non-working women to start a career in later life.

One of the reasons cited by Turkish men is that the family does not need another income. However, families with working women in Turkey are relatively much wealthier than those without.

Women joining the workforce would contribute to any country’s economy tremendously. However, Turkish society has developed a culture that actively discourages women from doing so

Mahir Zeynalov

A survey by IPSOS shows that 69 percent of Turkish men think women need their husbands’ permission to work, while 57 percent of women believe their husbands should permit them to do so. To avoid being challenged by their husbands, women are increasingly starting their careers before marriage. In the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index, Turkey dropped 15 places in the past eight years, ranking 120th out of 136 states.

A career in motherhood

Last week, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said the biggest career a woman could develop is “motherhood.” He was deluged with criticism afterward. This morbid mentality is part of a government-orchestrated campaign to discourage women from work.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan frequently urges women to have at least three children (five is better, he says). He recently slammed birth-control methods as “treason.” His government doles out funds to families for in vitro fertilization, and grants early retirement for women who have five children.

It has also moved to improve conditions for maternity leave, so working women will not think twice before having a baby. The system is built to prevent women from working and instead focus on children. With a broken kindergarten system and unsafe babysitting, it is almost impossible for mothers to leave their toddlers unsupervised while working.

More children, stronger economy?

Behind the government’s intention to make women more fertile is a plan to strengthen Turkey’s economy. With a bigger population, Erdoğan believes, Turkey could maintain China-style growth for decades. However, without investment in research, development and education, having more children will lead to higher crime rates and unskilled workers trying to make ends meet.

Demographics will come to haunt a country such as China, as the younger generation will have to work more to sustain a growing, ageing and unproductive population. Turkey is headed for the same fate.

The government’s job should not be family planning, especially in a country where fertility rates are much higher than other developed nations. The government should instead improve facilities and infrastructure that allow mothers to work and build a better future for their children.

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Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.