Work–Family Balance Policy alla Turca
On October 30, 2013, in the opening ceremony of the National Economics Congress in İzmir, Turkey, Prime Minister Erdoğan announced economic policy targets for 2023, the 100th year of the Turkish Republic. Among them: the lofty goal of increasing GDP to US $2 trillion (from $786 million), thereby placing Turkey among the top-ten highest GDP countries (it currently ranks 16th). While economists in the room seemed baffled about how Turkey is to achieve an annual growth rate of 10 percent (on a US-dollar basis!) for the next ten years, feminist economists were also struck by the stark contrast between the crazy ambition entailed in these GDP targets and the ultimate modesty in the official target for women’s employment rate: 35% by 2023 (from the current rate of 26%).
As World Bank president Jim Yong Kim pointed out at the Congress, “Low female employment is a major economic policy challenge that Turkey faces.” Indeed, low female employment has become a structural characteristic of the Turkish economy, just like the low savings rate and high current-account deficit. It has been a headache issue for Erdogan’s conservative government, as Turkey has been ranked consistently near the bottom in the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. The issue has been exhaustively raised on international platforms such as EU membership negotiations, not to mention in ongoing advocacy by women’s NGOs.
A research and advocacy initiative undertaken in 2008–2010 by the feminist NGO Women for Women’s Human Rights highlights work–family balance as a policy means to promote gender equality in the labor market. Similarly, a comparative study of a group of OECD countries highlighted the obstacles for women’s labor market participation in Turkey: the lack of childcare centers and parental leave and labor market conditions that are not conducive to work–family balance (for example, the longest work hours in the OECD).
The study called for measures such as public provisioning of childcare and eldercare services, introduction of parental leave with special measures to encourage fathers to use it (such as “daddy month” quotas and flexible combinations of care leave with shorter work weeks or work from home) and shorter legal work hours.[i] These advocacy initiatives put work–family balance on the national policy agenda for the first time, but the proposals were transformed into unrecognizable forms by the conservative government.
A recent draft policy by the Turkish government to support women’s employment proposes to extend maternity leave (currently, 16 weeks) up to possibly 5 years (the age children start school). Employed mothers would have the option of combining extended leave with part-time work and work from home – forms of employment “appropriate for women,” according to one bureaucrat. KEIG (Women’s Labor and Employment Initiative), a platform of 27 women’s organizations, criticized the policy proposal for promoting new forms of gender inequalities in the labor market under the pretext of improving women’s employment rates.
Turkey now faces a work–family balance policy proposal, which, if adopted, is likely to foster gender inequalities. The proposal seems more concerned about increasing the fertility rate–in harmony with Erdoğan’s persistent calls on Turkish women to have at least three children apiece–than with promoting equal opportunities.
[i] The study was published in Turkish under İlkkaracan, İpek. (ed.) 2010. Towards Gender Equality in the Labor Market: Work-Family Reconciliation Policies. WWHR-New Ways and Istanbul Technical University – Women’s Studies Center in Science, Engineering and Technology: Istanbul.
For an English summary of the study see: İlkkaracan, İpek. 2012. “Work-Family Balance and Public Policy: A Cross-country Perspective”, Development, Vol. 55(3): 325–332.
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