International Working Women’s Day: Being a woman in Turkey means to struggle at all times

International Working Women’s Day: Being a woman in Turkey means to struggle at all times

In Turkey, the women’s movement has so far covered a good distance, but the picture is still rather dark for women. Last year, 409 women were victims of murder, and rate of working women is only 28 percent. The biggest problem of women is violence, followed by unemployment, lack of education and harassment. Selin Girit, from BBC Turkish, examined the situation of women in Turkey on March 8 International Working Women’s Day.

Today it is March 8 International Working Women’s Day. According to some sources, in Turkey, women have started to commemorate this day with activities organized indoors in enclosed spaces first in the year 1921.

In the recent years, women are drawing attention to movement and problems of women by organizing a huge night marching activity at Beyoğlu İstiklal Street on March 8 every year. 

In Turkey, the women’s movement has so far covered a good distance and won a lot of achievements and gains by years, but the picture is still rather dark for women.

According to 2017 results of “Social Gender and Women Perception Research” conducted by Kadir Has University every year, the biggest problem of women is violence, followed by unemployment in the second rank, lack of education in the third, and harassment in the forth.

Gülsüm Kav, Chairwoman of Stop the Homicides of Women Platform, says that murders of women have reached “a record level” this year, and for the first time, total number of women murdered in one year has exceeded 400.

"These figures are very worrisome. Only last month, and as far as we know, 47 women have been killed as a result of murders. And the characters of murders are also differentiated.

"For example, just two days ago, in Antalya, an undressed women corpse wrapped in a blanket is found in a wasteland. Now we are facing and exposed to modulated murder patterns. 

"Heavier methods of violence, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment are used. Such as placing a bomb in her house, putting an explosive under her automobile, or finding tortured and murdered women corpses here and there… 

"Both increase in number of murders of women and the change of character and modulation of these murders are disturbing and bothering us very much.”

Murders of women recorded a fall in 2011, but are systematically increasing in the recent years. Murders of women are in a tendency of systematic increase in the recent years. However, according to statistics, in the year 2011, a remarkable fall has been recorded in comparison to the previous year.

In 2011, Turkey has been the first country ratifying the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence” or more widely known as Istanbul Convention.

And a few months after ratification of Istanbul Convention, the Law on Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women, no. 6284, has been passed and enacted.

Gülsüm Kav says such steps have had direct effects on the fall in the murders of women in that period.

"Whatever we have done in 2011, we must do the same thing now. We must take concrete and real steps. Ratification of Istanbul Convention and enactment of a new law were important steps, because by doing so, a declaration of intention of ‘showing no tolerance to violence against women’ has indeed been issued, and such a climate has been created in the society. Had we continued to take such steps, today we would not face and encountered a picture as we are living now.” 

Kav says that there are adequate legislative bases and grounds in Turkey for prevention of homicides of women and protection of women, but these laws are not enforced and executed.

"They are trying to disentitle the rights vested in women. The law no. 6284 is shown and criticized as a law breaking up families. Protection measures are reduced. Getting away with violence and murder is continuing. And all these factors are paving the way for new murders.

"Zero tolerance should be shown to violence against women. It should be clearly declared and shown that it is absolutely forbidden. This is a universal code. We are in this situation today as we have failed to do so.”

One of the most important issues is 'economic violence':

Another example of the most important issues and troubles of women in Turkey is their non-participation in working life adequately. And this is considered and treated as “economic violence” as well.

According to Social Gender Indicators Data Set published by the Turkish Statistics Authority (TÜİK), rate of women in total employment is only 28 percent, while this rate is at 65.1 percent level in men.

This means to say that total number of working women in Turkey is less than half of the total number of working men.

This is the lowest rate in employment of women when it is compared to either the European Union member states or the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Çağla Ünlütürk Ulutaş, from Women Labour and Workforce Platform (KEIG), says that the most fundamental reason of such a low rate of employment is cultural:

"In male-dominated patriarchal system, in Turkey, to be employed and to bring home the bread is not a primary role designed for a woman. Traditionally, Turkey is a country where man is bringing home the bread. This is seen and considered as the basic role of man. Of course, some small cracks have already been formed in this role, but they are not adequate at all.

"Another obstacle before employment of women is the care workload on their shoulders. All workloads for care of elderly, handicapped and mostly children of family are loaded on women. For instance, 1 million women are not currently working only so as to take care of their children.

"Number of day care centres in public workplaces and premises is in a declining trend. Municipalities are mostly refraining from opening day care centres. Due to the obligation of employers to open a day care centre if they are employing 150 and more women, most of employers are seeing and considering women employees as an excess baggage.” 

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A serious wage difference between women and men

According to household research of TÜİK, in Turkey, as the education level of women rises, their participation in labour force increases as well. However, a review of 2016 figures and data reveals that rate of women in executive job positions is only at 16.7 percent level.

"For example, rate of women in teaching profession is rather high. But even in that profession we note that rate of female school principals is only 9 percent. This means that women are encountering a glass ceiling even in professions they are represented at a high rate," says Ulutaş.

In addition, a gender based horizontal separation is observed. Women are not preferred in some sectors, or they do not prefer these professions themselves. For instance, female employment in industry is around only 14 percent.

Therefore, women have usually been stuck in low wage, low status or half-time jobs not offering the retirement benefits in such sectors as services, agriculture, retail, textile and food. 

Furthermore, there exists in place a very serious wage difference between women and men. According to some researches and studies focused thereon, if a man doing the same work is paid 100 lira, the money paid to a woman is only at 80 lira level at most. 

Working conditions of women are also fairly heavy. Most of the time, they are working more than eight hours a day and are paid only minimum wage at the end.

And the housework taking around four hours a day in average is added to that. A lot of women prefer not to work at all if and to the extent if their financial situation permits, rather than working under so heavy conditions.  

In spite of these facts, we are also facing a positive picture on the part of white collar women working in high professional jobs. 

"A look at the rates of women working as academician, lawyer, doctor and engineer reveals some percentages competing with many developed countries of Europe, for example with Scandinavian countries. In fact, there is a polarization in Turkey," says Çağla Ünlütürk Ulutaş.

Obstacles on female employment are discrimination, mobbing and harassment 

Another obstacle on female employment is comprised of gender apartheid based attitudes, mobbing and harassment faced by women in workplaces.

The recent example of the group of problems in this field is the results of a poll carried out by Turkish Union of Journalists with 221 female journalists.

According to the results, 61 percent of female journalists answering the poll say they have exposed to psychologic violence, 59 percent to mobbing, and 17 percent to physical violence, and they have been fired when pregnant, and have been harassed by their managers, and have come out to be a hate figure due to being promoted, and have been discriminated due to their physical features. 

Çağla Ünlütürk Ulutaş says that the human dignity humiliating attitudes and behaviours exposed by women in workplaces also cause avoidance of women from working life:

"Even when women are exposed to sexual harassment, we see that not the harassing men, but the harassed women are dismissed or both sides are dismissed. Thus, women are face to face to double penalization.

"And we know that mobbing is generally done by men at superior ranks to women at inferior ranks. And most of the time women cannot give any meaning to that or understand it. Yes, there is a psychological mobbing and intimidation process on her, but most of the female employees do not know that it is indeed a type of offence. 

"Another problem is the difficulties faced in proving such types of unjust treatment. For this reason, in most cases, victims prefer to conceal it or to resign from their job themselves.

Being ‘women grata’ in Turkey

Recently, the employment of women is feverishly discussed following a talk between Hülya Avşar and Mehmet Aslantuğ broadcast on a television channel this week.

In her own TV program, Hülya Avşar has said “Let the man work, and let the woman take care of her children at home, cook the meals, and welcome her husband. For example, I am such a woman”, and has defended that male domination is “a beautiful and nice feeling”.

Sociologist Selda Tuncer believes that such speeches are very dangerous for the society:

"I am sure that some of the men watching this program on television have spoken at home as follows: ‘Look, even this woman says it. In fact, you also wish domination of men, and you want your man to love you in this way if he really loves’. Presentation of such thoughts to homes via television will surely lead to further weakening of the status of women.” 

Stating that such examples contain references to the ‘women grata’ understanding commonly defended in Turkey, Tuncer defines the term ‘women grata’ as follows: 

"In male-dominated patriarch communities, there is always a woman grata: Sexually moral, married and having a family, home bird, and loyal to her family even if she works. Femaleness is based on these criteria. A woman who lives within a certain home, exists only within that family environment, and brings herself into existence in this way and manner. A woman with social adaptation, self-contained, not causing any problem at any time, loyal, sacrificing, and compliant with traditions.

"In 60s and 70s, this woman grata was in a slightly more modern and secular woman appearance. Nevertheless, her life was again within patriarch practices, but her public sphere was broader. Today, woman grata is again family-centred, but is covered by religious or traditional references, rather than secularism.”

Being a woman in Turkey means to struggle at all times 

Tuncer draws attention to the fact that the woman grata image is fed through media as well:

"In television serials, all women are weak, bound by and dependent upon men, are cheated, are exposed to violence, but can never get stronger. In the recent days, a tremendous violence and humiliation is also displayed for rating purposes.

"None of the TV serials contains a strong and independent woman example. Nor is there a friendship or fellowship between women. Always there are women digging a pit for each other, and bearing and carrying tales, and at all times busy with male or love affairs, and not racking their brains for anything else…

"However, in our daily lives, we need to see strong women in news and on television. Of course, there are such women in the society, but they are not highlighted.”

In the recent years, Turkey has passed and is still passing through an atmosphere where men frequently make statements and express their opinions as to how women should wear, and politicians suggest the women not to burst into laughter, and politicians say how many children a woman should give birth to, and curetage and caesarean section are opened for debate, and women are always defined as a mother, and at least 15 women are assaulted due to wearing a short on street in one year, and theologists can make such statements as ‘if a woman gets a beating, she must be grateful for it’.  

According to Sociologist Selda Tuncer, being a woman in Turkey means to struggle at all times:

"To come from behind at all times, and to try to prove that you are coming from behind while double obstacles are placed in front of you inside that great inequality, and to work 2-3 times more in each job, and to be in worry at all times, and not to feel safe at any time, and to check a part of your body at all times, and not to feel yourself free, and to be obliged to explain or defend yourself at all times, and to continuously review and check in yourself what you did and why you did that, and to be patient at all times, and to assume a humble attitude in each case…

"In my own life, I can make a list going to the endless. I am very much injured and wounded. I am living like this. But even the strongest woman is living so in Turkey. None of us can live this life as and like an independent individual.”