ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has set boosting female employment as one of its objectives for the centennial of the Turkish Republic, expecting the employment rate of Turkish women to exceed 35 percent by 2023.
As defined in its plan “National Employment Strategy 2014-2023,” the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party considers it essential to favor female employment in order to become the 10th largest global economy in 2023. But the country has a long way to go.
In 2012, the employment rate of women in Turkey was only 29.5 percent, the lowest rate of 34 countries, according to 2014 Economic Survey of Turkey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Turkey lagged far behind Greece at 41.9 percent (while Iceland boasted the highest female employment rate with 78.5 percent followed by Norway with 73.8).
Furthermore, the Turkish rate was well below the OECD average of 57 percent and even further below Turkish male employment rate, which stands at 69 percent, according to OECD’s survey.
“The first reason for women not being in the labor force is our rooted social belief that they should stay at home and care for their family,” said Gulden Turktan, president of KAGIDER Women Entrepreneurs’ Association in Turkey.
In order to counter the pervasive tradition, KAGIDER members travel all around the country and organize meetings to encourage local women to work and to have confidence in themselves.
Turktan added that each day more and more women participate in business life as they hear success stories about woman entrepreneurs.
In recent years the government has also encouraged female employment, for instance in the private sector.
Since 2008 the government has offered to pay a company’s share of female employees’ social security benefits for 54 months, if it hires women who have been unemployed for six months or more.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) also supports women by offering them training courses in various fields of occupation, including computer management, programming and sales.
Some of these policies have visibly had their effect, as the female employment rate, while very low, has been steadily rising in the last decade from 23.3 percent in 2004 to 29.5 percent in 2012, as confirmed in the 2013 report by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).
In order for this trend to continue and for 35 percent female employment to be reached by 2023, the Turkish government has recently implemented new policies such as an 18-week maternity leave, a flexible part-time working model and the establishment of day care centers at the workplace to permit women to work while starting families.
However, some remain skeptical concerning the feasibility of the government’s 35 percent objective – despite the fact that it is only a six-percentage-point increase, the same that occurred in Turkey between 2004 and 2012.
Elif Lologlu, president of Women’s Movement Association, finds it “impossible” to see the female employment rate in Turkey reaching 35 percent in the next decade. She said women are not encouraged enough or provided with the means to participate in the labor market, despite gender equality in the law.
“I don’t believe that the existing practices, which supposedly support more female employment, are really serving that purpose,” she said.
Lologlu said only efforts to ensure women are more qualified and incentives to encourage well-educated women to be employed will pave the way for an increasing rate of female employment.
It is precisely because Turkish women lack access to higher education that they are employed less than men, said Gunay Bolukoglu, a vice-principal from ISKUR.
“The higher the level of education, the higher the female employment rate will become,” she underlined.
Indeed, data from the Turkish Statistical Institute show that the employment rate in 2013 stands at 72.1 percent for postgraduates while it drops to 27.5 for secondary school graduates and to 17.4 for illiterate women.
According to Turktan, women have proven very successful in the Turkish banking sector and are expected to go into such sectors as tourism, finance and health in the years to come. “I believe that the rate in Turkey will definitely go beyond 30 percent and even reach 50 in a decade,” said Turktan.