Closing gender gap in Turkey starts at home

With only one quarter of Turkey's women in the workforce and one in three having experienced domestic violence, many women in Turkey feel tackling gender inequality requires change in society, not just politics.

Photo by: TRTWorld
Photo by: TRTWorld

Konya, central Anatolia, Turkey

Of all the cities in Turkey to speak about women’s issues, some might say Konya is an unusual place to do so. Home to the whirling dervishes and the tomb of the Sufi saint Rumi, Konya is culturally the most conservative city in the country.

Voters here predominantly support the AK Party; the party has counted on the central Anatolian city for strong support throughout its term. Socially conservative and taking inspiration from Islam, former AK party leader - now president - Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously won 55 percent of female votes in Turkey's first presidential election last year.  One thing which has drawn women voters to the party are its social policies centered on the family - including aid for widows, children with disabilities and religious education.

For many Muslim women who aspire to attend university, the AK party is a kind of savior.  In 2008 the party lifted a long-standing ban on headscarves in universities which opened doors for more women who previously felt defenceless in an era of enforced secularisation.

But when it comes to gender inequality, according to the UN Turkey is still far behind most EU member states and in some cases the Middle East. In 2012, 3 million people over 15 were illiterate, many of whom were women.  One in three women is a victim of violence and only a quarter of Turkey's women participate in the labour force.

The women in Konya feel strongly about these key issues, just like the more "secular" women of Istanbul and Ankara.  When asked about what they’d like to see change, many say that its not just about politics.

“You can’t put rules in front of people and ask them to change their mind.  This is a cultural problem that stems deep into society,” says Aysegul, a waitress and student.

When asked about how people can start to change how women are valued, women in Konya say it begins with the family.

“Young girls and women need to be encouraged to be strong and opinionated in the home in order to be strong and opinionated with their lives,” says Ipek, an assistant professor.

The women of Konya, much like many women in Turkey, want to be considered individuals instead of just family members.  And for that to happen not just women, but also men, need to be educated to help to close the gender gap.

Author: Sally Ayhan