Women’s labour force participation falls in Turkey
The Turkish economy's rapid growth over the past decade has not been matched by women's labour force participation.
By Erisa Dautaj Şenerdem for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 01/08/12
Nagihan Mutlu, 37, is one of millions of women in Turkey who are not employed or looking for work. "I have two children to raise. Who is going to look after them if I work?" she asked.
Mutlu, who left teaching 17 years ago, said that even if she returned to work, the salary would not be enough to send her two sons to preschool. Her husband also objects to her working, Mutlu said.
The number of stay-at-home mothers in Turkey has reached 12.2 million, about half the total number of employed women in the country. The number increased by 496,000 from March 2011-March 2012, according to the Employment Monitoring Bulletin published recently by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey.
Although employment in Turkey has increased recently despite the slowdown in the economy, the labor force participation rate -- measuring the population between ages of 15 and 65 who are able to work -- fell to 49.4% in March, compared with 49.9% in March last year.
The employment rate for women in Turkey was 24.9% in March – which means 25% of women able to work are employed -- compared to 63.2% for males.
"We are speaking of a country where there are no [sufficient] kindergartens or nursing centres for the elderly," Canan Güllü, the chairwoman of the Turkey Women Associations Federation, told SES Türkiye. As long as the state doesn't support women by adding these facilities, the majority will be constrained to stay home and look after children and the elderly, Gullu said.
The current AKP government has indirectly supported the perception of women as second-class citizens whose "main role in society is to look after the family," she added.
But the Turkish government recently announced policies that could help increase female employment. Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin said the government intends to subsidise kindergarten expenditures for working mothers.
The labour market situation is a key reason for women to be perceived as a cheap labour, according to Özgür Mütfüoğlu, a professor of labour economics at Marmara University.
"Almost all women have engaged in flexible forms of production that have become widespread nowadays, as well as those who work at home are almost all employed off the books," he told SES Türkiye. Those women are not reflected in the official labour statistics, he said.
The perception that a "women's place is in the home" is advocated by the conservative structure of Turkish society, and is another deterrent that keeps women away from labour markets, according to Mütfüoğlu.
However, Erinç Yeldan, the dean of Faculty for Administrative and Economic Studies at İzmir’s Yaşar University, said he believes the cultural, social and religious reasons are not sufficient to explain the situation.
"If we compare Turkey's female labor participation rates to countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan or other Middle Eastern countries, we notice these rates are higher there than in Turkey," Yeldan told SES Türkiye.
According to him, the prevalence of agriculture and other traditional sectors is an important reason for structural problems in Turkish labour markets.
While transferring labour from traditional to modern sectors, women are faced with a lack of skills and proper education, Yeldan said.