Turkey: Traditional Gender Roles Keep Women at Home, Surveys Find

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By Jenny David

July 22–Their own perception of traditional gender roles keeps almost 70 percent of Turkish women out of the labor market, according to two recent studies.

Although the proportion of Turkish women working or looking for a job has been increasing in recent years, their total share in the labor force—now 31 percent—was still the lowest of any European country early this year, according to the initial results of a new study on Labor Force Participation Decisions of Educated Women in Turkey.

Workforce Participation Trails Other OECD Countries

Conducted by Hande Paker and Gökçe Uysal of Bahçeehir University's Center for Economic and Social Research, the study shows that traditional gender roles regarding childcare and the division of household duties have a dampening effect on the working decisions of educated women.

“Previous research shows that traditional gender roles are an important determinant of labor force participation decisions of women with lower levels of education. We tend to assume that this is normal,” Gokce Uysal told Bloomberg BNA July 20. “Our research shows that in Turkey, even women with high levels of education and/or women who pursued high-profile careers in their lives, may abide by the traditional gender roles.”

According to the study, only 14 percent of working-age women with an elementary school diploma and 37 percent of those with a high school diploma participate in Turkey's labor force.

The proportion of women with a university degree who choose to work is much higher at 70 percent, but even this falls short of labor participation rates for university-educated women in some developing countries, the study found, citing Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statistics.

In Portugal, for example, 91 percent of university-educated women and 88 percent of high school graduates aged 15-65 participate in the labor force, while in Greece, 83 percent of female university graduates and 65 percent of high school graduates work, and in Mexico, 75 percent of college graduates and 59 percent of high school graduates have jobs.

‘Radical Changes' Required

In the Turkish study, by contrast, 98.7 percent of the nearly 4,000 women interviewed said children under the age of 3 must be cared for by their mothers. Of the small number of women with young children who did work, having a second child younger than 4 decreased the probability of their labor force participation by 12.7 percent, and having a third child aged 4 to 7 cut participation by another 6 percent.

Neither are Turkish women eager to work if their husbands provide “sufficient” income, the study found. Although final statistics have not yet been released, labor force participation even by professional women dropped in direct proportion to their husband’s earnings.

Although institutionalized child care and more flexible work hours might increase women's participation in the Turkish workforce, “we should realize that women's way to labor market participation is still blocked by traditional gender roles that are difficult to surmount,” Uysal said.

“The number of working women will continue to increase, but as long as there are not radical changes in traditional attitudes, this increase will remain limited,” the study concluded.

Women Turn to Entrepreneurship

One way women deal with the choice between work and family is to create their own businesses, another study found,

According to a survey conducted by Middle Eastern Technical University and Garanti Bank, 56 percent of female entrepreneurs between the ages of 22 and 68 do not experience gender discrimination as an obstacle to doing business in Turkey. Rather, they said, their major challenges are financing, bureaucracy and family duties.

Women entrepreneurs also tend to create their own businesses “later in life,” according to the study, released June 25. Some 87 percent established their businesses after age 35 and 66 percent above age 40. Many women “would not dare” to start a business earlier due to “responsibilities like child care.”

Gender discrimination is less an issue. Most women said they received strong support from their husbands and parents when establishing their companies. Some 61 percent said their self-confidence was boosted, 44 percent said they were financially empowered and 33 percent said they felt more respected by society.

About 82 percent of Turkish women's businesses are in the service sector, with 40 percent in trade and sales, the survey found, and 75 percent of businesses operated by women were established since 2000, reflecting supportive government policies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jenny David in Jerusalem at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For more information on Turkish HR law and regulation, see the Turkey primer.