Global trends, local trends
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently published a global report titled "Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now" emphasizing that in spite of significant improvements globally, addressing gender imbalances in the workforce remains crucial to create more inclusive societies, meeting the challenge of ageing societies and generally promoting more sustainable economies.
Better access to education has led to significant advances in the participation of women in the workforce over the past two decades, but lack of support for motherhood, the OECD announced, continues to be an important obstacle. Even if more women are now working, men on average still earn 16 percent more than their female colleagues in similar jobs and the gap widens to 21 percent at the top level. Childcare facilities are still often so costly that they wipe out the financial benefits of a seconda salary, nor are taxes and benefits sufficiently women-friendly. Women, who earn less during their lifetime, are also most likely to be poor in old age.

A new study conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggests that in the UK, for instance, while working women are penalized financially when they become mothers, men for their part see their salaries increase when they have children, perhaps because employers believe fatherhood may increase their loyalty.

Where does Turkey fit in all of this? Although female labor participation has increased slightly to 28.8 percent in 2011, according to official figures, it continues to stand out among its OECD peers with very large gender imbalances. In many countries, girls now outnumber and outperform boys in higher education. In Turkey, while the educational gap has almost closed at primary level, the gap is wider at secondary level.

As the think tank Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) points out in a recent analysis, in terms of women's involvement in the workforce, Turkey doesn't just lag behind EU21, where the ratio is 65.5 percent, but also in comparison with other socially conservative nations like Mexico (46 percent), Japan (63 percent) or South Korea (55 percent).

Overall, just as few women participate in economic activity in İstanbul and Ankara as in regions like Malatya, Elaziğ, Bingöl and Tunceli, while female involvement is highest in the Black Sea region, TEPAV points out. If the agriculture, where women often work as unpaid family laborers, is taken out of the equation, the picture changes drastically: then Izmir takes the lead with 30 percent, followed by Thrace, Istanbul and the Marmara region. However, even in Istanbul, where women have high visibility in sectors like banking, only a quarter of women in Istanbul are employed.

Yet more women entering the workforce, largely because young people have different expectations and they need more than one salary to sustain higher living standards. Nonetheless, the change is slow because it gets too little encouragement from the authorities. TEPAV also points to another trend: while more women at the top and the bottom of the education scale -- 61 percent of women over the age of 15 only have primary education or none at all -- joined the workforce as economic activity increased, those in the middle who have attended high school but have no university degree, struggle to find jobs and are being squeezed out.

Countries like Korea have succeeded in getting more women involved in the economy with concerted strategies promoting women's development, helping mothers who have taken a break return to work, improving childcare and setting up centers to train women in IT and technology. Some initiatives of this kind are being implemented in Turkey, but not on a large enough scale to create the infrastructure needed and address the mismatch between women's qualifications and the market demand. With the prime minister frequently encouraging women to have more children, it is clear that the government is at best ambivalent about increasing female participation in the workforce, even if it is aware that women's contribution is needed if Turkey is to get closer to its ambition to become one of the world's top economies by 2023.

NICOLE POPE (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-12-25 10:00:02
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