During primetime on the eve of March 8 International Women’s Day, many TV channels aired a lengthy advert for a company, showing working rural women and men talking about hot potato gender topics in Turkey. It showed a number of men expressing support for their wives working and their daughters going to school, dressing up as they like, and laughing loudly in public. The advert could be seen as a measured criticism of the discriminatory rhetoric against women we have heard from the top officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the past decade or se.
We later learned that the advert was the work of paint company Filli Boya, whose female owner had opted to protest the horrendous murder of teenager Özgecan Aslan by darkening screens for the advert two years ago. No doubt the advert left most of us with optimistic feelings, as it was full of messages we wanted to hear. But how I wish it was an honest account of reality! I don’t want to dispute the good intentions behind that advertorial, but I can’t help but wonder whether Turkey’s men are quite so honest when the cameras are on.
On March 8, we woke up to news of the tragic story of 42-year-old Aynur Özdallı, who was shot dead by her ex-husband for having worked at a café after their divorce. Özdallı is not the first to have been killed at the hands of a family member in 2017. According to data from independent news network Bianet, compiled from publicly available information, 53 women were killed by men in the first two months of 2017.
In most cases, the motive behind killing a woman in Turkey is closely related to the twisted concept of “honor” that is socially imposed on men. Those men who killed their loved ones without blinking an eye seem to find refuge in clearing their name of slander through this concept. Apparently, a former wife or girlfriend marrying someone else - or even a former wife making a living - is enough to hurt the honor of a man.
“We know that if women participated in today’s labor markets to the same extent as men, global annual GDP would see an additional $28 trillion by 2025. Women’s empowerment is a strategic investment in our future,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner in a statement issued on the occasion of International Women Day.
If you want to know whether Turkey is aware of the strategic importance of female labor - only for the future of our economy, if nothing else - just look at the recent Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) study titled “Women in 2016.” According to household labor force survey results, the employment rate of the population aged 15 and over was 46 percent in Turkey in 2015. This rate was 65 percent for men and 27.5 percent for women.
This data suggests that only 1 out of every four women contributes to Turkey’s labor market. You can do the math yourselves to find out how much we are losing because some men either do not tolerate or prevent women from working in our society (or simply do not care).
Clearly, the government lost the appetite to become a member of the European Union
long ago. But as it looks like we’re still negotiating - at least on paper – let’s take a look at some numbers from Europe. The average employment rate for women in EU member countries in 2015 was 60.4 percent.
It is clear that countries with greater gender equality tend to be more wealthy and prosperous. It is therefore deeply strange to aim to become one of the world’s top economies by 2023, the centennial of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, without prioritizing female education and encouraging women to work.
As a woman who in the last two years has gone through a pregnancy, given birth to a newborn baby, and taken on a Harvard diploma, and who is now preparing to undertake a new journalistic post overseas, I am a living example of how critical a man’s support is for a working woman. Well, when all is said and done the country needs us.