Gender gap complicates Turkey’s jump into the EU

The Turkey Assessment Group (MEP Morten Messerschmidt (left) and MEP Robert Ellis (right)) quoted Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan for saying: “Men are men and women are women. They can in no way be equal.” The Assessment Group received a correction from the Turkish Embassy in Brussels stressing that what PM Erdogan meant was that men and women can never be physically equal. (centre: Ms. Zeynep Dereli). Photo: Joan Jensen
BRUSSELS – The lack of equal rights for men and women in Turkey is seen as a serious problem for Turkey to become a conclusive  member of the European Union. A way of viewing the obstacles is through the empowerment of women as a means to combat the gender gap.

By Joan Jensen

According to the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index Report launched by the World Economic Forum on 1 November, Turkey enhanced its position in the past year. In 2010 Turkey ranked country # 126 out of 134 nations accounted for; in 2011 the gap had closed in to # 122 out of 135 countries. The report investigates differences between men and women in specific areas such as political empowerment and economic participation, per country.

To Mr. Morten Messerschmidt, founder of the Turkey Assessment Group in the European Parliament, this is good news, but not good enough:

“Whether Turkey should be a member of the EU or not is no longer a political issue. Everyone considers the hurdles so overwhelming, that the ongoing Accessions Negotiations with Turkey are actually seen as obstacles for obtaining a reasonable relation between Turkey and the EU,” Mr. Messerschmidt said.

The Turkish gender gap is also a topic in the recent Progress Report on Turkey, launched by the European Commission for Enlargement in October. It states that when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights in Turkey, there are still “major
challenges.” However, the legal framework in Turkey is broadly in place but the challenge is to convert the legislation into social reality, an EU official says. This means that the legislation has yet to be implemented consistently across the country.


FACTS: Gender equality and the EU

To enter the European Union a country must agree to and implement 35 chapters of EU legislation, the so-called acquis. Chapter 23 of the acquis stresses that: “Member States must ensure respect for fundamental rights and EU citizens’ rights, as guaranteed by the acquis and by the Fundamental Rights Charter.” The latter states that: “Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.” The negotiations between the EU and Turkey about the adoption of chapter 23 of the acquis are still open, meaning the EU Council is not yet satisfied with the Turks on the area of fundamental rights.


Developers of human capital

Ms. Zeynep Dereli, founder of think tank ‘Turkish Policy Forum’ and now the Director of the Black Sea Energy & Economic Forum, was invited to a debate in the European Parliament by the Turkey Assessment Group. The topic to be debated was women’s rights and gender inequality in Turkey. Ms. Dereli argued that development of gender equality in her home country can only happen through the empowerment of women.

“Women need access to capital and we must create role models in business. Women are the developers of human capital,” Ms. Dereli said during the debate and stressed:

“We need to focus on micro financing and in that way increase female entrepreneurship. Women should take greater part in economics and politics. We must change the mentality and how you view women.”


The challenges

Of Turkey’s 73,7 million people, nearly half of them are women. Some 53 percent, or 19.357.000 women, are not in the labor force, according to TurkStat, the official Turkish Statistical Institute. More than 6 out of 10 in this group are housewives and their GDP is not registered since they perform unpaid house work, for instance child- and elderly care. This means that more than 11 million women’s labor and production in households is not officially registered and hence they do not make an official income. Ms. Dereli’s point is that these women should be empowered economically which would lead to a smaller gender gap.

In addition, the European Commission’s Turkey 2011 Work Report stresses that funds available to encourage women to become self-employed have been inadequate. This includes training courses that must be designed to avoid gender-based segregation of

However, there has been gender equalizing changes in the past years, Ms. Dereli stressed during the debate:

“Today women don’t need the permission from their husbands to find work or to start their own company. And now the Civil Law on maternity leave in Turkey gives the woman 16 weeks of paid leave plus an additional 6 months unpaid leave. This is
actually higher than the average European standards.”

In Turkey 9 percent of the formal labor force is unemployed; some 2,2 million Turks. In comparison, the unemployment rate for the EU as a whole is 9,6 percent.


FACTS: Turks and the EU

41% think that an EU membership is a good idea for Turkey

29% think that EU membership is a bad idea

48% believe that Turkey would benefit from EU membership

38% does not believe that Turkey would benefit from EU membership.

 Source: Eurobarometer, August 2011.

NGO: Gender inequality an image matter

The European Women’s Lobby association works to promote women’s rights and equality between men and women across the EU, including the three current candidate countries. The Turkish coordinator in the group is Dr. Simten Cosar, an associate professor in political science and international relations from the University of Baskent, Turkey. According to her, women’s rights advocates in Turkey are very much aware of the gender gap as an obstacle for Turkish EU membership:

“For the majority of the women’s rights advocates, international and transnational bodies (like the EU) offer the opportunity to pressure the decision-makers to consider gender equality as part of democratization. I believe the Turkish government is obliged to consider gender inequality mainly for its inter/transnational image,” she says and continues:

“Hopefully one day our decision makers will adopt laws that would pave the way for the achievement of gender equality in the country.”

Turkey was officially named a candidate country to the EU in 1999. The negotiations for membership, the Associations Negotiations, started in 2005 and are still ongoing.

The Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU was given the opportunity to comment on the subject, in specific whether the Turkish government accepts that the gender gap is an obstacle for EU membership. However, it has not been possible to get a comment prior to deadline of the article.

For further reading on Turkey and the EU’s enlargement strategy click here.

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