Having lived in many countries throughout the former Soviet Union over the last nine years, I am familiar with International Women’s Day as a holiday. In Turkey , however, Women’s Day remains a work day.
And quite appropriately so, it seems to me.
Getting more women into the workforce is a key challenge for this country, economically, but also in terms of social policy and, perhaps, even in terms of ensuring more equal representation in public life.
Only around 30 percent of women in Turkey work and the majority of Turkey’s girls never make the transition from school to work. As a result, Turkey’s economy is missing one engine. Taking recent growth simulations by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  as a basis, Turkey could boost long-term economic growth by 0.6 percentage points by increasing female labor force participation from 30 to 50 percent, which is around the average in the OECD.
This much is relatively well known. What is less well known is that Turkey has seen a tremendous amount of female employment creation after the crisis of 2008-2009. Indeed, female employment has grown by over 8 percent per year in the past three years and female labor force participation is up from the low of around 25 percent reached in 2006. While the majority of these jobs continues to be in the informal sector (and many in agriculture), the turnaround is nonetheless striking. What might account for this? Let me offer a few hypotheses that require more investigation.
First, the growth in female employment may be a reflection of the crisis. As incomes fell, households needed a second income to maintain living standards – the so-called “added worker” effect. If this is only crisis-related, the recent rate of female job creation may not be sustainable.
Second, policy may have induced the creation of jobs for women. As such, incentives to encourage employers to hire new female entrants into the labor force were introduced in 2008 and expanded in 2011. Vocational training through the Turkish Employment Organization (ISKUR) and support for young female entrepreneurs through the Small and Medium Business Development Organization (KOSGEB) have been significantly expanded. How effective have these programs been?
Third, we may observe the start of a new structural trend. Turkey has become a predominantly urbanized country and in some cities is experiencing increasing labor shortages. At the same time the new generation of women born in cities, with completed secondary education, and confronted with the opportunities offered by city economies may no longer be content to remain at home. Something similar happened in southern Europe in the 1970s and 80s. Could it be happening in Turkey today?
We don’t have conclusive evidence yet. But under a program of work with the newly created Ministry of Family and Social Policy in Turkey and sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) we will have a chance to find out more. This three year program will help fund analytical work on female employment and entrepreneurship, develop evidence based policy proposals for measures to boost the involvement of women in the economy and help raise awareness throughout society.
Clearly a lot more can and should be done to get more women into work in Turkey. Access to quality childcare could encourage more women to look for work. More flexible employment contracts could facilitate part-time work, and allow women and men to balance work and family life. Further improvements to education and training could help place more women into a job that matches their skills. Husbands and brothers could be more supportive…
To find out more about the constraints that women face, and to hear the stories of women who have successfully started a business, created a cooperative or found a job that matches their skills, the Ministry with the support of TUSIAD (an association of Turkish industry) and the World Bank has been hosting a series of public events in different Anatolian cities. The stories of these women have one overwhelming message: the chance to work is a chance to realize one’s aspirations, a chance to achieve one’s full potential.
Do you have a story to share or a proposal to make how we can help Turkey boost female employment?