Give Birth to a Lot of Children, Work a Lot, Earn Little, Depend on Men!
Is That What You Expect from Women?
In the previous days, people in Turkey have rebelled against the approach of the government that directs all of the economic operation in a manner that is profit-oriented and that does not regard the human or the environment; that intervenes in lifestyles in oppressive ways; that shows intolerance towards whoever is different; and instead of perceiving democracy as a regime of pluralism, that imposes it as a diktat of majority. While the resistance movement of citizens was starting and pervading all of Turkey, in order to express demands of democracy and freedom and to condemn the police violence against peaceful demonstrators, we, as women would like to raise concern over the policy designs of the government which includes an oppressive and imposing approach on women’s labor and women’s bodies and to explain what it means with regard to women. This new policy design of the government on women focuses on two issues. The first is the necessity of women bearing a lot of children, and measures encouraging this, in order to increase the population of the country which is claimed to arrive at a dangerous turning point in the near future; and the second one is to increase women’s employment through “flexible work”.
Why do they want women to bear a lot of children?
As in many countries in the world, fertility is decreasing while life expectancy is increasing in Turkey. Increase in fertility is desired with the concern that the low fertility rate is going to increase the ratio of the elderly population to the total and, hence, going to affect the economy negatively. In fact, only thirty or thirty five years ago, the burden that high fertility rates would bring to the country’s economy was worrying governments. While political powers try to shape the economy by increasing or decreasing fertility, they ignore the needs and wishes of the women who bear these children, raise them and look after them. Women’s bodies and labor are captured by arguing family morals and tradition, sometimes through pressure and sometimes through encouragement. The efforts to ban abortion, subjecting the “72 hours” pill (morning-after pill) to doctor’s prescription in order to make it difficult to access are concrete examples to the oppressive policies that are carried out over women’s bodies.
It is true. Both high fertility and low fertility upset demographic balances. However, it is wrong to lean toward changing the magnitude, increase rate and distribution of the population directly through political intervention. Today, there are two children per woman of reproductive age. Is this so despite couples wanting more children? No, on the contrary, fertility rate is about two children since they do not want any more children. Main reasons to that are issue of subsistence and the concern for not being able to prepare a good future for their children. Besides, the higher the level of education of women is, the later they get married and join employment. So, since women who work both outside/at work and inside/at home cannot take any more work load, they do not want to give birth to many children.
Today, we experience the most positive years of the period of transition from high level of fertility to low level of fertility. On one hand, population of children is lower than before and on the other hand, the number of the sick and the elderly has not increased much yet. So, the ratio of the people that need care is relatively low. Yet the populous generations that were born during the years when high fertility rates prevailed make up today’s working age population. According to TSI’s recent findings, the share of people at the ages of 15 to 64 within the total population keeps growing. The fact that, even during this positive period, fertility rates keep dropping shows that families avoid, in their subsistence strategies, having even a second child. The persistence of the decrease in the fertility rates should be read as women’s common rebellion.
This period where the burden of care is, on average, demographically minimized will end as the large population of young generations age. According to TSI predictions, this positive picture will continue until 2030, even 2040, and after 2050, there will be a period like today’s European countries where the elderly population increases very much. One way to put off this transformation is to increase fertility rates, and that is what the government wants to do. Increasing fertility means increasing the burden of childcare in addition to the eldercare. In today’s conditions where care services are imposed on women, the growth in fertility plays a role that intensifies and enhances the discrimination between sexes.
Of course, we also think about how to best make use of this demographically positive period. But we do not tackle this through prolonging this period by increasing fertility. In order for the current period of opportunity to have consequences beneficial to the society, the population of working age has to have adequate level and quality of education and there has to be sufficient number and quality of job opportunities that that could employ this educated population. In the case that these two prerequisites are not met, large population turns into a social burden that reduces the level of welfare even further.
When we look at the educational status of youth, we see that, e.g. in 2012-2013 school year, 30 percent of the people at the age of secondary education do not continue their education. Even this data alone considerably explains how much importance the government gives to the education of the youth. We don’t even mention the quality of education, the fact that money that is asked from parents at public schools are beyond the level that some families can afford, the fact that schools are closed or teachers cannot be appointed at villages, young people who are expelled from universities because they organized demonstrations, graduates of faculties of education that are out of employment.
In addition to that, let us specify that only 45 people at working age out of 100 are currently employed. Apart from the fact that this is by far the lowest employment rate within the OECD, it is one of the lowest employment rates among all countries in the world. Employment situation among youth and women is even worse. Out of 100 young people, just 32 are working. As for women, out of 100 women at working age, only 26 have work opportunity.
The data above show that the government in Turkey does not meet either of the two conditions that would make use of this window of demographic opportunity. While these conditions are not met, it is far from convincing that the government would form policies that aim for the relation between demography and economy through solely increasing fertility.
What happens if the monetary incentives that are projected to be given by the government to people who bear a lot of children are as effective as desired and women bear more children?
There is no country in the world that has achieved to increase women’s fertility significantly through financial incentives. We should repeat. Still under the assumption that there might be an increase, unless publicly supported childcare, eldercare and disabled care services are developed simultaneously with this population growth, the burden of nursing of the household that increases with incentives will continue to be laid on women; as women bear more children, their workload will increase. Thus, their possibility to work at a job outside home will become increasingly less. The government has no practical policy in terms of offering financially accessible, quality care services.
How is women’s employment going to increase under these circumstances?
The government has already found a solution to this. And with a suggestion that could kill a few birds with one stone. They aim to both make women have “jobs” through ways such as working from home and short term work, and to provide women to carry out their “womanhood” duties within the house flawlessly. Besides, when all this is going on, the government will spend no money. Private sector representatives are also unanimous on this matter. In that case, they will also not have an obligation to open day care centers or kindergartens and, through nonstandard forms of employment, they will attain a workforce that is more flexible, i.e. that costs little where they can hire and fire people as they wish. With this new policy that the government suggests, women who are encouraged to work at nonstandard jobs will continue to focus on low-paying work that is only compatible with these forms of employment, deprived of possibility to advance in the career; inequalities between women and men such as the occupational/sectoral gender segregation that is already present in the labor market, gender pay gap and the fact that women cannot advance to managerial positions will intensify even further. Women who already have to tend towards nonstandard work due to market conditions will now be encouraged also by the state and they will be deprived of opportunities such as occupational education, high pay, organizing and advancement at career.
Moreover, this policy initiative that considers giving the option to use flexible work / flexible care leave (prolonging the period of maternity leave) only to mothers, and that relentlessly ignores women’s organizations’ demands for a paternity leave arrangement, will cause the discrimination against women that is already present in the labor market to increase incrementally. On the other hand, flexible work leaves women facing prevalent lack of social security. Women that work flexibly have to pay premium for longer periods of time than full-time employees in order to benefit from long term insurance programs such as old-age, disability or death; and they can’t fill their number of days for premium payment easily unlike full-time workers. Since the social security premiums of part-time workers are calculated on the basis of the days they work, the level of the social security premiums that they pay are lower than those of the full-time workers. This affects their retirement income even if they can qualify for retirement later on, and the low income level during the period that women work is transferred to the old-age period, as well. Being persistent on increasing women’s employment through flexible work must be seen equivalent to both exclude them from many benefits of the social security system and leave women dependent on men and face to face with poverty at their old age.
The current system entitles working women to the “right” to retire early by paying 720 days’ premium for one child and 1440 days for a second child out of their own pocket. And now, extending this “right” for a third child is in question. While pursuing a policy of numerous children, the government does not forget to reinforce class inequalities between women at the same time. The fact that it is almost impossible for women living in low-income households to pay two years’ premium for each child is never brought up.
Increase in fertility means that women will move away from education and employment. Under these circumstances, bigger workload, low income, and work where they don’t meet the social security conditions await women in the future both within and outside home. Besides, we know that today’s flexible forms of work do not go beyond offering women long working hours and low income. Let’s hear a woman who works as an hourly-paid teacher under the National Ministry of Education:
“I have been working at various establishments within the Ministry as an hourly-paid teacher for 3.5 years. I teach 28 hours a week and my wage is approximately 8.5 Turkish Liras. On public holidays and cases of casual leave (sickness, etc.) my wage drops, and during the summer holiday it is cut off completely. They say that my premiums are deposited based on my wage but I don’t know. My will to live has shrunk so much that, honestly, I didn’t even feel like checking. I work through a contract made by the District National Education [Directorate] and if a teacher –from the same field as mine– is assigned as permanent staff, unfortunately we are dismissed immediately; for this reason, I can never make any plans about my life. After I graduated, although I scored 77 points at the KPSS exam (Public Personnel Selection Examination), I wasn’t assigned. I prepare and take the exam every year. I almost never leave the house and I study; I go into depression during every exam period; in the eyes of my family, students and colleagues, I’m an unsuccessful teacher who cannot pass the exam, whereas I have even finished my master’s degree. I always live under the shadow of this; an hourly-paid teacher, like a minority. I have reached this age and I’m waiting as if my life will begin after this assignment but I have studied for this; to become a teacher; what do I need to wait for?”
The situation of a teacher with a master’s degree is a good example of the working conditions offered to women in Turkey. If these are the conditions that the government offers women at the teaching profession which does not form big contrast with the government’s policies on women, since it is seen as a profession “that suits women”, it is not very hard to guess how inadequate the conditions are for women in fields that challenge traditional roles such as engineering. Women whose options of employment are restricted in various ways are subjected to the dilemma: “either work like this or sit at home and bear a lot of children”.
Ultimately, these policies that the government has come up with in the name of supposedly supporting women and women’s employment are policy proposals that essentially impose on them to bear more children and increase the burden of care on women, rather than empower them economically.
At this demographically positive period, instead of using our public resources in order to intervene in the number of children women are to bear, the government should IMMEDIATELY direct these resources to the following egalitarian and liberating policy measures of top priority;
1. Kindergartens and eldercare services should be offered as quality public services that are accessible all around Turkey, and that include care and education in the child’s mother tongue;
2. Closing of the kindergartens that are situated at the state institutions and organizations, and prevention of spending on kindergartens from public budget with the “Bulletin on Public Social Facilities” that the Ministry of Finance published on January 21, 2013 should be abandoned.
3. Regulations that appear in the current legislative proposal such as extension of the duration and scope of childcare leaves should be intended not only for mothers but for FATHERS as well;
4. Flexible work should be offered not as a permanent form of work intended only for women but as an option that can be used both by men and women in certain periods of time within the life cycle in a way that they can balance their obligation of care with their work responsibilities;
5. Creating sufficient work in terms of quantity and quality that would attract women to the labor market should become the priority of the macroeconomic policies of the government.
6. Employment policies geared towards women should be developed not through strategies that will intensify inequalities such as part-time or flexible work, but through standard forms of work based upon the principle of equality.
Just like, when making an urban organization regarding a park, the necessity for decisions to be taken through consultation and dialog with the users of that park and residents of that city, we call upon the government, during the planning of policies concerning women, to consultation and dialog with women’s rights organizations that are the most important stakeholders of the issue.
This text was written in order to declare the views of the KEIG (Women’s Labor and Employment Initiative) Platform that is made up of 27 women’s organizations on the recent policy initiative of the government.