A Survey on the General Conditions of Women’s Employment in Turkey
After the Prime Ministrial circular No: 2012/14

Editorial : KEIG Platform
Second Edition : June 2013

Click here to read the research


In recent years, women’s labour and employment have been made an issue of debate in its diverse dimensions- for various groups in Turkey. Besides women’s movement and labour organizations, a wide range of actors from government institutions to employers and international organizations have been problematizing the low rate of women’s employment and emphasized the necessity of increasing it, arguing from differing perspectives on the issue. The groups and actors which draw attention to the “low rate of women’s employment” have different motivations in terms of their positions and priorities. On the other hand, some of these groups share common reasonings while dealing with the issue. They use common discourses and make common suggestions for solution. For instance, government officials and employers who evaluate the issue only from a quantitative perspective pay attention to the low rate of women’s employment in Turkey only from a comparative perspective, comparing Turkey with the OECD and EU countries. From their perspective the low rate of women’s employment is a major problem within the context of “social development”, “human capital development” and EU harmonization policies (‘low rate of women’s employment’ was brought up to Turkey’s agenda in recent years also as a result of these policies). Their solution for this major problem has been to increase women’s employment rate drawing on some policy tools; while they kept voiced that need to increase women’s employment rate as a “contribution to the development of the country” and a measure to “prevent the waste of labour force.”

On the other side, women participating in women’s movement and labour organizations have been drawing attention to the importance of taking “quality” of women’s employment into consideration, besides the quantity of it. In recent years, many policies and projects have been conducted with women’s movement’s efforts and in response to the needs of other actors. Similarly, Women’s Labour and Employment Initiative Platform (KEIG), has been working on the projects aiming to improve the visibility of women’s labour and increase quality of quantity of women’s employment to a level enabling decent life and decent work opportunities since 2006; and in parallel trying to play an active role in the determination of economic and social policies in the area using local and national mechanisms available.
However, despite all the efforts, it is not possible to claim that the policies and documents which were made to increase women’s employment and to empower women in the economic area have reached their objectives. There are many reasons behind that failure, from the common mentality intrinsic to the policy making paradigm to the patriarchal-capitalist set of relationships entrenched at the material level. Many national and international documents and organization such as The Eighth and Ninth Development Plans, Gender Equality Action Plans, Turkish National Assembly’s Committee on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men, ILO (International Labour Organization) agreements and European Union Harmonization Process programs are structured by an integrated approach that could influence various projects. However, all of these have had limited influences in practice. The Prime Ministerial Circular on “Increasing Women’s Employment and Achieving Equal Opportunity” which was issued in 2010 introduced responsibility and duty of some institutions for taking measures towards gender equality. The goal of the Prime Ministerial Circular was defined as “strengthening women’s socio-economic positions, achieving equality in social life between women and men, increasing women’s employment in order to achieve sustainable economic growth and social development, and providing equal pay for equal work.” The arrangements that the Circular promotes largely overlapped with the demands for which women’s movement and KEIG as a component of it have been struggling for many years.

However, the concrete arrangements that the Circular brings forth in text are not realized in practice. Moreover, it is reported that in many cases what appeared has been counter-practices of what the Circular measures set out. In the light of all these observations, KEIG Platform members agreed on the necessity of making a “needs analysis” in order to determine the methods through which women’s organizations in the KEIG Platform can participate in local policy making processes, and to review the political demands according to the current state of women’s employment in provinces. Hence the research named “General Conditions of Women’s Employment in Turkey After the Prime Ministerial Circular” was conducted in 12 provinces (Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Çanakkale, Denizli, Diyarbakır, İstanbul, İzmir, Kocaeli, Şanlıurfa, Trabzon and Van) in which women’s organizations participating in the KEIG Platform have offices. The research has been shaped as a needs analysis; and it aimed to investigate how the Circular was put into practice and where it channeled the policies and activities on women’s employment.

First phase of the study starts with a critical examination of the policies, programmes and projects of the relevant institutions and bodies [1] active in the area of women’s employment. Within this scope, their strategic plans, in-service training programs and other relevant documents were reviewed. Furthermore, as the authorized policy actors at the provincial level, Provincial Employment and Vocational Education Boards were put under examination making use of the documents those Boards prepared about their policies and activities. Study also intended to determine whether there was a childcare centre in Organized Industrial Zones or not; and around similar pursuits of investigation, researched the general state of women’s employment at the provincial level. In the second phase of the research, a sum of 120 face to face interviews were conducted in June and July 2010 with the representatives from the state institutions, associations that the Circular assigned duty on -directly or indirectly-, women’s groups within the Unions, women’s organizations and from other prominent local organizations related to employment. Various data have been obtained through those interviews. However, after the first series of interviews, the need for a deeper investigation about some bodies and projects such as the National Monitoring and Coordination Committee for Women’s Employment was ascertained. In general, the lack of gender- disaggregated data, and monitoring and assessment results concerning the activities have been observed at every phase of the research. The first two phases of the research was finished by the meeting that was held on October 17, 2012. In this meeting a road map has been drawn through the processing of the data sets that the women’s organizations gathered together, their observations during the process and the initial findings of the research. This mid-term assessment report consists of the data gathered through interviews that were conducted in various institutions and women organizations in 12 provinces and the evaluation of the texts and documents of the Circular. The research may be considered as a needs analysis. However, although the methodology has been determined in accordance with a needs analysis, the work has transformed into an action research due to adjustments made at the implementation phase. Women’s organizations participating in the KEIG Platform visited the state institutions and establishments together and asked the officials questions that are related to 13 articles of the Circular. Particularly when the questions about directives which directly concerning women’s organizations (the suggestion to collaborate with women’s NGO’s and the obligation to give seat to women’s NGO representatives in provincial employment and vocational education committees) were directed to the officials by women from women’s NGOs directly, the action research quality of the research manifested itself. During and after the interviews, there have been positive changes in the relationships of women’s organizations’ with the public, institutions nature of which had differed from weak to strong until then.

The research continues in its two path bifurcations. The influence that was created in the first two phases of the research by the local women’s organizations continues to produces results which calls for further investigation; and the monitoring of national level the committees that has been formed in a higher and policy making scale and the particular projects continue to be essential concerns and activities of the research process. The report you are reading now is only a mid-term assessment of the first two phases of this research. A big amount of data sets on the direction of policies for increasing women’s employment in 12 provinces was, though already obtained, not included in this mid-term report. Overall assessment will involve detailed information on the provinces together with the demographic, economic data and the tendencies peculiar to each province. This mid-term assessment aims to discuss the initial findings of the research. With this report, we hope to carry the local interactions that the research achieved to the national level through public involvement.


* No part of this report may be used without citing the source.
[1] Employment and Job Agency, Governorship, Municipality, Provincial Special Administration, Development Agency, KOSGEB (Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization), Provincial Directorates of Family and Social Policy, Provincial Directorates for National Education, Public Education Centers, Chamber of Industry, Chamber of Trade, Provincial Council of Women Entrepreneurs in TOBB (Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey) and etc.

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