029. Women’s rights in Turkey

8th March, International Women’s day. In many countries this means a lot of chocolate and expensive (Dutch) roses. A bit like Valentine’s day, but then for colleagues. In other countries however 8th March has become more important over the years, leading to intense social and political discussions concerning women’s rights. Turkey is one of these countries, as women’s rights are all but undisputed.

8th March: Invitations are pouring in, all interesting and relevant. We, as the diplomatic network in Turkey contribute by organizing a thematic lunch about women’s rights and hosting a reception for Transparency International. During that reception one of the main messages was about women being less corrupt and more committed in fighting corruption. We attended several conferences including the Istanbul Stock Exchange promoting participation of more Turkish women in economic life. Of course we signed in to the HeForShe campaign, launched last Wednesday in Turkey. Within two days more than 1200 men showed their support. And finally let us not forget our Matra and human rights projects.

Violation of women’s rights is a worldwide problem and so it is in Turkey. Discussion about sexual violence erupted last month again as a response to the brutal murder of student Özgecan Aslan. Protests, solidarity and disconcerting studies followed shortly after. One report indicated that all Turkish women aged 15 and above have had to deal with some form of unwanted sexual intimacy or sexual violence. An other report stated that a majority of the population tolerated some sort of violence against women. This is not consistent with the way I see Turkish women who in my experience are strong and proud. The Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum indicates that I might be wrong. Since its start in 2006, Turkey finds itself in the lowest regions. Some say because of wrong statistics. But now, eight years later, I fear the statistics might be true. Turkey hoovers somewhere between the 105th and 129th place, with the 125th place out of 142 countries in 2014.

These were some of the subjects during the thematic lunch for women’s rights at the Consulate. Representatives from universities, a shelter, the leading political party and an economic organization took part They were all positive, for whom the glass is slightly fuller than a few decades ago, but by far not full enough. All participants agreed on the low ranking of Turkey on the Global Gender Gap Index. Remarkably, since Turkish people are proud of their country and do not express criticism easily. Conclusions? Politicians, media, culture and women themselves are to blame for the present situation and solutions must be found in a more active role by the government, setting quotas and a change in the attitudes among men and women.

Currently economic participation of women in Turkey is one of the lowest in the world (30%); on the other hand, when it comes to women in the boards of directors of corporations Turkey does well (11%, no 2 in Europe). I was particularly interested in the future ranking of Turkey on the Global Gender Gap Index of Turkey. The consensus was just 10-15 places higher during the next generation. My guests seemed, a bit to my surprise, pleased with this.

8th March: On my desk I have for the women at the Consulate 28 bags of chocolate, finished with a red bow and a message from the HeForShe campaign. Male colleagues will, as last year, make some remarks. They are welcome to do so and I am happy to offer them chocolate: at the start of a SheForHe campaign.

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