TPF had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Ayse Cihan Sultanoğlu, a member of TPF’s Advisory Board, and Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (RBEC) with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Ms. Sultanoğlu pointed out the wide gender gap that currently plagues Turkey, in particular, with women in decision making roles. She cites that women make up only two percent of local government positions and there is only one out of 81 female governors. UNDP has various ongoing projects in the region to combat this issue, including programs to increase visibility of women in communities. She states that in any country, women’s inability or limited access to and control over resources means the untapped potential of approximately half of the population.
What are some of UNDP’s current/ongoing projects in Turkey that are gender centered?
The UNDP in Turkey has been developing and implementing interventions to address gender inequalities and mainstreaming gender. In Turkey, the Local Agenda 21 (LA-21) Programme is being implemented in partnership with UNDP since 1997. The Women Councils are one of the structures established in the scope of LA 21 Program. These councils set the ground for the visibility of the women as the stakeholders of the communities. The women coalition established by the women councils has contributed to the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Committee in the Parliament.
Another significant UNDP contribution to gender equality is the UN Joint Program on Protecting and Promoting Human Rights of Women and the Girl Child implemented in six cities of Turkey between 2006-2010. The Program provided a crucial platform for the Turkish government, NGOs, private sector and other stakeholders to work together for the goal of establishing gender equality in Turkey. Currently UNDP and UNFPA are working on the second phase of this joint project for its scale up and replication.
Joint Program on Fostering an Enabling Environment for Gender Equality in Turkey in cooperation with the gender equality machinery in Turkey aims to strengthen an enabling institutional environment by providing targeted assistance to capacity development of duty bearers and rights holders. These duty bearers include the Parliament Equal Opportunities Commission and the legal experts of the Parliament, the Union of Municipalities of Turkey, the General Directorate in charge of women’s status, women’s councils and gender equality bodies in selected municipalities. And the rights holders are CSOs, gender equality and women’s rights advocates, including experts and academics.
In addition, UNDP Turkey has launched a new joint programme entitled ‘United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) to Promote the Human Rights of Women’ on 1 March 2013. UNJP will be conducted in 10 cities, including Aydın, Çanakkale, Edirne, Erzincan, Eskişehir, Kahramanmaraş, Kastamonu, Kayseri, Kocaeli and Ordu jointly by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNWOMEN and Sabancı University. The Sabancı Foundation will be the main sponsor of the programme. Programme will be realized in cooperation with Ministries of Interior, National Education and Family and Social Policies as well as the Union of Municipalities of Turkey.
In the scope of the Project of Innovations for Women’s Empowerment in the GAP Region, in Turkey’s southeast Anatolia region, where only 3 per cent of women are engaged in paid labour, UNDP and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) are supporting hundreds of women to become fashion entrepreneurs, forming and owning their own cooperative.
In a pro bono partnership with key fashion designers, Turkey’s leading retailer, MUDO, and online sales portal Markafoni, have been trained in business skills, such as sales and marketing, and in technical skills such as design, cutting and sewing. The women draw inspiration for their designs from traditional regional motifs while also receiving technical support for marketing, sales and business management.
Last but not least, gender is a crosscutting theme which is mainstreamed in all initiatives of UNDP ranging from climate change to rural development.
Are there any gender-based projects that are using technology to promote women’s rights in Turkey?
UNDP in Turkey, in partnership with the Turkish General Staff, is using distance learning methodology to train and achieve attitude and behavioural changes in the lives of the young adult male population, who are in the compulsory military duty. To this end, IP based TVs are used and audio-visual training materials are produced. Annually 10,000 conscripts will be trained by this methodology.
Why do you see gender development as particularly important in Turkey?
According to the latest MDG Progress report of Turkey, the country has almost reached the target of eliminating gender inequality in primary education although the proportion of girls who are not taking up secondary education is noteworthy. The MDG Progress Report highlights the existing structural inequalities; especially those related to geographical and social gender disparities as remaining challenges for the achievement of MDGs. The primary gaps are found in the participation of women in decision making and in labor force. Women’s participation in labour force is only at around 30 percent, which put Turkey below all other OECD members and many developing countries worldwide. Turkey ranks 68th out of 148 countries (2012), according to the latest Gender Inequality Index of UNDP which reveals gender disparities in reproductive health, empowerment and labor market participation.
Despite important structuring within the national gender equality and important improvements with regards to legislation, still gender equality is a big issue for the country. Implementation of the legislation remains poor in many fields. Turkey is far behind in the political participation of women in the decision making process. The level of political participation in Parliament is only 14,1 percent and that of local government is less than two percent. Inadequate child care facilities, tendency to drop out of the labour market after marriage may be among the reasons behind that. The second reason is an inability to engage women in the labour force, non-agricultural sectors, and the senior level positions. There is only one female Minister in the government, only one governor out of 81, less than 30 women ambassadors out of 156. Women are not in the top positions, even though the government has declared a positive discrimination strategy (affirmative action). Turkey has long way to go on reproductive rights, and it has unfortunately been regressing on the issue in recent years. Although in cities and urban areas it is not such a big problem, in rural areas there are not enough services. Despite important endeavours of the Government, violence against women is a big issue that needs to be solved in the country.
Do you believe this is one of the most pressing issues facing Turkey today?
As in any country, women’s inability or limited access to and control over resources means the untapped potential of approximately half of the population of the country and this is a challenge to achieve sustainable development in the country. When a country addressed to the remaining inequalities among the sexes, this increases the possibilities of economic and human development.