This post was originally published on the Huffington Post.
You’ve traveled to Turkey, eaten the local cuisine, danced at the open air nightclubs, made new friends, indulged in the local drink and chatted with
the shopkeepers at the bazar. So now you can say you know Turkey? Or do you?
As the second largest country in Europe, Turkey’s social landscape vastly varies from east to west. It is a nation deep with culture, traditions and values, which carry over into gender roles. Although, one doesn’t have to travel all the way to the Iranian border to see this disparity, even within Istanbul, individuals with more traditional values are becoming more prevalent. The latest Gender Gap Index report from the World Economic Forum reveals just how widespread the gap is between men and women.
1) Turkey’s Gender Roles Rank Worst in the Region
Turkey holds last place among European nations in regards to gender equality. Rising four spots on a global scale since 2012, it still has not been able to pull itself from the bottom among its neighbors in Europe. You can find an interactive version of the map here. This ranking is decided by four indexes, Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.
2) Just One Third of Women Have a Bank Account
Independence comes hand in hand with financial independence. This statistic both derives from the fact that female labor participation in Turkey has not yet reached its potential, and that culturally, it is a male household function to handle finances. Regardless, having the ability to control your income or your family’s income is empowering. “Some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor…,” says Nick Kristof of the New York Times, inferring that women, more than men, tend spend with their families in mind.
3) Only 14% of Parliament Seats are held by Women
Although women gained the right to vote in 1934 (France, 1945, Switzerland, 1956), female political participation has not advanced much past that great feat. In the past year, women have begun to strike back and take the front lines in political activism, but that has not yet translated into a higher number of women in powerful decision-making roles. In the last 83 years, Istanbul has seen 3,500+ mayors and borough presidents and only four of them were women.
4) Becoming a Manager is Not Easy
In a land where 88% of firms are managed by men, the female plight to the top of the ladder will prove to be difficult. If we consider Sheryl Sandberg’s theory that women have a higher potential for growth when they have other female managers, it will require perseverance to find that mentor to help a woman follow her career path. Recently, the population has recognized this and begun forming networking communities of women, in hopes of introducing young women to strong societal figures.
5) Women are choosing to Own their own Business
Learning a skilled trade and becoming an entrepreneur has proven to be a popular path for women in Turkey. Over 40% of private business owners in the country are women. Business owners can range from sewing handbags to owning a chain of furniture stores, but women are choosing to become their own managers and make their own decisions. It is untold if the reason behind this is due to societal pressure in the workplace to conform.
I’ll tell you a secret, it’s not that hard to notice these facts in everyday Turkish life. On your next trip, attend a political rally held by the government and notice the lack of gender diversity in the crowd, ask a schoolgirl in the east what she wants to be when she grows up or Google Turkish parliament and attempt a ‘Where’s Waldo’ for women in the photos.
As with any nation, realities are hidden from tourists and investors as best in possible. But in a nation that it boasts a young population and a strong economy, education and opportunity for women and girls should be top priority to further advance the nation on a global scale.
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