GeriGündem Child care will close gap
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Child care will close gap

ISTANBUL - Labor reforms must include state child care services, fair hiring practices and paternity leave to propel Turkey s young women into the much anticipated labor market of tomorrow, advocates and analysts say.

Women do extraordinary things when called upon to move society in a new direction. Now is one of those times.

But turning Turkey’s massive youth population into an efficient labor force is not something women can do alone. It will require enforcing equal access to employment, which means creating a culture of public child care where there is none, a leading women’s rights advocate İpek İlkkaracan told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review Wednesday.

Women’s labor force participation rate is around 26 percent, half the rate of young men, according to a recent World Bank study on school-to-work transition in Turkey. This disparity helps explain the worry surrounding Turkey’s labor market outlook, which do not compare well with EU countries.

Turkey ranked 123rd out of 130 countries in its attempt to close the gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2008 released this week. Turkey’s gigantic youth population could soon be a tremendous burden, not an asset. And if gender inequalities take root in this next generation, the gap could become an abyss.

Education alone cannot open the way for women. Well-educated Turkish women are actually less likely to be in the workforce than they were a generation ago. The employment rate among females with more education, both high school and university, has fallen between 1989 and 2005, the report found.

Focus on part-time unequal
İlkkaracan, Chair of the Board of Directors of Women for Women's Human Rights, said while many in Turkey’s policy circles say more flexible work arrangements would expand opportunities for women in the labor market, "it is a strategy we have to take with caution."

The premise is the problem, İlkkaracan said. "By focusing on maternity leave and part time for women, we are saying they are responsible for both home and work and that men don’t have to take responsibility for non-wage earning work."

A draft law on paternity leave has been sitting before lawmakers for many years. "It should be passed," she said, adding that newborn babies should have access to combined care by the mother and father.

The most important steps toward closing the gender gap in İlkkaracan’s view are child care provisions and reforming the labor code to extend anti-discrimination law to the hiring process. The current language only protects women against gender-based firing and unequal pay.

Men need child care too
Provisions for child care services among OECD countries show that Turkey has the lowest rates for care services of children under five. The law states that companies with more than 100 female employees should provide child care, which has not been enforced.

"But companies that size account for a very small portion of the labor force in Turkey," İlkkaracan said, emphasizing the need for the law to include companies with more than 150 employees Ğ males and females.

Multiple examples from Northern European countries demonstrate that where policies supporting flexible arrangements for women helped close the labor participation gap, they created gender gaps in other areas, said İlkkaracan, who is also an assistant professor of economics at Istanbul Technical University.

"First, women began to cluster in occupations and industries that accommodate those practices. Second, working part time prevented women from being promoted to management positions, creating a gender wage gap, she said.

İlkkaracan would like to see a revision of the labor code and social services act that holds the state responsible for caring for all of its citizens, she said. "Since the 1980 post-coup period the state has been trying to privatize education, health care and social security and I think we have to see the Turkish state return to the social welfare state [declared in the Constitution]."

Harnessing potential

Despite the poor WEF Gender Gap ranking, the news was not all bad. Revealing that progress has been made in a relatively short space of time, the Index shows that Chile, Spain, Turkey and Finland have closed between 5 and 10 percentage points of their respective gender gaps in eight years.


"We see that hundreds of thousands of lives are impacted, and at the economic level, we see enormous potential competitiveness gains," Saadia Zahidi, head of the World Economic Forum's Women Leaders Programme, was quoted as saying when the report was released.


Increasing leadership roles among women in academia and research turns potential into reality, said female rectors from European universities at a conference at Istanbul Technical University (ITU) this week.


The conference drew the attention of university management and decision makers to the importance of ensuring equal opportunities to women and men and the practice of gender mainstreaming as a policy of the European Union.


The report released at this week’s conference compares elements that determine gender equality at ITU and six other universities from six EU-25 countries. It will be published in English and disseminated among universities, decision and policy makers across Europe.


More than a quarter of Turkey’s university professors are women and 56.9 percent of research assistants are women.



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