According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Turkey has the highest rate of youths not in employment, education or training (NEET) amongst OECD members at 30%. While this is a timely and delicate social issue, another issue of comparatively devastating costs also seems to be conspicuously looming. In Turkey’s case, the past was female!
Women’s suffrage was granted in 1930, a decade or more before Turkey’s various Western European contemporaries such as France, Italy and Belgium. Turkey elected its first female Prime Minister, head of government Tansu Cilier, in 1993 before the world's leading superpower tentatively decided to have a female candidate run for office. It is difficult to comprehend how today, 88 years after the constitutional right to vote and stand for elections, Turkey ranks below the world average for the parliamentary representation and engagement of women.
The establishment of the 66th Cabinet following the election this year only corroborated this staggering aspersion. Of the sixteen ministerial positions available, women lead only two, one of which is the Ministry of Labor, Social Services and Family.
This may be attributed to factors concerning the traditional gender based delegation of roles, interests and political disenchantment all together, or it may be reflective of the startling NEET rate of 46% amongst Turkish women, compared to the 18% average in the OECD. Therefore, it may not come as much of a surprise that Turkish women on average are three times more likely to become NEETs then their male counterparts. This is in spite of Turkey’s almost equal male-female demographic; which incidentally is expected to tip in favor of females by 2040.
This is a systemic failure, best demonstrated by the 60% of young women in modern Turkey who stop short of completing their upper secondary education. Another comparative disadvantage amongst the OECD that Turkey can add to its ever developing list.
But why is this important? And is this an issue?
The reality is that you do not need to be a flagrant and vocal feminist to understand the severe social and economic challenges that barring women from the political and market spheres poses to the development of a nation in an increasingly globalised, neo-liberal world.
The consequences of failing to address the lack of female representation and inactivity in government and the labor market could amount to an estimated 3.4% of Turkey’s GDP and also incur an acute influence on the country’s general social cohesion and standard of living.
With the female population multiplying, one would think that opportunities would follow and reflect this inevitable reality. Whether this exposition is a manifestation of minimal skill competition among men and women with relatively lower levels of education, or whether it is indicative of a greater cultural issue espoused by the growing religiosity amongst contemporary Turks and their representatives; one thing is for certain. The future IS female. Literally. The sooner governments understand this, the sooner they can evolve and if desired, successfully participate.
Eylem Kim is currently studying international relations at Monash University.