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March 11, 2012, Sunday

Women: Too few are working, too much violence against them

Last week the "celebration" of International Women's Day was an occasion to remind us how violence against women is so widespread in Turkey, along with other countries, of course, but this is no consolation.

According to recent surveys, the share of women suffering from violence from relatives -- husbands being the primary perpetrators -- ranges from 40 to 60 percent in Turkey. Even the lowest estimation is so high that comprehensive debate and polity are urgently needed.

On March 8 Parliament, as a "gift" to women, unanimously voted to pass a law authorizing new measures -- such as the use of electronic cuffs -- against husbands responsible for subjecting their spouses to violence. To what extent punishment can be dissuasive is a long and deep debate, and I have no intention of going into it. Ironically, the very same day a husband killed his spouse, who was insisting on divorce. It is well known that violence against woman has clear roots in the value system of society, but values also have also some social and economic determinants and, fortunately, these determinants can be changed, resulting in a corresponding change in values.

Recent research conducted by Bahçeşehir University's Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM) “Çalışmak hayat kurtarır" (Working saves life”) (RN 12/129 March 7, 2011) -- based on data collected by Hacettepe University's Institute of Population Studies for Turkish Health and Demographic Surveys in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008 -- revealed interesting and useful insights regarding the question of violence towards women. Let me start with the attitude of Turkey's female citizens towards violence from men. I am not aware of the results of similar surveys in other countries but those from Hacettepe are quite astonishing. In 2008 almost 20 percent of women were justifying being subject to violence for many reasons, like refusing to cook, as well as sex or needless spending of money; the remaining 80 percent thought intra-family violence was unjustified and unacceptable. Fifteen years ago these percentages were almost equal, at around 50 percent. This is not our subject, but at the expense of a digression I would like to note that the gap that emerged in recent years between the number of women suffering from violence -- say 40 percent -- and the number of women accepting this violence -- say 20 percent -- could help us to understand why crimes against women have been rapidly growing in our country.

What happened between 1993 and 2008? To put it simply, women became more educated, and the number of working women increased. In urban areas at the beginning of the 1990s only 15 percent of women were participating in the labor force, whereas in 2008 this climbed to 24 percent. BETAM's econometric analysis shows that the legitimization of violence is closely related to the level of education as well as whether the woman is working or not. Of the women who accept violence as if it were justified, 90 percent attended school for less than five years, while this is limited to 60 percent among other women. Working also matters: For any two married women at the same educational level and whose husbands are also equally educated, the woman who works is less likely to justify violence.

On the other hand, it's clear that a woman with a higher level of education is more likely to work. So, we can assume education would be an effective remedy to our problem. In fact it is only part of the solution. In another BETAM research paper, “Women face institutional and cultural barriers to participation in the labor market," (RN 11/115, Dec. 20, 2011) a comparison with southern European countries -- a comparison with northern Europe would be in vain, the gap being so large -- showed that even if female citizens of Turkey were as educated as their southern European counterparts, the participation gap would be fulfilled by only one-third, more or less. Let me remind you that the female participation rate is actually about 28 percent in Turkey, while it is over 50 percent in Greece and Italy and over 60 percent in Spain.

Obviously, there are other barriers that prevent women from joining the labor market. Some of them have their origin in economic behavior. In terms of supply, the opportunity cost of work is quite high for a married woman. Wages for unskilled workers are quite low and transaction costs, like transportation and availability of kindergartens, are relatively high. On the demand side, headscarf wearing is still not allowed in the public sector; let me also note that there are numerous private enterprises that do not like to hire headscarf-wearing women for ideological or “image” reasons. Now the educational level of headscarf-wearing women is rapidly increasing.

However, even if these socioeconomic barriers were lifted, there would still be husbands and fathers who will not allow their spouses or daughters to work because of their moral values. One of BETAM's most striking finds was that out of two women with similar individual and social characteristics, the one that lives in the east is less likely to work and more likely to justify violence than the one who lives in the west.

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