Monday, March 7, 2011

Weekly Hurriyet Column: A woman scorned

Below is  my Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review column for this week, which you can also read at the Daily News website. As you probably guessed from the title, I was celebrating International Women's Day in advance, in my own little way.

As for the title, there are several movies with that title or a similar one, but all are B-level, and I haven't watched any of them, so I was not really aiming for any specific one at all...

I will have an addendum as usual, where I will expand on some points I raise the column as well as discuss a couple of new ones, such as why women's LFP fell from 50 percent to nearly 25 percent in two decades. That'll probably be tomorrow... 

Anyway, on to the column:


The Turkish Statistical Institute’s 2010 Labor Force Statistics, which were released last Tuesday, paint the well-known, but still dire, picture of female employment.
While women’s overall unemployment, at 13 percent, is 1.6 percent higher than men’s, the difference becomes huge once you look at non-farm unemployment, where female unemployment is a whopping 20.2 percent.
That’s because out of the 6.5 million women employed, 2.7 million work in agriculture, three fourths of whom are unpaid family workers. In fact, at 2.3 million, unpaid family workers significantly inflate the female employment statistics.

You could argue that informality is higher with women, so many working women do not show up in the statistics. But then you would also have to take into consideration Turkey’s public sector employment of 3 million. A sizable chunk of the 6.5 million women is employed by the state, inflating their employment figures much more than their male counterparts.

But the real tragedy of Turkish female employment is not the women without work, but those not in the labor force. Compared to 70.8 percent for males, female labor force participation, or LFP, is a mere 27.6 percent. In other words, Turkey is letting a large portion of its population sit by idly. In a recent study, the World Bank argues that increasing female LFP would have a significant impact on poverty.
But these women are not really sitting idly, are they? After all, they choose to stay at home, rearing their children and keeping the Turkish family fabric in place. Unfortunately, that is not the case. A survey designed as part of the same study finds that childcare is not economical for uneducated women, who would have to work long hours in the informal economy with low wages.

This is not to say that social and cultural factors do not matter in deciding whether or not to work. On the contrary, reasons like husband disapproval, safety concerns and losing face to friends and neighbors all come up in the survey as well. While it can take time to overcome these social barriers, it is possible to achieve some results quickly.

First, more flexible labor markets and programs that enhance labor demand for women would create job opportunities for them. The reduced social security premium for employing women in the recent Omnibus Law is a step in the right direction. I congratulate the unions for torpedoing the flexible employment bills and showing that they only care about protecting existing workers- and their leaders’ Hoffaesque lifestyles.

Second, childcare should be made more affordable through public or subsidized programs. Promoting such early childhood development programs could have an important spillover effect as well: In another study, the Bank argues that these early interventions could weaken the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality.

Finally, there is quite a bit of international evidence that vocational educational and training programs help women to get formal jobs as well as promote gender equality in earnings and labor market opportunities.

But doing all of these would not prevent the honorless honor killings. Nor would it suddenly improve Turkey’s honorable performance in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap report, where it ranked a dismal 126th out of 134 countries.

Even if Turkey improves on educational attainment and economic participation and opportunity for women, two of the four main areas measured in the report, it would still fall well short of equality on female political empowerment, its weakest point. Leaving my free-market philosophy for once, I would argue for quotas and minimum proportion rules.

By the way, before I forget, Happy Women’s Day!

Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.

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