By Claire Zillman
September 11, 2017

Of the 35 wealthy nations that make up the OECD, Turkey is in last place when it comes to women in the labor force, with a participation rate of 36%.

There are myriad factors that have earned Turkey that abysmal ranking: a prevalence of poorly-paid jobs for women, female education levels that are behind international standards, and inadequate child care infrastructure.

But the biggest reason, according to the Financial Times, is the cultural expectation that women are caretakers above all else. That burden forces women out of the workforce once they become mothers and keeps them there as they raise their children. Among Turkish women with kids under age 14, fewer than a third are employed. In Sweden, by comparison, that share is 83%.

And it’s not that men don’t want women to work; most do. But at the same time, they aren’t willing to take on domestic responsibilities themselves.

In fact, of all OECD countries, Turkish women spend the most time per day on unpaid work, such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. They put in 6.3 hours, compared to 1.9 hours among men. Aside from India, Turkey has the least-balanced workload in the OECD.

Julide Sarieroglu, Turkey’s new labor minister, says addressing the issue of women’s low labor participation is one of her top priorities, but her own government isn’t helping matters. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year referred to women who “refuse maternity” as “half” persons.

“She is lacking… no matter how successful she is in the business world,” he said.

Yet the problem is crippling his efforts to return the country to high economic growth rates.

“These women who are not working could be participating in economic life, generating resources, earning incomes,” Rauf Gonenc, head of the OECD’s Turkey desk, told the FT. “The unused potential is huge.”



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