The Status of Women

The Status of Women

Traditional views of gender roles and relations have persisted in tandem with changes in the status of women both within and outside the family. These changes began during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire, when women were given opportunities to work as teachers, clerks, and industrial workers. Change accelerated during the early republican era. The 1926 civil code granted women unprecedented legal rights, and in 1934 they received the right to vote and to stand for election. Since the 1950s, their participation in the labor force, the professions, and in politics has increased steadily but unevenly. By 1991 women made up 18 percent of the total urban labor force. But not all changes have resulted in improved conditions. In some instances, especially among rural and newly urbanized women, changes have disturbed a traditional order that has provided meaningful, guaranteed roles for women without introducing new ones.

During the 1950s, rural women who migrated to the urban gecekondus generally found work as maids in private homes. Since the 1960s, employment opportunities for women in industry, especially light manufacturing, have been expanding. By 1991, the most recent year for which detailed statistics are available, almost 20 percent of employees in manufacturing were women. Nevertheless, a majority of women in the gecekondus do not work outside the home. Most urban working-class women are single and hold jobs for less than five years; they tend to leave paid employment when they get married. While working and contributing to family income, women enjoy enhanced status and respect.

Urban middle-class and upper-middle-class women tend to have more education than working-class women and generally are employed in teaching, health care, and clerical work. Since 1980 more than one-third of all bank clerks have been women. Upper-class women tend to work in the prestigious professions, such as law, medicine, and university teaching. On average about 18 percent of all professionals in Turkey were women in 1991; they were concentrated in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, and a few other large urban centers.

In 1995 the status of women in Turkey remained a multifaceted, complex issue. Although the government guarantees women equal work and pay opportunities, the traditional value system elevates gender segregation in the workplace and other public spaces as a social ideal. Even urban, educated, professional women may encounter the persistence of traditional, religiously colored values about gender roles among their putatively modern, secular husbands.

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