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SPEECH/06/145












Vladimír Špidla

Member of the European Commission responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities




Seminar on Equal opportunities for men and women in Turkey






















Seminar on Equal opportunities for men and women in Turkey
Ankara, 6 March 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased that you have been able to attend this important seminar focusing on the main challenges of gender equality in Turkey.

Accession negotiations with Turkey were opened last October. The issue of equal opportunities is an essential component in your country’s preparations for future EU accession. The timing of my visit also reflects the importance which the European Commission attaches to this issue, as a date close to International Women’s Day was deliberately chosen.

The question of equal rights for men and women is also of importance to me personally. I fully share the views of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who said: “If a society does not march towards its goal with all its women and men together, it is impossible for it to progress”.

I regard his words as evidence of his brilliant, visionary mind. After all, at that time there were not many people anywhere in the world who thought as he did. And yet modern history has proved him right: without women, without their knowledge, skills and experience, the economic growth and development of the last few decades in Europe would not have been possible.

Recognition of women’s rights and equal opportunities is therefore not just about political correctness; it is a major step forward in the arduous journey towards freedom and self-determination. It also makes sense, as it benefits the whole of society and also the economy, and is therefore in everyone’s interest.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the last hundred years both the EU Member States and Turkey have made incredible progress. If anyone had told our grandmothers that their granddaughters could study ALL subjects at university, that they would have careers and businesses or even lead whole countries, or simply that they would earn their own money and make their own life choices, our grandmothers would not have believed it. The emancipation of women is a genuine social revolution for which there is no comparable precedent in history.

Equality for men and women is a fundamental right of the European Union. Without it there is no real democracy, and it is essential for the equality of all EU citizens. It is the very foundation of a pluralist society, and this is why gender equality is enshrined in the EC Treaty.

In the Member States, EU legislation and policies in the area of equal opportunities have in recent decades been constantly developed and improved. They include access to employment, working conditions, social security, parental leave and the burden of proof in discrimination disputes. On this last point, it is no longer the victim (usually a woman) who must prove that she has suffered discrimination; it is the accused institution or company which must prove that there has been no discrimination.

The EU’s growth and employment strategy, which coordinates national policies, has the objective of creating more and better jobs and training opportunities for women.

The sound basis of the EU’s policy on gender equality essentially promotes equal opportunities for men and women in the individual Member States. Clear progress has also been made, in terms of both living conditions and women’s participation in the labour market:

  • today, women in the EU achieve, on average, a higher level of education than men. 59% of graduates in the EU are women;
  • positive trends are also emerging in employment. While female employment – namely the percentage of women between the ages of 15 and 64 who are employed – stood at 49% in the EU in 1992, by 1997 it had risen to 51%. In the last few years, despite the economic slowdown, it rose further to 56%.

Yet, despite this progress, considerable challenges still exist. For example, the gender pay gap remains significant: in the EU women earn on average 15% less than men. There is also still a high degree of segregation at sectoral level – meaning that women are often employed in certain sectors of the economy, usually those which pay less. And four times more women than men are in part-time work, where conditions are often poorer than in full-time employment.

Women are still mainly responsible for housework, which means that they have particular difficulties in combining their working and private lives. Women also have to fight against many stereotypes, making it all the more difficult for them to obtain higher positions.

The European Commission is very much aware of these challenges, and this is why, last week, it presented a road map for gender equality, specifying those areas in which more action is needed, such as the pay gap and violence against women.

Now let us turn to Turkey, which has made great progress in terms of women’s rights. I know that here the first feminists were active as early as the 19th century, and that in 1930 Turkish women were the first in the Islamic world to be given the right to vote, long before France or Belgium, for example. In the past years Turkey has achieved further important progress in legislation:

  • for example, the Turkish Labour Code contains a series of regulations implementing the “acquis communautaire” on equal treatment for men and women;
  • the new Penal Code which recently entered into force also contains stricter rules on violence against women, particularly for so-called "crimes of honour ";
  • the new Municipalities Act provides for the introduction of women’s shelters in large cities;
  • in addition, a legal basis has been created for the establishment of a Directorate-General on the situation of women.

All of this progress is exemplary and has earned the respect of other countries. Yet it cannot be denied that, on the whole, the position of women in Turkey remains a complex one. Serious problems still exist:

  • in everyday life women continue to be the victims of discrimination and also of violence, especially in the home;
  • in education women still face many obstacles, and illiteracy among women remains high:
  • according to my information, approximately one fifth of women in Turkey cannot read or write. In the rural regions of eastern Anatolia this figure is as high as 50%;
  • while women make up 41% of students at Turkish universities, overall only 18% of women aged 18 to 24 are in education. The EU average is 61%;
  • the percentage of women in employment is also falling continuously. In 1955, 75% of all women of productive age were employed. Today only 24 % are employed.

The percentage of women in the labour market needs to be increased, and women must be guaranteed the same access to education and training. However, this requires a fundamental change in attitudes, which can only be addressed by consistent action to influence views and stereotypes concerning the role of women in society.

Suppressing the informal economy is equally important. It is estimated that between 30 and 50% of Turkish workers are employed in this area – and for women this figure is disproportionately high. This means that women have little protection from labour law and do not benefit from the important changes made in compliance with EU labour law.

A lasting improvement in the position of women will only be possible if the adopted reforms are systematically continued. In addition to adopting the relevant laws, the Government should also provide the necessary administrative capacity. This is the only way of guaranteeing the effective application of the law throughout the country.

This concerns in particular the field of justice, which plays a fundamental role in the enforcement of rights, and certain administrative bodies, such as the "equality bodies" which are to be set up in all Member States on the basis of an EU Directive from 2002.

I would also like to highlight the important role which civil society in Turkey must and does play in improving the situation of women, and in gender equality. In particular, women themselves and women’s organisations should play a key role in this process. After all, they have direct contact with the people and can therefore achieve a great deal.

For the European Commission, the issue of equal opportunities is a priority in the accession negotiations. The Commission is following very closely the progress of Turkish legislation in the area of equal treatment of men and women. The opening of accession negotiations between Turkey and the European Union marked the beginning of an open, long-term process in which the European Commission wishes to work alongside Turkey.

In the area of equal opportunities for men and women, we are holding discussions at two levels:

  • the adoption of the EU’s legislative framework, the so-called "acquis communautaire", which was already discussed in detail this morning;
  • all other issues affecting women’s living conditions.

The rights of women are one of the priorities. Although Turkey has achieved a great deal in this area, a lot of work still needs to be done in relation to the political criteria for accession, as the European Commission stated explicitly last November in its progress report on Turkey.

I hope that today’s event will help to provide impetus, and I will listen with interest to the views of the organisations represented here.

I would like to end with some further words from the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who said that a society would not catch up with the modern world if it modernised only half the population. He also said: “There is no logical explanation for women’s political disenfranchisement. Any hesitation and negative mentality on this subject is nothing more than a fading social phenomenon of the past.”

Thank you.


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