New Social Compact

Now more than ever, Türkiye must accelerate its gender equality journey

On 17 March, the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women concluded, ending two weeks of high-level discussions on some of the core issues affecting women today. During the session, activists and representatives from governments and civil society gathered in New York, and—in line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme—‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”—the discussions centred around closing digital gender gaps and fuelling digitally-driven empowerment.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres rightly warned, “as technology races ahead, women and girls are being left behind.” As a long-time gender equality activist in Türkiye, I know all too well that my country is no exception. While Türkiye has made great strides, women and girls continue to face significant barriers–from digital life to education and politics. With crises such as the devastating February earthquake and rollbacks in protections against domestic violence disproportionately affecting women, Türkiye must accelerate its gender equality journey, now more than ever.

A story of growing empowerment 

The remarkable progress seen in Türkiye in recent years is a testament to women’s resilience and unrelenting collective action, across a wide swath of Turkish society, to elevate female voices. Türkiye’s creative sector has emerged as one particularly powerful force in the struggle for gender equality, as contemporary visual media has built on the foundation laid by innovative female artists like Gülsün Karamustafa, who has used her work to spark societal reflection on gender roles and women’s issues.

Changing gender-based perceptions requires a broad effort, and tackling core issues like domestic violence is of particular import. Since 2004, when I launched the ‘’No! To Domestic Violence’ movement, both the Turkish civil and penal codes have undergone substantial positive changes. Women’s empowerment movements like ours engaged extensively with civil society and state institutions, helping lay the path to Türkiye’s early ratification of the Istanbul Convention and contributing to the drafting of Convention-aligned domestic violence legislation. Our movement has also endeavoured to tackle discriminatory societal norms, including by educating authorities, opening a 24/7 domestic hotline, and harnessing the power of media to propel the issue of domestic violence from taboo to the centre of the public agenda.

This awareness-raising has supported major breakthroughs, as women have progressively gained visibility, a public voice, and representation in key spheres. In 2007, women’s share of Parliament was still less than 5%, but by 2018, the last Turkish elections, 104 female deputies lifted this figure to 17.1%, while 2014 saw Türkiye rank 2nd globally in female CEO and executive representation, at 11.1%. 

Headwinds signalling long road ahead

Türkiye’s invaluable gains in gender equality nevertheless remain fragile and vulnerable to fresh threats. 

Digitalisation has become a new driver of gender inequality and discrimination. As of 2018, 

Türkiye had the G20’s widest gender gap in Internet usage, while only 36% of Turkish female university graduates study STEM–less than 10% of whom eventually pursue related careers. What’s more, between 2007 and 2017, women’s share of the tech industry workforce halved to a mere 10%. 

This representation gap echoes Türkiye’s broader female labour participation rate, which at only 38% in 2018 was well below the OECD average of 65%. While the government is working to drive this rate up, the labour market continues to be plagued by a significant gender pay gap, which soaring inflation and the weakening lira are widening, particularly for women in lower-wage professions. On the political front, Türkiye has no female government representatives outside the Ministry of Family and the path to parliamentary parity remains long.

Most egregiously, Türkiye’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in 2021 has dealt a severe blow to women’s safety. Almost 500 women have since been murdered by men, one in six of whom were under the protection of Law No. 6284, exposing Türkiye’s weak enforcement culture. Specifically, legal requirements that abusers be removed from their home and their weapons confiscated have been undermined by instances of officials arbitrarily lifting protection orders, contributing to the alarming rise in femicides. This violence has been mirrored in the online harassment and intimidation aimed at female journalists and trailblazing activists.

Amidst this turbulent gender equality climate, the 6 February earthquake struck the southeastern part of Türkiye as well as northwestern Syria—as with all natural disasters, women and girls are bearing a disproportionate share of the fallout. With destroyed homes and shortages of food, health and hygiene provisions, many women and girls have been left to the streets, where they are highly vulnerable to illness, sexual exploitation and violence.

Hope on the horizon

Despite these troubling headwinds, the resilience of the Turkish people provides an undying source of hope. Turkish women, in particular, have refused to be victims of their circumstances, instead banding together in a heroic effort of solidarity.

Thousands of our citizens have taken to the streets to protest the Istanbul Convention withdrawal–which nearly 80% of the population supports rejoining–and demand equal pay. Turkish feminist groups like Ekmek ve Gül have participated in earthquake search-and-rescue efforts as well as aid collection and distribution.

As the aftermath of the earthquake has shown, society’s failure to listen to and consider women and girls’ unique vulnerabilities perpetuates gender equality barriers. This is why the Vuslat Foundation I founded is focusing our relief efforts on providing affected women and girls safe, encouraging spaces in which to express their emotions and be truly heard. Our listening circles with survivors will use a Generous Listening approach where participants will hear and be heard with both heart and mind, helping women establish meaningful bonds to heal and rebuild their lives.

Generous Listening has long been at the heart of our gender equality and empowerment movement, enabling strong, effective partnerships with all stakeholders needed to drive change. This collective, cross-sector approach must continue fuelling progress, from the digital world to the boardroom and the halls of government.

Empowering Turkish women in leadership positions will not only lead to better decision-making for women, but create strong female role models to inspire the next generation of girls to pursue their dreams and accelerate our unyielding fight for equality.

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı is a Turkish businesswoman, philanthropist and artist. The former CEO and Chairwoman of Hürriyet, the leading independent news outlet in Türkiye, Ms. Doğan Sabancı has fought relentlessly to further the fight for gender equality in her home country, founding vital initiatives such as the "No! To Domestic Violence" movement and Türkiye's first 24/7 domestic violence helpline.

Recent Posts

A New Horizon for Kazakhstan’s Economy

On September 1, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered an address that outlined the nation's…

7 mins ago

The High Percentage of Informal Employment in Indonesia: Causes and Implications

In most developing countries, the informal economy accounts for a large portion of the national…

2 hours ago

China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation

President Xi Jinping's address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call…

5 hours ago

U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s Weapon Systems: A New Game in the Quest of High-Tech Microchip

Modern warfare places a great deal of emphasis on semiconductors and microchips because they are…

7 hours ago

The Solution to Ending the War in Ukraine Lies in the Ability to Get the Other Side’s Point of View 

This is so simple, so obvious, that anyone ought to see the truth of it…

9 hours ago

How is Iran’s growing paranoia affect its relations with Azerbaijan?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet republics tried to search for…

13 hours ago