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I was asked last night to participate in an hour-long discussion, on Twitter, about the latest World Economic Forum Gender Gap report on Turkey. The conversation was–what’s the word, chaired? initiated?–by the Turkish Philanthropy Fund. I was keen to participate, but quickly realized that I wasn’t prepared because I hadn’t studied the report closely enough. I’ve spent the morning looking at it, and I have some thoughts now that might be at least help someone else to have helpful thoughts.
1) I’d like to see a much more detailed account of the methodology: This is apparently based on “survey data.” We need to see how the surveys were done and look at the raw data.
2) Next question: “a growing gender gap” in what, precisely? There seems, for example, to be a significant gap in “healthy life expectancy”–women: 67, men: 64. That’s the kind of gap we might say we can live with (if we’re women), but I think it’s also reasonable to ask what’s killing off the men at an earlier age and to ask whether it could be connected to what’s making them wealthier and more powerful. Also, why does this figure differ so much from the World Bank’s estimate of 72 years for women, 77 for men? Those are very different numbers, epidemiologically speaking; especially, I should imagine, considered from the viewpoint of a 63-year-old man.
2) A growing gender gap is not necessarily the worst thing in the world. It’s cause to ask, “What’s going on here and why,” to be sure. But it’s more important to ask if women are doing better in absolute terms than it is to ask if they’re doing better in relative terms. If women are steadily becoming healthier, wealthier, and more educated, it’s of secondary importance to me that they become equal–you could, after all, achieve equality by impoverishing and immiserating all the men and shortening their life spans, too, and I can suggest a million easy ways to do it. But obviously that’s not the problem anyone really wants to solve. Similarly, you can fall in the global rankings simply by virtue of other countries rising–it doesn’t necessarily mean that things are getting worse for women in absolute terms.
3) I’d like to see the data broken down a lot more. Turkey is a big country. What’s happening in Istanbul may have nothing to do with what’s happening in Diyarbakır; within Istanbul alone, Nişantaşı and Sultanbeyli may as well be different planets.
4) We have a huge gap in “labor force participation.” I’d like to see this broken down into the various sectors of the labor force. Some hypotheses–beyond the standard, “Turkey’s turned into an Islamist nightmare and the women are doomed!”–might be worth considering. We don’t know all that much about what’s going on in the Turkish economy, given the amount of it that’s off-the-record, but one thing anyone here can see is that it’s been fueled, for quite some time, by industries that don’t appeal to women–the construction industry, chiefly. It doesn’t surprise me to see an absence of women on constructions sites in Turkey, but would it surprise me anywhere? Nowhere in the world do women seem all that that excited about careers in construction work, coal mining, or fishing in Alaska, no matter how much you encourage them to do it or try to level the playing field. So the more important question is, how are they doing in sectors such as tourism and textile manufacturing? (And good luck trying to get real data on that.)
5) You can probably guess what I’d say about “wage equality for similar work.” Similar work according to whom? If it’s so similar, why don’t people want to pay a similar price for it? I’m not saying this sentence is meaningless, especially in Turkey, but I need to know more about it before I can say anything useful about it.
6) I’m not much impressed by such numbers as “Years with a female head of state.” It would probably be better to bar women from politics outright and permanently than to repeat Tansu Çiller’s premiership. It should be uncontroversial to say that mass graves are bad for women.
Finally, an alternative, less data-driven thought: Turkey’s turned into an Islamist nightmare and the women are doomed! I mean, come on, folks, we all know that the obsession with putting women in a headscarf is not really good for women, don’t we? I’m just not ever going to buy the idea that something terrific and Enlightened has occurred when women are finally free enough to be covered up and segregated from men. It’s one thing to say everyone here should be free to wear or write what they want, another to believe that everything anyone in fact says or wears is equally terrific for women because he or she did it freely. The latter doesn’t follow from the former. I suspect that to the degree there’s really an exploding and undesirable gender gap, the it’s an Islamist-nightmare-women-are-doomed hypothesis accounts for it. But with data like this, who can say?
Does that help at all to clarify the discussion? Published in