Seminar about the Women

Seminar about the Women’s Question

“On the role of communists in the struggle for the parity and emancipation of women”

Intervention by the EMEP Labour Party, Turkey

Brussels, March 26, 2010

Our demands are still current on the 100th anniversary of 8th  March

It has been 100 years since the 8th of March has been declared as the International Working Women’s Day. Almost 150 years have passed over women’s revolt against the 14-16 hour working-day, against the working conditions in which occupational accidents and diseases were common, against poverty and humiliation imposed upon women. Unfortunately, in terms of problems of employment, working conditions, health and education services, politics, approaches in the social and cultural values and social status, things have not improved much in the 21st century for women all around the world. For this reason, it is disappointing to still talk about these issues, especially on the 100th anniversary of the 8th of March. However, the debate to be carried out by the socialists titled “The tasks of communists in the struggle for women’s equality and freedom” is also important for the today’s women’s movement .

Woman’s unequal position continues worldwide

Even if the worldwide employment problems that women face changes from country to country, the disadvantaged status of women persists. The most basic areas of inequality for women seems to be joining the workforce, employment, unemployment, access to education and health services. We find striking figures, even if we look only at 2009, a year in which the crisis has been deeply felt. In 2009, workforce participation rate for males has remained at 64,7%, whereas it has dropped by 1 point and regressed to 51,6% for women. The employment rate in 2009 has been reported as %72,8 for males and %48 for females. Employment rate decreased in general but the decrease in women’s employment has been greater. In terms of the unemployment rate in 2009, male unemployment rate has increased by 7 points to 6,3%, whereas the rate for women has increased by 9 points to 7%.

In areas of unprotected employment; only 49,4% of men and 52,3% of women has been employed in 2009. Ill fate of women persists in the unprotected employment area. 

During crisis, while workers and labourers are made to shoulder the burden of the crisis, women who are at the lowest tiers of society are carrying the heaviest burden. The effects of poverty on women, brought on by increases in lay-offs and price-hikes seems to be devastating. 65% of people who work for unregistered sectors are women. The ratio of women with no possessions is 80% and among the unemployed young population 88% is female.

Inequality and double-exploitation of women also exists in Turkey

Workforce participation, employment and unemployment ratios, violence, war and poverty perpetuate women’s unequal position by intensifying it. According to the Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum (WEF), while in 2006 Turkey was placed amongst the 11 countries in which the gap is at highest levels, in 2009 it was the moved up to 6th position.

While workforce participation ratio has dropped by 28% for women, the decrease for men has been 12,4%. During the last two decades, the female employment ratio has diminished by 31,8% whereas male employment ratio has decreased by 18%.

While the female unemployment rate showed a tendency to decrease between 1989 and 1999 ( female unemployment rate dropped from 9.5% in 1989 to 7.6% in 1999), it has been increasing in between 1999 and 2009, during when two crises have occurred. In 2009, the female unemployment rate has increased to 14.3%. During the last two decades, female unemployment ratio showed increase of 50.5%. Undoubtedly, the explosive increase in the unemployment rate in 2009, when the effects of the crisis has been felt more deeply, put the lives of female and male workers under increased pressure. However, as shown by the figures, victimization of women has intensified.

Inequality in education continues

In education, along with the positive developments in terms of the reduction of the gap between women and men, while the education levels increase the ratio of the women’s participation in education decreases. The number of illiterate women is 3.9 million whereas the number of illiterate men is 986 thousand. The number of primary school graduates among men is 8.8 million compared with  9.277 million for women. While the education level is getting higher the gap deepens for women. In terms of higher education the gap is increased almost by a half. The number of high school graduate women  is 1.3 million whereas the number of men is 2.1 million. This inequality deepens through the privatization of education services. In conservative communities like ours, if any any savings in education is needed due to decreasing incomes, this cut back would be on girls. At a state level, while there are some special projects to promote girls’ attendance to school, the privatization of education causes children of working-class people, particularly girls, to be distanced from access to school.  

Women are more disadvantaged in health services

The data on health services reveals that there is inequality against women. According to the data in 2008, diagnosed and reported health problems by individuals of 15 years and over shows that women are more likely to have health problems. Similarly, the situation is worse for women in terms of disabilities. In the reported health problems, the ratio for men is 12.22% whereas for women it is 21.98%. In terms of the diagnosed diseases, the ratio for women is 17.5% whereas for men it is 9.12%.

While the arrangements in health services as a part of reconstruction of the public sector effect public health negatively, the situation is expected to get even worse in women and children’s health. There are some relative improvements in the pregnancy follow-up, child and birth deaths. However, in the unevenness of health services we can see that the situation will be reversed by liberal economy policies (neonatal infant mortality, epidemics, etc).  

Female labour has not been saved from its secondary position

Female labour is still secondary labour. It has been valued as the contribution to the livelihood of the family. For this reason, sectors where female labour takes place are mostly unregistered sectors.

The working conditions in the sectors of agriculture, food, textile and confection, where female labour is concentrated,  points to the position of female labour within working life. Agricultural labour is the area in which women mostly work in our country, and almost the whole sector is unorganised and unregistered. They do not have regulated working hours, they work from sunrise to sunset and their wages are too low. The national avarage is 10-15-20 TL per day. Their housing conditions are primitive.

The definition of “family labour” still remains in social security law. Unfortunately , those who are defined as family workers cannot be register with national insurance. The victimization of women has been legalized by  social security law, through the fact that female workforce is in jobs termed as family labour. Women are mostly employed in agricultural labour and in small workshops, which are assessed as domestic labour. Therefore, they are being deprived of social security.

As far as female labour is concerned, slavery is intensifying

In terms of the working conditions in 21st century, occupational accidents are transformed into occupational murder. In Ceylanpınar on 7 February 2006, 10 workers, including a 13 year-old-girl, drowned when their truck toppled into a river while on their way to milking in Tigem Farm. The people who work in textile and confectionary workshops are deprived of worker health and occupational safety rights, and their rights to organise and collective/labour bargaining. In the last days of January 2005, 5 women died in a fire in a textile workshop in Bursa because the factory gates were locked on them. Their insurance have been issued by the employer after their deaths, so that the employer could not be charged. Once again, in Istanbul, 7 women textile workers died, while in the back of a pick-up truck caught and carried by flood waters. Even these few instances are striking enough to show women’s working conditions and the dangers they face, and the violation of their rights. We have not yet mentioned the sexual harassments, humiliation and inhumane treatments in the workplace.  

Government officials have said that “the crisis would not affect us.” However, the numbers of unemployed rise every passing day. Even the chairman of the Work Bank had confessed the effects of the crisis, during the meeting held in Turkey, as follows: “59 million people will be unemployed, 30 thousand infant deaths are anticipated. People lose their jobs and their lives are destroyed, girls cannot go to school and infants suffer from malnutrition because of the crisis. Next year, 90 million people will be living in extreme poverty.” According to the numbers of the national statistics office, 375 thousand people live under the hunger threshold determined by the institution as 275TL, whereas the number of people  who live under the hunger threshold defined as 750TL by labour unions is over 1.5 million.

Violence against women is increasingly continuing

The intensifying in the exploitation of labour in times of conflict and war, the reproduction and worsening of dominant societal gender values and division of labour makes the load on women a lot heavier.

For the Kurdish woman whose identity is despised, language is forbidden, child, husband, brother killed; it is made impossible to exist in her own language and identity, to develop her culture, to access education, health and other public services in her mother tongue. The conflict is continuing to be the cause for suffering for women of all nationalities and identities.

In short, the bitter price of local or international wars is paid by women. The demand for peace and democracy, for education and public services in mother tongue are still very much current demands of women.

Every day, we are witnessing women being subjected to violence, rape and being murdered. Women murdered by their ex-husbands or by the decision of their own families are constantly in the news. Just last month, Medine Memi from Adıyaman Kahta was buried alive in a chicken house by her father and grandfather because of talking to her boyfriend. Medine had earlier been subjected to violence and asked for police help but even though they were involved, social services did not take her into care. Just like Güldünya, Şemsi Anlak and Saadet Ulus...Violence against women in the country has gone up by 1400% in the last decade. 953 women were murdered in the first seven months of 2009, 953 lives that were cut short.

Women are not involved in administration or politics

In the last elections female members of parliament accounted for 9%. Female members also make up 9% of the cabinet. In the case of female mayors, the proportion is desperate at 0.9%. Females make up 4.2% of local councillors and 3.3% of State General Councils. These are results of an increase due to DTP and BDP pushing for better representation. Among the high level managers and bureaucrats only 9.9% and among chief executives of banks only 4 are females.

Our party could not accept this inequality

Our party, since having been set up, has always drawn attention to women’s situation in unequal economical, social and cultural, political and traditional spheres. Hence, it has included just treatment of women and support for women’s inclusion in social and political spheres in its programs.

Moreover, the party has adopted policies of socialisation of women, like the prevention of use of women’s labour as capital, sexual degrading, outlawing women being made to work in unhealthy conditions, working women having a sufficient length of time off before and after giving birth, crèches in workplaces, free local nursery places, provision of support for housewives during and after birth, free general health and retirement annuities. EMEP has also included in its programme an initiative for members to set up a women’s section to deal with and work to solve distinct issues faced by women.

Our organs are always reminded to pay attention to women’s issues and demands and to mobilise women around these, as a part of their daily party political duties. Our party has played a vital role in women’s organising women in towns such as İstanbul, İzmir, Balıkesir and Dersim. Work to create such organisations in other towns is ongoing. Again, our party takes part and includes in its practices the creation of women’s platforms as a part of the struggle for economic and social demands and democracy.

During the 78 day struggle of Tekel workers in Ankara, we have taken a particular interest in and action for women. We ran activities to enhance women’s experience in campaigning, to increase awareness of their labour and power, to help break free of their closed existence within the struggle. To unify their experience and energy with other women, we have organised meetings between Tekel workers and women from other sectors, housewives and young women. Our party has closely followed and supported the struggle of those workers at Novamed, whom have shown an exemplary struggle to unionise to improve their working conditions and pay. As in the Novamed struggle, Tekel women workers struggle has attracted all types of women workers’ organisations, including feminist circles. These struggles have had a positive effect in terms of raising class awareness of some small bourgeois women’s movements.

Women and youth make up the most of our local groups. It is obvious that the system, in order to prolong its rule, has enslaved women and the youth through the family unit, media, educational system, social values and cultural approaches. Hence, one of the main duties of socialist movement is to break this circle around women and youth.

Daily workers’ media, ‘Evrensel’ newspaper and ‘Hayat Televizyonu’ have taken an important role in terms of developing women’s movement. Daily workers’ media, as much as they can, became a driving force in women’s movement through women’s pages and pullouts - including those named published on 25 November and 8 March. Hayat TV, with its daily program called ‘Ekmek ve Gül’, also is trying to open a window to women’s world that in its approach is alternative to the bourgeois outlook and develop women’s movement. Evrensel newspaper is also planning a monthly women’s pullout in the future.

The women’s conference held in 2009 will shine a light on our planned activity

In our conference held 23/24 May 2009; issues such as global economical and political developments, status of women and the needs of the women’s movement have been discussed, decisions have been taken for activities to lead the way for our struggle. The duties and responsibilities of socialists and communists in the face of capitalist injustice, exploitation and degeneracy will be immense.

If from the standing point of “Those who win women over will win the fight” women’s issues are a result of the bourgeois-capitalist system, without a doubt the freeing of women is also tied to the struggle to defeat capitalism (freedom of the class-socialist movement). Freeing millions of women from the bourgeois-capitalist system and steering them to their own freedom through a level of awareness, struggle and organisation is a concern not just for women but for all of us.

At the heart of her freedom and their organisation as the oppressed sex, a workers’ party is of paramount importance because it needs to provide the biggest support and help in women’s struggle for freedom. It is not easy to organise women, it requires a relentless and patient effort. The effort needs to be based on distinct problems of women and tangible demands that have an equivalent in real life. The party of the class needs to direct its work towards these issues and demands.

The party and the youth organs need to discuss and undertake immediate responsibility in solving issues such as working conditions of young girls, their social surroundings and the problems they face, the issues of housing and halls for female university students, etc.

In terms of our own country, one of our main duties is to organise the struggle around the social and class demands - as well as national, democratic demands - of Kurdish women in industrial and farming jobs in Kurdish cities.

If the road to women’s freedom is to be through organised struggle, then as a workers’ party our general attitude must be to increase the number of female members, encourage and support more women to be involved in managerial organs. One of the main duties of a worker’s party is to structure in support of the demands of millions of women against the bourgeois-capitalist system and become a part of the social struggle. An organisation restricted to the organising of women in parties would be too limited in its effect. If we take the varied and distinct demands of women into consideration, effort must be spent towards developing women’s struggle and increasing women’s movement in civil organisations, unions, professional and community organisations.

One of the major obstacles to women employment is childcare. For its resolution, we demand a free crèche in every neighbourhood and workplace. The care of elderly and the sick to be seen as a social service and hence become a part of national health insurance is another demand of women. One of our other duties is to fight for arrangements that safeguard women’s health within social security regulation. In reality, violence against women needs to stop. However, presently we demand an increase in women’s refuges and advisory services that support them rebuild their lives after abuse and violence. Women’s solidarity and culture sections set up within local councils can be used as social projects to get women involved and we are pushing councils on this matter.

Furthermore, women to organise within unions and take responsibilities are one of our priorities. To this effect, female members of our party are encouraged to take part in commissions and secretariats.

Against all these conditions of inequality, women have been at the forefront of class and social struggles. Recently in our country, one important part of the Tekel workers’ struggle for job security and independence has been women workers. Again, in SEKA privatisation struggle and in Zonguldak miners march, workers families and women played an important role. Women are, in their struggle for freedom, actually showing the road to we need to take. With the slogan of “Those who win women over will win the fight” we are aware of the role women will play in our party’s struggle for power. Clara Zetkins, Rosa Luxsemburgs, Novamed workers, Tekel workers are continuing light the way for women’s struggle.

EMEP Labour Party

Source: Statistics and numerical data is taken from  the “Women’s labour and employment in Turkey and the world in 100th year anniversary of 8 March” by the union Sosyal-İş.

Labour Party (EMEP), Turkey:  

Tarlabasi Bulvari, Kamerhatun M. Alhatun Sk.

No:25/1 Beyoglu/ISTANBUL – TURKEY

Tel:         +90 505 9373757 (Mobile) +90 212 3612508

Fax: +90 212 3612509

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