Gender Equality through Education in Turkey

How can we create sustainable economies and societies for all without gender equality?

This is an important question to ask.

For all societies are patriarchal and we cannot speak of full gender equality in any given country. Furthermore, gender inequality is difficult to remove completely in countries with more entrenched and stratified gender norms.

Turkey is no exception. In her book, Gender Justice, Education and Equality, my colleague, Dr. Melis Cin, vividly illustrates women’s position in Turkish society. Their ‘survival, resistance, freedoms, well-being and agency through the clash of multifaceted, sociological phenomena, such as: religion/secularism, modernism/tradition, ethnicity, multilingualism and the paradoxes of culture and generations, both in the public sphere and in their private lives’ (Cin, 2017:1). She argues that gender injustice in Turkey is the result of a deficit in feminist thinking, rationale and construction in policy making rather than a lack of legislation and legal provisions.

Quality education plays a key role in eliminating gender bias and constructing a gender-just society. However, it should be noted that most educational systems reflect social inequalities and prejudices, the ideologies of individuals and governments in power, and do not challenge the social status quo (Stromquist, 1995 ). Therefore, our aim should be not to provide education for the sake of meeting development goals, but to deliver quality education that could enable the well-being of women to flourish and secure women’s participation and representation in the public and political spheres.

My colleagues and I have recently published an article entitled ‘Capabilities-based gender equality analysis of educational policy-making and reform in Turkey’ (Cin et al., 2018). This research explores the limited understanding of gender equality in education policy-making in Turkey. It is particularly relevant because, in 2012, Turkey went through one of the biggest reform changes in its history. But while the 4+4+4 reform aimed to improve the quality of the education system overall, it overlooked significant gender issues in wider society.

In addition to a robust and systematic review of the literature on gender and human development, we conducted 16 semi-structured interviews – 8 with teachers and 8 with other key educational stakeholders (teacher unions and journalists) – to provide an account of how gender equality has developed over the years in Turkey. Taking a human capabilities approach to policy analysis, our aim was to understand whether the new reform had brought about any genuine improvements to gender equality. The 4+4+4 education reform in Turkey claimed to expand girls’ freedom and opportunities by allowing them to go to schools wearing their religious headscarf and acknowledging their religious freedoms. Even so, it has not done anything to tackle the unequal everyday ‘gender relationships and patriarchal culture promoted both within and outside the schools, nor for broader forms of discrimination related to gender, which have been identified as the major issues to be able to establish a broader understanding of gender equality within the education system’ (Cin et al., 2018: 10).

Our research showed us that the reform managed to eliminate some inequalities for girls. However, it was disappointing to see that the reform did not go further and deal with more fundamental issues of girls’ schooling. It has failed to address bigger issues for girls like school dropout rates after primary school. Moreover, it has not challenged traditional gender roles in Turkey, whereby boys’ education is seen to be more significant, thus increasing their enrolment rates and making it difficult to close the gender gap in school participation. For the Ministry of National Education policy-makers and several stakeholders, gender equality in education has a normative conceptual policy goal that relies heavily on tangible and measurable outcomes, which frame an intervention strategy based on numerical parity. There is no concern for qualitative issues such as the everyday school experiences of girls, gender and social relations within and outside schools, the quality of education, and, more broadly, patriarchal structures that shape girls’ and boys’ identities differently such as family, school, the labour market, and public institutions and pedagogies.

Obviously, Turkey aspires to gain economic sustainability in the region that bridges Europe and the Middle East. As Turkey declared in 2015 G20 summit, it could be one of the leading countries to govern the world economy (although this now seems somewhat ambitious if we consider recent events). But the question remains: how does Turkey envision that this will be achieved without a feminist rationale and approach to gender equality in education policy?

Indeed, this is not only a problem for Turkey but for most countries in the world. How do you create sustainable economies and societies by casting out women (who correspond to half our world population) and without genuinely ensuring women’s participation in the social, political and economic arena?

Well, here’s a tip for you…

Start by implementing more gender-sensitive education policies.


Cin, F.M, Karlıdağ-Dennis, E., & Temiz, Z. (2018) Capabilities based gender equality analysis of educational policy-making and reform in Turkey, Gender and Education. DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2018.1484429.

Cin, F.M. (2017) Gender Justice, Education and Equality: Creating Capabilities for Girls’ and Women’s Development. London: Palgrave

Stromquist, N.P., (1995) The Theoretical and Practical Bases for Empowerment, in Women, Education and Empowerment: Pathways Towards Autonomy, Report of International Seminar. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Education.


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