Skip to main content

Fertility, Public Policies, and Women in Turkey in Comparative Perspective

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FertilityPolicies (Fertility, Public Policies, and Women in Turkey in Comparative Perspective)

Reporting period: 2016-01-15 to 2018-01-14

The project has studied the rise of new pronatalism and its reflections in public policy in contemporary Turkey. The term of pronatalism refers to the idea of promoting childbirth, while public policies can have direct and indirect impacts on fertility behaviour. Since the acceptance of Turkey’s candidacy for European Union (EU) membership in 1999, the Turkish governments carried out reforms in public policies as a part of a legislative harmonization process. The reconciliation of work and family life was mentioned as one aim of these reforms, although it appeared as a by-product of the main goal of EU membership. This was consistent with the fact that Turkey had not yet suffered from demographic changes such as below-replacement level fertility rates and population aging, which can have negative impacts on the labour markets and public finances. While the approach of the Turkish governments toward the EU has gradually become more complicated, the changes in public policies, such as the family policy, have come to seem more substantial and intentional, spreading to the policy areas of reproductive health as well. The policy changes were still justified with a reference to demographic and policymaking trends in Europe. Yet, some of the policy measures, such as those concerning the access to abortion and caesarean sections, appeared at odds with the EU policy approaches and worrisome regarding their gender implications.

The objectives of the project include an analysis of the origins, development and nature of new pronatalism and the relevant policy changes in contemporary Turkey; the investigation of specific policy measures within the policy area; and the examination of gender implications.
The researcher conducted archival and field research, to collect data on the origins of the pronatalist rhetoric, the scope and nature of the policy change, and the societal reactions, particularly women's protests. The archival research included an investigation of official reports and statistics; policy documents and parliamentary minutes; the coverage by the national dailies of the government's rhetoric, public debates and protests; the reports by non-governmental organisations on topics such as demographic change; the history of demographic politics in Turkey; and the English language literature on pronatalism, demographic change and family policy change especially in Europe. The field research included ten semi-strctured interviews conducted with the experts and spokespersons from non-governmental organisations and movements such as the Medical Association, women's organizations specialised in female employment and women's rights in general, women's platforms on reproductive rights, organisations specialised in reproductive health and family, and leading business associations which pay attention to the issues of demographic change and female employment.

The policy areas include the following: (1) reproductive health (e.g. abortion, C-sections, reproductive technologies, as well as family planning centres), (2) marriage, divorce and childbearing (e.g. incentives for childbirth and marriage and efforts to decrease divorce rates), and (3) work-family reconciliation (e.g. the introduction of part-time work for women with young children and insurance-premium subsidies for employers to hire more women).

The research shows that the new policy approach makes use of both incentives and deterrents, driven by a logic of pronatalism; that is, the goal to increase childbirth rates. While new pronatalism appears to be a rising trend across Europe due to concerns over population ageing, the kinds of policy measures Turkey have recently adopted and their implications for female employment and for women's status in society at large suggest departure from the EU path and a return to emphasise traditional gender roles.
The project findings, once they are published, will be helpful for experts from the academia, the bureaucracy and non-governmental organisations in Turkey and across Europe in evaluating policy change and in policy formation and advocacy.
Total fertility rates in Turkey and Europe