Government loans and incentives for female entrepreneurs help boost the participation of women in the male-dominated workforce in Turkey, where women still lag behind in employment.
In recent years, the government rolled out a series of incentives for working women, from longer maternity leaves to financial support for daycare needs, as well as payments to grandparents caring for their grandchildren with working parents.As for female entrepreneurs, the government already provides up to TL 50,000 ($9,320) in loans and plans to extend them to more women willing to set up their own businesses.
Zehra Demir, a young woman from Şanlıurfa, a southeastern province where a rural poor population usually head west as seasonal workers in agriculture, is among the women who benefited from the loans. For six months every year, I've been working as a seasonal worker in a canvas tent without water and electricity. I thought I was destined to spend the rest of my life like this. But all is changed, and now I live a life beyond my wildest dreams," said Demir, who applied for an interest-free loan after she heard from her relatives. Demir and her husband bought one-and-a-half acres of land and started growing peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. She later joined forces with her relatives to expand the land and the business. "I am proud to earn money for my family. I have no trouble running the business. I advise all women to be brave and take a risk," she said.
Hundreds of kilometers away from Demir's humble field, Nurcan Bayram enjoys the tranquil weather of the Black Sea highlands interrupted by the clanging sounds of forks, spoons and plates in her restaurant. A small wooden building in the tradition of houses built by highland people of the region, Bayram's restaurant on the Kayabaşı plateau in Trabzon province benefited from a TL 142,000 loan from the state-run Agricultural and Rural Development Support Institution (TKDK). She added more from her own pocket, and Bayram is now a successful businesswoman employing eight staff from nearby towns. "This is not a place you would leave after finishing your meal. It offers you a place to rest throughout the day," Bayram said. Her investment paid off in a short time, and the restaurant nowadays hosts both Turkish patrons and tourists from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iran seeking to sample famous Black Sea cuisine.
Elsewhere in the region, Emine Tuğ, a native of Samsun, benefits from a loan she received two years ago to build a mushroom plant. I knew it was a profitable business but I had reservations because I didn't even know how to plant a flower," she said.
She failed when she first started out. She was forced to dump 5 tons of mushrooms when she couldn't find buyers, but Tuğ did not give up. Her resolve to stay in business paid off, and now she exports mushrooms abroad in her two plants where 60 tons of mushrooms are grown yearly.Zehra Sema Demir, who lives in the capital Ankara, differs from other entrepreneurs with her background. An academic with regard to Turkish folklore, Demir decided to better promote and preserve it. She set up shop in Beypazarı, a historic town near the capital that largely preserved its rural traditions and beautifully ornate houses, which was the perfect location. Two years ago, with the help of state loans, she launched the Living Village, a museum with a small hotel and eatery where guests are given insight into daily life in the countryside in the past. She employs 30 staff, including her former students and locals, and along with tending and curating the museum, she is involved in producing crops in a field near the museum. "We do everything here to help people experience what it meant to live in Anatolia. This is a museum where old Turkish rituals such as Hıdrellez are being performed for our guests, where children can hear the ancient Turkish tales," she said.