Ayşe won't stay a housewife: Turkey takes on gender roles

Published 15.09.2015 00:00

A new campaign by the government seeks to challenge traditional gender roles assigned to men and women through education and eliminate gender discrimination in textbooks.

The Promoting Gender Equality in Education Project (ETCEP) seeks to reach out to students and parents with a public service announcement (PSA). The announcement uses Ayşe and Ali, two imaginary characters - female and male respectively - which were once commonly used in flash cards in the education system. The PSA ends with an appeal to rewrite flash cards with messages ordering Ayşe to set the table, help the mother, become a housewife accompanied by messages for Ali calling him to "be a man, help his father" and so on.

ETCEP is a joint project of the Ministry of National Education, British Council and European Union. It will look to promote gender equality with various steps such as eliminating expressions that may promote gender inequality in text, pictures, photos and other materials used in education.

Teachers will be trained on how to educate children against confinement to gender roles in the country where a patriarchal society sometimes dictates girls get married at an early age, not attend school and become a housewife.

The project will also set new guidelines at schools for teachers and other education officials for an approach to education based on equality for both genders. The project is currently being tested in 10 pilot provinces with teachers being trained on the matter.

Gender equality is a major issue in Turkey where women's participation in the workforce had long been limited. Figures show a rise in the rate of women's employment, from 26.9 percent in 2002 to 30.8 percent in 2014, although the government laments it is still not as high as it envisioned.

Though the country boasts far more liberal attitudes for women's places in social life compared to other countries in its region, social norms in some parts of society pose an obstacle for women. A mindset treating working women or women rebelling against their family as immoral still prevails according to experts, especially in the country's impoverished parts.

Minister of National Education Nabi Avcı had earlier said in remarks to the media that gender equality would not be taught as a separate subject but would rather be an issue that will be dealt with in different courses. "You can prepare a question in math discriminating towards boys or girls, or you don't," he said. Indeed, Ayşe might not have to shop for groceries while Ali stays simply a breadwinner in a math question, if the project takes hold.

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