ISTANBUL—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision last week to arrest the editor in chief of an opposition newspaper is the latest crack in this country’s image as a modern, Westernized country. But it’s not the only sign of an erosion of rights.
Turkey has had more than a decade of economic boom, and is now the sixth-most-visited tourist destination in the world. Yet, beyond the glittering skyscrapers and nightclubs, persistent questions remain over human-rights abuses and, in particular, the country’s increasingly unequal treatment of women.
Last weekend when Erdoğan’s police were trying to silence the media, the steady degradation of women’s rights continued, with four more women dying from domestic violence. The number of such deaths has remained stubbornly high over the years despite the country’s economic ascension. A 2011 UN report slammed Turkey for having domestic-violence rates almost twice those in the United States and 10 times higher than in some European countries. For empowering women, Turkey ranks near the bottom, at 125th in the 2014 World Economic Forum report on female empowerment—five places lower than the previous year.
So despite finger-wagging from EU governments about human rights—and another warning that came Tuesday following the arrest of journalists—Erdoğan’s conservative government seems unlikely to lift a finger for women.
Fortunately, another group is leaning in: Turkish women business leaders. On Monday, a university founded by Turkey’s most powerful female CEO issued a groundbreaking report on the impact of domestic abuse on the workplace. The report reframes the issue of domestic violence as not just a problem for society, but also for business. This is the first study of its kind in Turkey and raises the possibility that a private solution could solve a public problem.
According to the report, 75 percent of female college graduates have been victims of violence at least once in their lives. Furthermore, as women’s levels of education and income rise, they are less likely to report domestic violence. The report documents how domestic violence leads to greater absenteeism, loss of concentration, and unprofessionalism—all issues that should concern employers.