Domestic violence frequently occurs in Turkey and does concern every social classes. For the careers of these women, it is an additional barrier which it is up to companies to stamp out, states the academic Melsa Ararat.

United States Mission Geneva - Intl. Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women - Picture: Eric Bridiers
United States Mission Geneva - Intl. Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women - Picture: Eric Bridiers

You have recently conducted research with Sabanci University on the domestic violence suffered by women white-collar workers in Turkey and its impact in companies. Is this violence very widespread?

We have known that domestic violence was a serious problem in Turkey since 2008, when a first national survey was conducted. But there was this perception that domestic violence is mainly a problem for low-income households and women with a low level of education. Our research has proved the contrary.

The starting point for our research was that we wanted to understand the barriers encountered by women in climbing up the various levels of the corporate ladder, towards positions as senior executives, members of the Board of Directors, or as CEOs. On the sole basis of our observations, it became clear to us that domestic violence potentially posed a problem for educated women, who earn a salary which is rather higher than the average for employees.

We consequently conducted our study in 2014. Most of the women surveyed were “white collar workers”. Most of them had a university degree, when it was not a Master’s degree or Ph.D., and the result was a shock. 75% of the women interviewed confirmed that they had been subject to a form of domestic violence at least once in their life.

In the survey, we did, of course, include all sorts of violence: physical, sexual, psychological, economic. Furthermore, 22% said that they had at least been subject to physical violence once, and over 10% report that they have been victims of sexual violence at least once. In this case, it concerns women who may be your manager, or who lead a team or even a company, and who must at the same time manage a problem which men have never experienced or have caused.

 

 

How does this violence interfere with the victim’s professional career?

The consequences are obviously negative for both the woman herself and for the company. 99% of the women surveyed said that domestic violence affected their work in different ways. The victim finds it hard to concentrate on her work, or she feels bad psychologically, or she may have other worries…

But what matters the most is that in terms of moving up the ladder of the professional hierarchy, they find it extremely difficult to take on more responsibilities, or set themselves ambitious goals. This does, of course, also affect the workplace, because people realize that their colleague is feeling bad, and this has an influence on the morale in the organization, it affects productivity, efficiency and safety at work.

Do the victims seek help from the company or their colleagues?

That was also a surprising result. We should not forget that this involves educated women. They probably think they can manage this problem alone and that they do not need help. According to our survey, in most cases, they think of their child’s welfare, they assess the economic problems which might arise if they continue in this abusive relationship, they think about possibly ending this relationship.

But in general, they speak to their friends, their family, their father or their mother, their partner’s parents, but rarely to the company and rarely to the police. There is a lack of confidence in the company and its directors, in the Human Resources Department. It is not accepted that a woman comes to explain her problems to the Human Resources Department.

 

 

Indeed, your report advocates for the company to get involved when violence is detected.

Yes, it does, because for these women, what matters most is their work and economic independence. If they want to get out of the vicious circle of their abusive relationship, they must cling on to their work. They must retain their independence and they need job security. Consequently, it is essential for them to be able to speak to their company about their problems and ask for help during this phase, until they find a solution or end their relationship.

Even after a break-up, they do still in fact need help, as the offender generally pursues his victim after the separation. In Turkey, the man very often does not accept the desire to separate of the woman he thinks he owns. In his mind, it is unacceptable. This is when things turn really bad, and precautions need to be taken at the workplace to ensure that the ex-husband or ex-partner does not have access to the employee. Safety needs to be adapted to take this risk into account.

This type of policy must be written down and made public so that everyone in the company knows that it does not tolerate domestic violence and that it supports its employees who are victims of it. Once this point has been clearly established, women will feel more comfortable about bringing up their problem with the person of their choice in the organization. These women will clearly be more devoted to their work than the others, and the companies which support their employees in this way will, of course, benefit from a stronger loyalty from them, or even higher productivity and better performance.

Are there companies in Turkey which already apply precepts?

Last year, we developed a code of conduct, which we presented in December. We invited companies to play a pilot role during an initial phase, so that we could look at how effective our guide is. We are also planning to organize a workshop at the end of the year to listen to the pilot companies, learn from their experience, perhaps add a few “good practices” or warnings over certain failures, and subsequently publish a revised version of our document.

 

 

Is the subject not at least as much a matter of law and the application of the law as of the good will of companies?

In terms of legislation, I think we are quite well positioned. The Istanbul Convention[1] is probably the most advanced law in the world that countries can adopt to combat domestic violence. Turkey is also one of the 13 countries which signed it. Consequently, we have a very good legal framework under which the State is obliged to take all the necessary precautions to protect women against violence. In addition, the Convention obliges the State to cooperate with other actors, such as the business world, which have consequently also been put under the spotlight as stakeholders with the State in resolving this problem. However, having a law on paper is one thing, applying it and enforcing it is another matter. What I have learned from my experience in research is that having a law which is not applied or which is not enforced is worse than not having a law at all.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

[1] The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was submitted for the signature of States on 11 May 2011, during the 121st session of the Council of Ministers in Istanbul. Following its ratification by a 10th Member State, Andorra, on 22 April 2014, it came into force on 1 August 2014. Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention. It has now been ratified by 21 countries.

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