SEYFETTIN – Islamic rule and empowering women in Turkey

Islamic rule and empowering women in TurkeyThe title of this article is not consistent with widely held beliefs that Islamic political rule aersely affects womenand#39s living standards.An econometric article by Erik Meyersson (andldquoIslamic Rule and the Empowerment of the Poor and Pious,andrdquo Econometrica, January 2014) tries to prove the contrary using regression discontinuity, a method that enables researchers to estimate causal effects.

Meyersson writes, andldquoYet, to this date, no research has shown that democratically elected Islamic politicians lead to either worsened womenand#39s rights or more religiously conservative preferences. This study is the first to examine the causal effects of Islamic political representation on these outcomes.

andrdquoMeyersson is quite ambitious, but I must confess that I found his analysis rather convincing. He chose Turkey because it represents andldquoa useful testing ground andhellip It is one very few countries to have experienced Islamic party participation in the democratic process for a long period.

andrdquo His starting point is the 1994 local elections where the Welfare Party (RP) became the third party and won many municipalities. The data set consists of 2,600 municipalities from elections in 1994 and the 2000 population census.

The authorand#39s main results are as follows: andldquoOver a period of six years [1994-2000] Islamic rule increased female secular high school education. Corresponding effects for men are systematically smaller and less precise.

In the longer run, the effect of female education is persistent up to 17 years after, and also reduced adolescent marriages.andrdquoThis is not surprising since female average years of education are increasing.

But rather a surprise is that the results show an overall decrease in Islamic political preferences while female political participation increases.What are the factors that caused these unexpected results? I will let Meyersson explain: andldquoSecular high school in Turkey combines secular restrictions with voluntary participation.

In religiously conservative communities, characteristics like the head scarf ban, mixed classes, and a strongly secular curriculum can exacerbate existing socioeconomic constraints to raise severe barriers to entry for women. I argue that the Islamic partyand#39s positive effect on female education is due to its relative effectiveness in overcoming these barriers.

andhellip I show that Islamic rule had more pronounced effects on education in communities both poorer and more religiously conservative, where arguably the barriers to entry were higher I also show that Islamic rule led to an increase in educational facilities sponsored by religious charities anecdotal evidence suggests that such facilities made poor and pious parents more willing to send their daughters to school.andrdquo Meyersson does not try to explain the reasons of weakening political preferences in municipalities under Islamic political control.

Now, this is a very interesting issue. But obviously this effect might originate from other factors.

Meyersson describes the conclusions of the data as follows: andldquoFirst, it suggests that under specific circumstances, socially conservative politicians can have socially progressive effects. andhellip Second, Turkey has both direct and indirect barriers to educational participation that, in combination may provide Islamic parties with a competitive aantage, which in turn boosts their popularity.

andrdquoThis article treats the period between 1994 and 2000. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was the successor of the RP and came to power in 2002.

The secular barriers in education were removed in the following years. We observe in the same period an increase in the number of women in education and the labor force.

The reasons for these positive developments cannot be attached solely to secular restraints being removed by Islamic rule, but Meyerssonand#39s article shows that this policy played a role in the modernization of society. Nevertheless, do not forget that today, after Islamic rule removed secular barriers in education it is trying hard to erect new barriers, which are justified by being Islamic and therefore valuable, not only in education, but in other areas of civil society, too.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman