“We Should Make The Questions That Can Only Be Asked To Women But Not To Men A Matter of Embarassment”

The Mothers Are Right Initiative aims to change the system that excludes women from working life, by addressing the problems of working mothers. We talked to Hazal Acar, the founder of the initiative, about being a working mom and her work. Acar says that the questions asked not only to men but to women should be a matter of shame.

Who are “The Mothers Are Right Initiative”? How was it founded? Can you tell us about your goals?

The Mothers Are Right Initiative emerged as a civil initiative. After I had a child as a civil society employee, I started to think about the state of being a working mother. This is something that needs to be considered together with the burdens it carry. Luckily, I was working in an organization that was very conscious and respectful of social rights and with nice people. Nevertheless, the matter itself is very huge and to being overwhelmed with it is inevitable. When I had started to deal with the issue, I listened to the stories of women who worked really hard during pregnancy, who tried to hide their pregnancy for fear of dismissal, who were fired during maternity leave, or who could not use their legal right to use maternity leave after birth. 

Women work more precariously and with low salaries in Turkey, also discarded very quickly because of motherhood leaves. We talked to people with whom I agreed on the awareness of this and we had started from there.

We’re just getting started, we want to get some visibility right now and tell everybody why we’re doing this. For this reason, we intend to come together with communities who work in a similar direction with us. 

Isn’t the phrase ‘The Mothers Are Right’ a caption that blesses motherhood and raises sexism or discrimination?

Our goal is to take steps that will change the system that excludes women from working life. There are many organizations working for this, and our focus is on defending the rights of women who have or will have children. We do not wish to sanctify motherhood, but as a factor driving women away from working life, we want to bring about discrimination and maltreatment against women who have or will have children. ‘The Mothers Are Right’ is a summed up, catchy slogan.

When Azra Akın was asked if the film sets would be difficult with a child, she said she would not answer this question because it was not asked to men. What do you think about this?

First of all, I would like to congratulate him for his answer. Yes, this as a sexist treatment frequently faced by women both in Turkey and in the world. In recruitment interviews, the question towards women if they think of getting pregnant or not is asked so randomly as well. Turkey is very ineffectual in institutional care facilities, child care responsibilities are entirely on women and this is taken very normally. Apart from the necessity for a woman to quit her job and start taking care of her child, it is seen as something that should be preferred. Let us consider that women who have children voluntarily receive compensation in case of quitting, it may be beneficial for many women, but we need to see the incentive side.

Asking questions of marriage and pregnancy in recruitment is an inequality discourse. How can a woman handle it?

First of all, we should not force women to struggle with this alone. We must work together to bring change. When a woman is asked this question for a job she wants, she may refuse to answer it, may protest, but that does not mean that she will not be discriminated against. If she will be discriminated and not hired, she can’t prove it. The questions that are not asked to men should become a matter of shame for all of us.

Government agencies facilitate women’s work by certain laws on pregnancy and children. In private sector, pregnancy or having a child is not tolerated; the employment contract may be terminated. How can women protect themselves in the private sector?

As in the previous question, a woman has a hard time protecting herself. The state has an important role to play here. I think that we should not build our statements on employers. The private sector tends to prefer, raise, and pay men more than women, this is not a secret. There is a greater risk of being more willing to exclude women from the private sector. We want the state to protect the rights in the law before further improvements. We cannot accept that the private sector paying indemnities and continuing the wrong practices. This happens everywhere; from holdings to small companies. Last month, one of the most important newspapers in the country terminated the employment contract of a reporter on maternity leave without justification. There will probably be a litigation process, and probably the dismissed woman will win the case. But would the things she get be more than what she’s exposed to?
Plus, not only the “bad” companies in the private sector, but also non-governmental organizations need to do a self-criticism. We would like to address civil society on this issue in the future.

Women are always addressed with these kinds of questions and problems. Paternity leave etc. has no agenda or an effective use. Doesn’t the fact that all the permits and convenience being for woman also support an attitude which imprisons women in the house and reassures these roles to the woman?

This is exactly one of the basic principles of our initiative. In defending the rights of mothers, we do not demand that maternity leave be extended and women should stay away from work any further. We want the paternity leave to be extended. Ideally, parents should use equal leaves. Imagine a woman and a man who have children in a workplace separately but in the same period. The man will be away from work for only 10 days while the woman will not work for four months, the man returns to work and actively continues his life. Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the woman will return to work, while the male will rise in business. This creates enormous inequalities in business life. Take the Sweden example. Sweden is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of gender equality. It allows a parental leave of 8 months for both parents. But in the end, it is seen that the mothers use the leave, not the fathers. It is best to see that this kind of flexibility leads to the repetition of traditional gender roles. Yet, let’s think of our system that directs women to home and man to work.

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