'The Grandmother Project': How the Turkish Government is trying to bring women into the labour market
A few days before the referendum in April 2017, the Turkish government initiated a program called 'Grandmother Project' (Büyükanne Projesi) with great interest from the media and the public. In the framework of this pilot project, 6,500 grandmothers were selected among more than 100,000 candidates. These grandmothers are granted 425 TL per month for one year (equivalent to approximately 100 Euro), if they help taking care of their grandchildren. However, they only receive this allowance if the mothers of these children are employed - fathers or grandfathers are not mentioned in the program. Are these spectacular grants for a few grandmothers representative of the development of social policy in Turkey? This is one of the questions that the project 'How "social" is Turkey?' tries to address.
With the 'Grandmother Project', the government gives the impression of responding to social change. In Turkey, as in the entire Mediterranean region, it is traditionally the case that grandparents are actively engaged in the upbringing of their grandchildren. However, the classic extended family is more and more a thing of the past. At the same time, the share of working women is still relatively low, because in the nuclear family the mother often chooses the family when making a decision between work and family. Apparently, family and work are often seen as incompatible.
According to the Minister of Family and Social Policy Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, the government aims to strengthen the model of the traditional extended family and boost the employment of women through the payments to grandmothers. That is why the official name of the program is 'Grandmother project to support the employment of women' (Kadin Istihdaminin Desteklenmesi Icin Büyükanne Projesi).
Whether these goals can be achieved cannot be said at this early stage. Yet, the concept seems immature, considering that only grandmothers under the age of 65 are supported. The fact that this could also lead to older women turning their backs on the labour market was not much discussed in the media. This would clearly conflict with the goal of promoting women's employment. While pro-government media praised the project as a 'world first', critical voices focused on unique financing structure, which included labour unions and business organizations. Critics also called for the funding of more day-care centres instead of financing the 'Grandmother Project'.
The 'Grandmother Project' is remarkable in many regards. For instance, it illuminates the state's perception of family and gender roles. In the framework of the project 'How "social" is Turkey?', we are particularly interested whether programs like the 'Grandmother Project' symbolise an increased welfare stateness of Turkey. Being a welfare state requires that social benefits for citizens are defined as social rights. In this regard, it is significant that the Minister of Labor and Social Security Mehmet Müezzinoglu explicitly does not consider the program as a social right. Rather he defines it as 'a gift to grandmothers'.