Women's Entrepreneurship in Patriarchal Societies: The Case of Women's Cooperatives in Turkey

Women's Entrepreneurship in Patriarchal Societies: The Case of Women's Cooperatives in Turkey

Kursat Cinar (Middle East Technical University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7479-8.ch005


This chapter explores the limits of and prospects for women's entrepreneurship in patriarchal communities. The chapter investigates the patriarchal institutions and societal norms which work against women's entrepreneurial activities and women's presence in socioeconomic life in general. It also delves into women's strategies to bargain, deal, and cope with patriarchal norms and institutions. The research is based on an extensive fieldwork on the case of Turkey, a country replete with patriarchal norms and institutions. The author conducts in-depth semi-structured interviews with members of women's cooperatives throughout Turkey to better understand and explain the obstacles against women's entrepreneurship in patriarchal societies and how women deal with these obstacles in their daily, entrepreneurial practices. In light of the fieldwork findings, the chapter concludes with policy implications and recommendations for more egalitarian and prosperous societies.
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Women are consistently and considerably behind men in the world in the degree to which they have access to resources and with regard to the standards of living and personal and political freedoms. Overall, women have access to a narrower variety of jobs, get paid less than men in the same sector jobs, and have higher unemployment rates than men in all educational background categories (Sen, 1992; Almeleh, Soifer, Gottlieb, & Lorraine, 1993; Abadian, 1996; Ross, 2008; Caraway, 2009). Throughout the globe, men overwhelmingly dominate economic decision-making bodies such as corporate boards, central banks while women are typically excluded from these positions. Furthermore, women continue to constitute less than 20% of the members of legislative assemblies, almost 130 years after women first achieved suffrage in a nation-state (Phillips, 2012; Chant, 2013; True, 2013).

One of the most successful ways in women’s struggles toward a more egalitarian society is making sure that women participate more in economic activities. When higher number of women partake in economic transactions on their own, they are more likely to exchange information and overcome their collective action problems, they are more likely to mobilize politically, and to lobby for more rights and to gain more representation in political assemblies (Ross, 2008, p.107), and the most importantly they are more likely to resist patriarchal norms and institutions that put them in a subordinate position. Women’s entrepreneurship is hence at the heart of steps toward a more egalitarian world. This chapter explores women’s entrepreneurial activities in male-dominated, patriarchal societies.

In essence, patriarchy refers to the systematic organization of male supremacy and female subordination (Stacey, 1993; Cindoğlu & Toktaș, 2002). Patriarchal societal norms and institutions translate sexual differences into socially defined gender roles, which manifests itself in a way women and men are unequally positioned in society, both in spatial and economic terms (Buğra, 2014, p.153). Patriarchy is based on a system of gender-based hierarchies of power, which reproduces male domination and female subordination in several forms even under different societal contexts vis-à-vis class, time, and culture (Kandiyoti, 1988; Erman & Hatiboğlu, 2017). In many instances, patriarchal norms, structures, and practices replicate themselves in different forms and dimensions (such as from household to workplace suppression of women), rather than totally being eliminated (Moghadam, 1996, p.5). Hence, it is vital to contextualize women’s struggles in patriarchal societies to better understand which societal and institutional obstacles still linger and in which areas women progress for a better future.

The focus of this chapter will be the case of Turkey, a typical case replete with patriarchal societal norms and institutions. Turkish society is a patriarchal society, in which male domination manifests itself in many aspects of social life as well as political institutions (Kandiyoti, 1988; Cinar & Ugur-Cinar, 2018). Earlier efforts of visionaries in the first years of young Turkish Republic in the early 20th century, first and the foremost Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, resulted in suffrage rights for women, elimination of polygamy, and more public visibility for women. Despite these revolutionary changes which were a quantum leap from the submissive position of women during the Ottoman Empire, patriarchy has been left intact in many areas. Even as of today, women’s primary role in the society is seen in the private sphere as being good mothers and obedient wives (Dedeoğlu, 2013, p.10; Alemdaroğlu, 2015, p.55; Akşit, 2015). As Kandiyoti (1987) aptly remarks, many women in the Turkish society have been “emancipated but unliberated”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Institutions: Human-devised constraints that structure political, economic, and social interaction.

Patriarchy: Systematic organization of male supremacy and female subordination.

Women’s Empowerment: The process through which women acquire the ability to make strategic and effective life choices and come to use this ability effectively for positive change.

Neo-Liberalism: A mode of governance in which the state acts as an agent in the creation of a political culture, where citizens live and act as individual “entrepreneurs” who are responsible for their own welfare with minimal state assistance and intervention.

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