Aygen Aytaç, the national human development report coordinator for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Turkey, says young people in Turkey are excluded from decision-making processes and that this exclusion starts in the family.
"Following our research we've realized that Turkey is a country where young people's views are hardly taken into consideration in decision-making processes, starting from the family. And in this context, it is only natural that people fail to learn democratic ways of thinking," said Aytaç, the main author of the UNDP's 2008 "Youth in Turkey" report. She says young people who are ignored easily exclude "others" who do not seem to share the same values.
According to the report, there are more than 12 million people between the age of 15 and 24 in Turkey. Of these young people, 40 percent, or 5 million, neither go to school nor work. Women are worse off both in terms of education and employment.
"One of the most striking conclusions of our research was that almost everybody had prejudices about everybody else. We were surprised by the degree to which people excluded 'others' who do not seem to share the same values. We have seen, in our focus group meetings, how young people preferred to hang around with people who think like them and sidelined others," Aytaç said.
Aytaç gave the example of a young girl who migrated to the western city of Kütahya. Her words in a focus group meeting revealed her views: "In the city, when I was wearing the same clothes I was wearing in the village, I was looked down upon. Everywhere, in the hospital, in the town hall, they looked at me differently. When I first came to the city from my village, I was wearing a long black headscarf and baggy trousers. People treated me as if I was totally ignorant. I always got served last."
Another girl who went from a relatively big city to a small city to attend school there had a different experience, Aytaç said, referring to her words in a focus group meeting: “I endured the difficulties of moving from a big city to a smaller one. For example, not covering our heads with a scarf sometimes caused problems. For people living there, you are considered chaste only if you are covered up.”
Released at the end of March, the report offers guidance on how employment, education and health policies for young people need to be reshaped to ensure that they are people-oriented and prepare the country for coming demographic challenges.
Aytaç and the UNDP team took a new approach in the report by inquiring about the feelings and problems of young people and asking what they really want. She explains: “We took the human development approach in the report. In today’s world, young people are considered to be engines of a growing economy, a rhetoric mostly seen in political speeches. They are pictured as the future of any nation and as a hope for a bright and promising tomorrow. But on the other hand young people are seen, through some people’s eyes, as a source of problems.”
Speaking to Monday Talk, Aytaç elaborates on the findings of the “Youth in Turkey” report and the challenges facing Turkey’s future generations.
What does human development comprise?
In the context of human development, human beings are seen as ends rather than means, implying that the main reason for development is to assure better lives for human beings. People’s freedom to choose between different ways of living and their capability to achieve different ways of living are the main concern. Hence, the report elaborates on the opportunities and obstacles that help or prevent Turkey’s youth from choosing and achieving their own development paths.
What role does participation play in a young person’s life?
It creates miracles. It allows their self-esteem to rise. Research shows that involving young people in activities serving the greater community has a positive impact on their personal development, sense of civic and social responsibility, knowledge, academic skills and career aspirations. For instance, we met a young man from one of the most remote areas in Turkey in one of our focus group meetings. He was in Ankara to participate in a nongovernmental organization meeting. Since he started volunteering as part of Youth for Habitat Association’ programs, he said, not only has he himself changed, but also he has started changing things in his village. For example, he brought young people into his village from other countries and started mutual projects. His whole world has changed.
What is the percentage of young people who have the chance to participate in such civil society activities?
Unfortunately, only about 4 percent, and most of these are university students. Obviously, as our report shows, despite the perception of young people in Turkey as dynamic, middle-class students, the reality is quite different. Only 30 percent of young people are students. The remaining 30 percent are working and 40 percent are idle -- they neither study, nor work. So 40 percent of the young population does not participate in work life, school life and, of course, in social life. One can call these people the “invisible youth.”
You’ve also found out that many young people cannot even participate in the decision-making processes in their own families. Would you elaborate on that?
Yes, forget about participation in civil society activities, our research among 3,000 young people shows that young people cannot even participate in the decision-making processes of their families. Their participation is low even in decisions about everyday matters, such as determining what television channel to watch at home. Only 55 percent said they have a say in this matter. Of course, there are young people whose families are supportive of their autonomy and strengthen their independence with closeness, love and affection. But we tried to find out what goes wrong in the lives of many other young people.
When we started one of our focus groups in a small town in the Turkey’s western Marmara region, one of the young participants was 24-year-old Selim, who said he was happy and satisfied with his life. Listening to his story from beginning to end, we realized that it was not Selim himself who was “happy,” but his family -- which did not let him go to cadet school in another town, even though Selim succeeded in the exams. His family could not get beyond “we can’t live without you.” Selim now works at a dairy factory, the only place he could find a job in his hometown, and he is still living with his parents. Because of Selim’s long working hours, they see each other only at the breakfast table. But he says his parents are very happy and he’s also “happy” because he did not hurt their feelings.
So for some of Turkey’s youth, could happiness mean living for the good of others?
It appears that a majority of Turkey’s young people find it precisely that way. And according to the official figures, there are 2.2 million young women in Turkey who are not studying and not even looking for jobs. This kind of compromise by young people can even be seen in more educated, wealthier families. Güzin, a 24-year-old journalist living in Ankara, was one of them. In our focus group meeting, she said she actually wanted to live independently, but that her family was over-protective: “My mother still serves food and refreshments to me and my sister when we are busy working in our room. It is a typical Turkish family and I can’t change this. Sometimes I get up to clean the table after dinner, but my parents tease me, saying, ‘Oh, how gracious you are today,’ in a mocking sort of way, so I lose interest and sit back down. I, too, want to stand on my own feet. But whenever I try to talk about this, my mother starts to cry. So I leave it alone. To be honest, I myself am very attached to my mother. So we continue to live like this.”
What is the situation when it comes to the political participation of young people?
Turkish citizens can run for Parliament from the age of 25 and they vote in the elections from the age of 18. However, this does not mean that their prospects for political participation have progressed in the same degree. Unless they are genuinely encouraged, youth participation in political parties will remain restricted. The rate of political participation among young people in Turkey is only 4.7 percent. Three-quarters of the remaining 95.3 percent do not expect to participate in any political party in the future.
What do young people say about politics and politicians?
Young people foster feelings of cynicism and distrust toward political institutions. They believe that “politics isn’t honest and just” and that “the deserving people are not where they should be.” The same distrust is felt toward politicians, who have been perceived as protecting only themselves and their relatives, not doing much for the people and not telling the truth.
What do the young people of Turkey want most?
They want jobs. Forty-nine percent of young people said “a good job” is what they want most, followed by “esteem” with 18 percent, and “love” with only 16 percent. About 1 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are actively looking for jobs. The unemployment rate of about 18 percent among young people is almost twice the national average.
Why are they unable to find employment?
When asked for the most significant reason why they cannot find jobs, 30 percent answered “being young and inexperienced.” The words “young” and “inexperienced” are used almost synonymously in society. There are not enough institutions or training courses to compensate for the inadequacies of the education system with the reality of experience. Businesses are not willing to provide training for their prospective employees. They want their employees to start work immediately. On-the-job training carries the risk of wasting time, as well as the likelihood of the well-trained employee asking for higher wages or transferring to another company. There is also another factor mentioned by young people for their inability to find jobs: the “leverage” or “connection” factor, in other words, finding influential people who can help secure a job. According to our survey, 23.6 percent of young people said they couldn’t find a job because they had no connections.
Most young people in Turkey must be living with their families, right?
According to our research, approximately 80 percent of young people in Turkey are living with their families. But there is another kind of housing problem experienced by young people who go to university outside of their hometown. If a place in a student residence or hostel can’t be secured, one has to rent an apartment. However, focus groups showed that most apartment owners do not want to rent to students. If a student’s family can provide support, it’s fine, but there are many young people who, because of stresses associated with finding accommodation, end up abandoning their education after having gone through so much to arrive at the doorstep of a university.
Following your report, youth NGOs have started coming together to demand some changes…
We have prepared the report with a participatory attitude. We worked with almost every youth group in Turkey. Young people were involved in it, from the initial brainstorming to arranging human development workshops for academics and state agencies and doing translation and conducting focus groups. Youth NGOs were vital. They have been enthusiastic about spreading the report and advocating it at local levels. Independently of us, 43 groups published a joint press release calling for the implementation of our recommendations and over 90 groups are now keeping in contact as a result of the process. Plus, they have recently established a Yahoo [e-mail] group to communicate and they have been preparing timetables for discussion groups in order to recommend youth policies to the government in a more structured fashion. It’s good to see young people, for the first time, deciding for themselves to influence politics for their own benefit.
How will they resolve the issue of funding?
Another excellent outcome of this effort has been that international funding organizations, which have heard about these endeavors by young people, have begun to come out with funding offers because they have seen a platform forming. The United Nations has become especially interested in such a platform and is considering a separate fund to support it.
She is a communications and national human development report coordinator and lead author at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). She was an information manager and political analyst for the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey from 2002 to 2005. Previously she was a producer for the BBC World Service for eight years. She stayed a year in Baku, Azerbaijan, between 1993 and 1994 as a spokesperson for the United Nations. She has two books, each published both in English and Turkish by the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey, on EU programs in Turkey. Her documentary series on human rights, titled “I have a right to…” and focusing of 15 different subjects related to human rights issues in Turkey and Europe, aired on BBC World Service in 2000.
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