When their lives meet with that of a man, women are expected to take a break from the life outside to undertake domestic chores, childcare, and sexual labor as if there is no tomorrow. This break is as tiring as the life outside. And, when they divorce, they are expected to stand on their own feet as if the break called marriage had never interrupted their lives.

“When my husband left home, some men came to propose. They said, ‘I will protect your child and you…’ ‘I have apartments’, ‘I am a wealthy man’, and so on…  If the state hadn’t protected me, maybe I would have got married to one of these vultures or I’d have prostituted[1].” (Çiğdem, 38, single, mother of three)

When, in 2012, Divorced and Aggrieved Fathers visited the then minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Şahin in order to mobilize state authorities against “mothers who abuse the parental rights”, they were still the representative of their own victimhood as a countermovement. However, in 2016, they were included in the Divorce Commission not solely as victims but as a solution partner for shaping family policies. While these men, who claim that women take the advantage of divorce, blame women who demand alimony payment for being dishonorable and for begging, they didn’t seem to be ashamed of their own lives as husbands who are incapable of cleaning up their own mess or feeding themselves. According to the Divorce Commission Report[2] which defends family integrity at the expense of women, there are three main reasons undermining marriages: domestic and childcare responsibilities, expenses, and insufficient income (p. 266). Most women get divorced because of their spouses’ indifference towards problems in the family, unequal distribution of responsibilities, or due to their husband’s inability to maintain the household. Other divorce reasons put forward by women include the lack of emotional −not to mention physical− support, constant self-justification, domination through systematic jealousy, and perpetual belittling and scorning (p. 237). Although the report avoids making an explicit statement, this data reveals the fact that men undermine marriages. When men, who are unwilling to share domestic chores and childcare responsibilities, lose their economic power as the breadwinner of the household, they push women’s limits and destroy the family by −with all their dysfunctionality− being jealous, causing disturbance, scorning, and, as the report points out, by raising their voices in discussions (p.265).  Nonetheless, cracks in the institution of family which has been becoming increasingly unstable, are attributed to “grand social problems” (Yazıcı, 2012)[3] such as modernization and individualization and it is given too little thought to why women leave the marriages.

Women who have been severed from their educational life, who have been forced into early marriages or dragged into marriages since they do not have any alternatives, whose income generating skills have been curbed throughout her marriage, who have been doomed to unpaid care labor, and who have connections with the outside, institutions and services only through their husbands call for social policy through their “womanhood” as a disadvantage. However, to be supported by Turkey’s sexist welfare regime, you have to fit into one of those two figures: a woman who has not given up on marriage until her marriage has given up on her, that is, a woman (a widow) whose spouse has died or a woman without a husband yet with child(ren). While women in the first category are the independent and legitimate beneficiaries of social policies such as widow’s pension, women in the second category [benefit from social policies] in order to protect the child from destructive effects of being without men as an economic condition, that is, they are indirect beneficiaries. However, both groups are the bearers of the economic side effects –which appear layer after layer before women after the marriage ends– of the institution of marriage, which is depoliticized and left at the mercy of the invisible hand of patriarchy.

Orloff (1996)[4] says that the institution of marriage which is based on traditional roles conceals women’s economic vulnerability, up until their divorce. Throughout the marriage, a great potential of poverty awaits like a ticking bomb and even accumulates. That is, marriage temporarily suspends the potential of gender-based poverty. At that very moment when the marriage ends and the potential of poverty which had been standing by like a ticking bomb throughout the marriage unfolds, a third way other than getting married again or trying to survive by working at precarious jobs including sex work is possible: relying on social policies that are shaped not through motherhood but through specific needs stemming from being the victim of marriage that is the central institution of gender inequality. However, according to the gender-blind framework of the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services, marriage failures are problems occurring between two equal adults and outside what is political. Therefore, social welfare mechanisms have been developed so that these problems which are considered to be the inaptitude of adults do not fall on the shoulders of “innocent children” as an intergenerational disadvantage. Although the Social-Economic Support Program (SES) which is the most comprehensive intervention program in this respect and which targets single-parent households is designed as a multidimensional empowerment program; it predominantly functions as a cash transfer program. Those who benefit from this program, which primarily aims to support children to grow up not in a nursing home but with their families, are either destabilized single-parent (in fact single mother) families or two-parent households that are at risk of destabilization (for example, the father is indebted or unemployed for long term). SES centers on the child’s right to grow up with the family; the child ultimately needs a physical space where the unity called family which has been accepted as the ideal care environment can steadily sustain itself and a home environment where bills and rent is regularly paid and needs are met. The cash transfer which enables the sustainability of this physical space provides the financial backbone for women “without man and with children” to build a new life after marriage or separation. In other words, the state substitutes for men who have left home; it also supplements men who have been economically weakened. However, it does it only for “children in need of protection” and for their sake. Although the state does not want to compensate for womanhood as an economic condition, child-centered social welfare mechanisms strengthen the hand of a considerable number of women as they start a new life. Still, this is not a conscious political choice but an unexpected consequence. All policies that do not have marriage and divorce as a matter of equal citizenship on their agenda render women entitled to rights through their motherhood and it is assumed that when the children turn 18, the conditions of deep poverty, which these shadow citizens live in, evaporate.

In the poverty research they conducted in Italy, Casper et al. (1994)[5] found that despite the high poverty rates in Italy, there was no substantial difference between men and women. Later they realized that the majority of Italians at the age of 18-57 were married and all data was based on the assumption that married men and women had more or less the same standards. However, marriage should be taken not as “the unity of common interests” but as a “bargaining unit” (Hobson, 1990).[6] Resources are never equally distributed within the household. Women and children are the family members who have the least resources at their disposal. When I had interviews with single mothers who receive social assistance, they attribute their ways of survival defined as aid-dependency and, thus, passive citizenship to their passivity in the past (in their marriages); that is, not having made any savings against the risks they might face in the future as full-time housewives. In Kerestecioğlu’s (2006)[7] words, “marriage workers” come face to face with the reality that they have been covering their expenses out-of-pocket after their divorce. Although the financial condition of divorced women with children is considered as ex-husband’s responsibility, data presented by the Ankara Bar Association[8] reveals that women cannot even get their alimonies, which are anyways inadequate to support them. In fact, most of the time women have to waive their alimony rights saying “I have nothing to ask from him, I just want him to leave me alone”.

The Ministry of Family and Social Policy Single-Parent Households Report (2011) confirms that 1) due to increasing impoverishment, many women enter labor market after divorce; 2) many single mothers cannot find an affordable, safe, and accessible place to leave their children when they are at work; 3) many single mothers cannot pay their rent and have to move back to their parents’ house; 4) the majority of women cannot get alimonies or do not (cannot) struggle for their alimonies. Women who are expected to have their future projections as if they will never get divorced throughout their marriage are stigmatized as “alimony terrorists” for not being able to continue their lives as if they have never been married after their divorce. When their lives meet with that of a man, women are expected to take a break from the life outside to undertake domestic chores, childcare, and sexual labor as if there is no tomorrow. This break is as tiring as the life outside. And, when they divorce, they are expected to stand on their own feet as if the break called marriage had never interrupted their lives. When women are doomed to unpaid labor, they lose their bargaining power both within the house and in the labor market, and they bestow upon men two advantages: 1) comfort of a life free of boring, invaluable, unpaid domestic chores, and 2) freedom to invest all their time and energy in paid and valorized jobs in the labor market. Of course, not all men have the opportunity to earn a fortune in the labor market and feel valuable. Nonetheless, what they do is called work, and they acquire certain skills and bargaining power to survive when they want to walk away. Fortunately, it is estimated that by 2023 the percentage of single-parent households will increase to 10% and majority of them will be female-headed (ASPB, 2013).[9] When we consider the deep women poverty that unfold with divorce in conjunction with the fact that single mothers benefit the most from social assistance and the necessity that the children of these women should be productive and self-sufficient future citizens who pay taxes and contribute to the economy, economic cost of divorce is a problem of budget not only for women but also for neoliberal governments.

UN Women and the World Bank (2018)[10] say that especially women at the age of 20-34 are poorer than men. While women’s relation with the labor market is interrupted due to marriage and/or having children in this age, men consolidate their “breadwinner” position by starting a family not only within the household but also within the labor market. When Seccombe (1974)[11] stated that the economic relationship between husband and wife is a relation of exchange that took place on equal ground, he claimed that this interruption, for which women would pay the price throughout their lives, would be compensated by the fact that men would earn a livelihood for women throughout their marriages. First of all, this is not a voluntary relationship. We know that today many women in Turkey are “unwilling housewives” and they want to work as long as they have access to affordable childcare services. According to ILO (2017)[12] the rate of these women amounts to 87%. Besides, in the context of deep poverty and unemployment, women “work for peanuts” (Harrison, 1973)[13] as marriage workers. Women cannot make a saving that can secure their future. Economic patronage inadequately protects women only as long as the marriage lasts and burdens them with debt every single day. Every other day that women work as marriage workers, women get into debt investing in their post-marriage poverty. Women who benefit from their husbands’ health insurance when they are married become indebted to their divorced, impoverished, old, and precarious selves. Man’s health insurance is not split into half when women benefit from it. Man gets married without taking any risks whereas a woman risks her present and future. At the end of the day, both the wife of a rich constructor and the wife of a casual construction worker line up for the same social assistance programs because they have to struggle with more or less the same life standards. When man leaves, he leaves with his money, as if he has never come.

So, we need a social state whether or not there is a man involved. Every government has not only an image of an ideal marriage but also an image of an ideal divorce in mind. These two areas have never been left without policies. In the simplest words, a heteronormative, self-sufficient family with stable residence and a controllable daily routine where both parties can earn an income and consume, handle care work on their own, and transfer the mainstream values and norms to the future generations is an ideal structure for many governments. If there is going to be a divorce, even after the spouses have tried every means to avoid the divorce, then this incident, despite the power asymmetry between spouses, should be peaceful, take place as if both parties are equal, and of course, self-sufficient. First of all, in a systemic oppressor-oppressed relationship, the consent to peace means that the weak parties should renounce their rights. Moreover, even women who give consent to uncontested divorce are being killed just because they want to get a divorce. Furthermore, men who did not even spare a day to take care of their children during their marriage, try to take custody of the children just to dodge alimony responsibilities. These men who do not speak of equality during their marriage cling to a freakish discourse on equality which only benefits them as soon as they get a divorce. On top of that, states are pursuing policies based on an unfounded dream that divorced women may become successful micro-entrepreneurs in the near future. Gender inequality, which is a shared responsibility of history, states and societies, is a political problem that needs to be addressed independently of individual efforts and capacities of women.  If you insist on asking for a solution on the individual level, men, who do not want to pay alimony after the divorce, should make an effort not become indebted to women during their marriage. Come on men, be self-sufficient!

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

[1] This expression is used by the interviewee to explain her economic vulnerability after divorce. It does not mean that the author is sexworker-phobic.

[2] The Report of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission to Investigate the Factors Affecting the Family Integrity and Divorce Cases and the Measures to be Taken to Strengthen the Family Institution.

[3] Yazıcı, B. (2012). The Return to the Family: Welfare, state, and politics of the family in Turkey. Anthropological Quarterly, 85(1), 103-140. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/41427090.

[4] Orloff, A. S. (1996). Gender in the Welfare State. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 51-78. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/2083424.

[5] Casper, L. M,, McLanahan, S.S., Garfinkel, I. (1994). The Gender-Poverty Gap: What we can learn from other countries. American Sociological Review, 59 (4), 594-605.

[6] Hobson, B. (1990). No Exit, No Voice: Women’s Economic Dependency and the Welfare State. Acta Sociologica, 33(3), 235-250. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/4200800.

[7] Kerestecioğlu, F. (2006). Kadınlar: Evlilik işçileri. Retrieved from https://m.bianet.org/biamag/medya/84766-kadinlar-evlilik-iscileri.

[8] Alimony Symposium Final Declaration.

[9] The Ministry of Family and Social Policy (2013). Research on Family Structure in Turkey: Findings, Recommendations.

[10] UN Women, World Bank (2018). Gender Differences in Poverty and Household Composition Through the Life-cycle: A global perspective. Policy Research Working Papers, March 2018. Retrieved from https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/pdf/10.1596/1813-9450-83601.

[11] Seccombe, W. (1974). Domestic Labor: Reply to critics. New Left Review, 94, 85-96.

[12] International Labor Organization, Gallup (2017). Report on Towards a Better Future for Women and Work: Voices of women and men. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_546256.pdf.

[13] Harrison, J. (1973). The political economy of housework. Bulletin of the conference of socialist economists, 7.


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