With new gender relations implemented through “packages” (…), women and “loser” men are invited to work relations which are getting increasingly delicate.

In my previous piece, I had postponed the discussion of the questions of what AKP’s [Justice and Development Party] social policy regime has done to women and what women do in and through this regime to this article. Here, I try to offer a trajectory which aims towards the possible answers to this question. To that end, I need to reiterate the fact that the main pillars of the AKP’s 16-year-long government is founded upon packages. As such, this form of politics proves conducive to the arbitrary practices. It includes a new gender regime in the nation-state formation which has always already been sexist. Then, the trajectory I will try to follow here operates by way of a political form of implementation of packages, a notion of social rights in which security rhetoric is increasingly becoming pervasive, and a gender regime founded in connection with these.

First the packages and politics of packages: Arguably, in the AKP period, especially after 2005, policy-making processes were carried out through packages. Packages are functional in certain policy areas for surveying public opinion. Another related function of packages pertains to the fact that they have become tools for molding public opinion. They also represent a certain way of policy-making conducive to fragmented politics –a defining feature of neoliberal times– making us lose sight of the totality of how the order of neoliberal things have evolved. Finally, they continue within the scope of the state of emergency and presidential decrees intensifying the authoritarianism of the AKP government at the level of the presidency and ministries in the face of the ongoing political opposition which started with the Gezi Resistance in 2013 and which, in my opinion, continues with disjointed and intermittent moves, moments, and experiments of resistance. The relationship between the packages and the presidential decrees is twofold. First of all, the fragmented nature of package politics and the obscure connection between the policy proposals and the policy implementations become clear in the presidential decrees. The discrepancy between the packages and the stages of drafting and implementation of laws not only renders the efforts to identify consistency in a particular policy area futile, but also sets an example of arbitrariness and momentary changeability. Undoubtedly, this situation intersects with the states of exception suggestive of the presidential decrees and, hence, with the promise of temporariness. As a matter of fact, each presidential decree proposes a content in a variety of fields in different articles resembling the omnibus bills which function as the successors of packages. The uncertainty, temporariness, and arbitrariness on which the neoliberal order of things is based on a symbolic level also apply to the presidential decrees as forms of the authoritarian governments’ rules system. In these family resemblances –precisely through a Wittgensteinian reading, the family ties between package politics and the law-making processes based on presidential decrees– securitizing rhetoric comes to the fore and helps us link the seemingly peculiar fluctuating practices that are peculiar to neoliberal times to each other: Neoliberal social policy regime, by and large, is established and functions through precarization. In the neoliberal form of the nation-state, this functioning is accompanied by physical-bodily-material security practices that are not necessarily identified with the existing armed forces of the nation-state. The common unit that practically and metaphorically stands out is the heterosexual family. The family is presented as an institution of social solidarity –the futile remedy to social precarity. At the same time, it is the justifiable ground for the task of ensuring national security in different versions of civilian life ascribed to tradesmen, mukhtars, police, gendarmerie.

Going back to security rhetoric: we see that insecurities and precarities grounded in neoliberal times require a different social security configuration than the welfare state. This new configuration explicitly calls for risks, while, on the other hand, severing rights from its social context and squeezing them into the individual. The terms risk, security, and the social are not only redefined with reference to individualization, but they are also rendered a matter of national interest. Because of the impossibility pointed out in the previous article, the nervous citizen is called to domesticity and individualism signified by the private space and to personalism signified by the private/intimate space.[1] The unsettling relationship between the personalism that we know through the private/intimate space and the individualism we have predominantly identified with the free market is established through domesticity mentioned above and is managed through the moralism operated within domesticity –at least, we can trace this in AKP’s neoliberal policies. Unsurprisingly, in AKP’s moralist vision, domesticity is constituted in heterosexual family. In this imagination, family is not merely the domain of reproduction ensuring the continuity of generations. In fact, it becomes the defining unit of the social imagination, well suited to the smallest and core unit of the society. So, if one of the aspects of neoliberal order of things is to limit the rights –from freedom to security–  which cannot be concretized without being constituted within the social in the individual level, then rendering national security as state security and posing this national security as the precondition of individual security creates a contradiction. In short, what matters is the security of the state, and the individual security can be waived if needed be. When seen in a holistic manner, it can be argued that during the AKP governments, the security rhetoric –from workplace security to (individual) health insurance and internal and external security threats– was decisive in the reconstruction of the political sphere in a personalist fashion. The neoliberal merging of security rhetoric and the personalist politics began in the 1980s. As Gülden Özcan aptly states, securitization of society and politics is not peculiar to the AKP period. It starts with the 1980 coup d’état and is of great importance in consolidation of the neoliberal order of things: the national security discourse becomes effective in constraining, defaming, and –as seen in its widespread impact in today– eliminating social and political opposition[2] (Özcan, 2014, pp.44-48). In this respect, the increasingly arbitrary use of words such as “traitor” or “terrorist” in an ever-expanding range and for a growing diversity of political stances –in fact for the entirety of social and political opposition– in parallel with the political developments in Turkey’s political history especially from 2013 onwards is particularly important.[3]

To summarize, I am talking about a rhetoric which reconfigures nearly every aspect of life on the basis of security issues. Arguably, this rhetoric works in two seemingly mutually exclusive axes: individual and state. While the individual axis is based on classical liberal framework, the state axis relies on the priority of nation-state’s survival, hence, on the statist-nationalist framework. In this equation, the family is constructed as an intermediary domain, an intermediary unit. We can possibly mention two functions of this intermediary unit: 1. The heterosexual family as a space, place, unit for the nervous individual to calm down, knowing that they will be safe. 2) The heterosexual family as the unit with which the social imagination identifies. Thus, it becomes generally accepted that not only our social security, but also physical, bodily, and material security can be ensured within the society-as-family. This being the case, the government can call various societal groups –the tradesmen, for instance– to policing in the face of social and/or political opposition. Therefore, for instance, with the state’s war against smoking, living a healthy life can be coded both as an individual responsibility and as a security problem which resonates at the level of the state.[4] Or, citizenship rights pertaining to the field of work, such as state incentives for private pension schemes, can be converted into an individual domain. Another yet much more accelerated way of converting work-related citizenship rights –social rights– into an individual domain can also be traced in the alignment of the individual share in health insurance to some sort of income tax.[5]

Tendency towards precarization through marketization and individualization shaped by the security rhetoric in social policies is the part and parcel of neoliberal politics. In Turkey, the implementation of this tendency took place during the period of AKP governments. At the same time, this period hosts the emergence of a new form in the workings of the patriarchal structure in Turkey. Women subjects/objects marked by this patriarchal form can be exemplified with reference to subjectivities to which neoliberal social policy regimes interpellate and/or compel women. In line with the trajectory followed in this article, the subjectivities in question can be described through a gender regime that can be tentatively called neoliberal-conservative. Policies proposed through packages and law-making processes –mostly in the form of omnibus bills– in which policies selected from the packages are included put into practice new gender relations through which women and “loser” men are invited to work relations which are getting increasingly delicate. Women Employment Package (2013), Protection of Family and Dynamic Population Package (January 2015) and subsequent law under the same heading, Regulation on Private Employment Agencies (October 2016) are crucial examples in this respect.[6] Each regulation becomes essentially entangled with and articulated into the others –they become a part of the AKP’s tactics to remain in power within the crisis of neoliberal capitalism. Therefore, it is possible to argue that they instantiate the forms of neoliberal gender regimes in times of crisis.

When women are packaged into family…

All packages proposed in relation to women’s employment, protection of family, youth employment under the AKP emphasize the balance between women’s obligations in domestic space and labor markets. Even a quick perusal of the titles of the packages one after another reveals that the “work-life balance”, one of the popular notions of recent years, is actually “work-family balance”. In this balance, women’s lives are primarily situated in the household; even if women are not fixed in the household, the priority of the household is fixed. Among the regulations enacted by the omnibus bills is incentivizing heterosexual marriage. One such tactic used by the government is to pay a certain amount of money to those who get married before the age of 27. It is remarkable to see in this simple promise how the law establishes the balance between finance and family, neoliberal economic priorities and conservative priorities. For instance, according to the “dowry account” regulation (December 2015), in order to benefit from “the dowry account … to be opened in the domestic branches of deposit banks or participation banks in Turkish Lira”, citizens must stay registered in the system for at least three years and get married before the age of 27. The state contribution is not fixed and is estimated to be at least 20% of the saved amount and a maximum of 5000TL.[7] This example summarizes the AKP government version of happy alliance between the banks, heterosexual family, and the state: banks attempt to create new investment pools through individual deposits and/or saving accounts in order to delay the accumulation crisis. The heterosexual family has a dual function within the neoliberal-conservative patriarchy: first of all, it has a symbolic role in terms of the conservative gender regime. It has a highly material role in terms of investment and reproduction. The state’s role in this alliance shows that it must go beyond its merely regulatory role as suggested in the mainstream neoliberal accounts. Since the neoliberal state’s domain is limited to an active regulatory role through legal regulations, we can argue that this transgression indicates that we are in the phase of deepening of the 10-year-long crisis.

The other happy alliance which we can trace in the packages is between the state and the (Turkish) mothers. “Maternity benefit” exemplifies this alliance and is inherently related to “giving birth to at least three children” that Erdoğan wished, requested, and deemed necessary in his term as the prime minister. According to the Maternity Benefit Regulation which entered into force on 2 May 2015, “those who fall within the scope of this regulation will be granted a one-time birth allowance of 300 TL for their first child born alive, 400 TL for their second child, and 600 TL for their third and more children” (Article 5/9). The state approves the maternity benefit on the basis of Turkish citizenship (Article 5/5). The primary beneficiary of the allowance is the mother; in cases where the mother is not alive or not a citizen of Turkey, the allowance is delivered to the father or to the legal guardian (Article 9).[8]

The functioning of the abovementioned two happy alliances distinctive of the AKP period becomes clear in the rhetoric which identifies giving birth with motherhood, and, hence, establishing heterosexual Turkish family as a national duty. The priority here is not to recognize the social rights of women on the basis of their motherhood but to append women’s social rights to giving birth and motherhood. “We will make sure that the time spent on unpaid maternity leave is counted in women’s promotion in their career. Women will have the same right for childbirth just as men have for military service.” [9]

It is possible to note that within the scope of the package politics, one can see the clues of the long-standing feminist demands for gender equality in the labor market in the regulations directly related to women’s social rights. However, considering the package politics as a whole, it is clear that the equality demands are manipulated to strengthen conservatism through familyism rather than establishing gender equality.[10] As we can see in the rhetoric adopted by Ahmet Davutoğlu (2014-2016), the prime minister at the time of the packages in question, gender equality is an acceptable demand as long as it is included in the family-related packages. This means that women’s empowerment and gender equality can only be achieved through the protection of family and a dynamic population[11] The gradual exclusion of women’s rights organizations and/or feminist organizations from the process of drafting, negotiating, and implementing relevant packages point to the elimination of the social from citizenship rights in neoliberal-conservative government practices. In short, relevant measures are presented as supportive opportunities for married women to establish work-life balance which is an already problematic notion.[12] However, while the insecurity women experience due to their position in the labor market deepens, the “life” axis of the work-life balance is confined to the family.[13]

Permanent family, temporary employment, secure investment

Analyzing packages together with Private Employment Agencies will help us observe the AKP’s ability to bring together two distinct domains of post-Fordist capitalism’s reproduction and service sector –the labor market and the heterosexual family– in the last five years. It is important to note that Private Employment Agencies have been recurrently brought to the agenda since 2003. What is new in the last five years is that the government is making temporary work relations and temporary employment a desirable form of work. Being conducive to neoliberal priority of flexibility, functional for establishing the work-life balance, suitable for flexible security[14] to provide the concrete ground for employment, and convenient to the translation of social rights into the individual domain, Private Employment Agencies and temporary employment, in essence, point to the total feminization of the neoliberal labor force.[15] Rethinking the relevant packages from this perspective, we can see the set of policies, that make it difficult for women to participate in the labor force other than within flexible conditions and push women further into the reproductive functions and the domain of the family.[16]

In an incomplete summary, flexible working conditions, which exemplify the alliance between the priorities of the free market and conservative morality, are presented as favorable conditions to mothers’ rights to “prevent them from sacrificing their right to be with their children, and … their professions for which they have labored a lot, while fulfilling their maternal duties”.[17] So, we can talk about women’s rights derived not from individual and/or citizenship rights but from motherhood; the fact that the equivalence of these rights in the labor market is constituted by the codes of flexibility and temporariness; the fact that the cross-spheres (intimate sphere, private sphere, social sphere, political sphere, public sphere) vulnerability which is not unfamiliar to women is reconfigured again across various spheres; and that, this time, the vulnerability in question is made widespread in a way to include men. Arguably, the dilemma of the nervous citizen lies in that neoliberal patriarchy, in a self-negating way, interpellates everyone into femininity in the labor market rather than in being stuck between personalism and individualism. Considering the citizenship, which is already institutionalized upon masculinity and, despite feminist struggles and interventions, is still masculine, it should not be surprising to get nervous hearing this interpellation. This does not mean that men and women are equalized in vulnerability. It means that the nervous subject of neoliberalism is women, and that family has been raised to the level of society, nation, and the state, and the household is made into a labor market. This must be the end of neoliberalism: a society that denies itself; a state that denies itself; and a market order that denies itself.

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

[1] I use the term “domestic” hesitantly and hoping that it corresponds to “domesticity” in English and “oikos” in Ancient Greek. On the one hand, I intend to emphasize that one aspect of the aforementioned dual function is appended to the specifically defined household space, that this space is not defined only by the family, organic and relevantly formulated emotional and bodily attachments, and that these loyalties are transferred to the national unity/totality where the public sphere is fixed. Based on this, it is possible to say that domesticity is not limited to the household and/or family, but rather reproduces the house/home at the national level. This is all the more possible in the neoliberal order of things, and probably points to a different environment and set of conditions from the socio-political space of the Fordist and post-Fordist nation-state: here, it is merely a co-definition of social rights and a definition of the isolated individual in reference to the social security as a social right. It is worth mentioning that the individual security in question is attached to the state in a way that will remove the society and replace the family. This undoubtedly takes place within the scope of the reconstruction of the state and administration in a family-oriented fashion with reference to personal values.

[2] Gülden Özcan, “Revisiting National Security Discourse in Turkey with a view to Pacification: From Military Power to Police Power onto Orchestration of Labour Power”, Moment Dergi, 2014 1(1), pp. 44-48.

[3] Ibid, pp.37-55.

[4] Simten Coşar ve Gülden Özcan, “Packaging Security under the AKP’s Rule: Social Policies and the Security State”, Work in progress.

[5] Simten Coşar and Metin Yeğenoğlu, “The Neoliberal Restructuring of Turkey’s Social Security System,” Monthly Review, 60 (11) (April 2009), p. 34-47.

[6] Besides having been included in the Law for the Protection of the Family and Dynamic Population, priorities and recommendations within the scope of the Women’s Employment Incentive Package can be followed in the Industrial Investment and Production Support Package (April 2015).

[7] http://www.milliyet.com.tr/ceyiz-hesabi-27-yas-sinirlamasi/ekonomi/detay/2165655/default.htm

[8] http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2015/05/20150523-5.htm

[9] https://m.bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/161392-davutoglu-ndan-ceyiz-hesabi (8 January 2015). Last accessed: 20 September 2015.

[10] According to Gülay Toksöz, the only aim of these measures is nothing but increasing the birth rate in Turkey. See, Toksöz, “Yeni Aile Nüfus Yasasının Amacı Doğurganlığı Artırmak”, bianet (6 February 2015) Last accessed on 7 October 2017.

[11] “Başbakan Ahmet Davutoğlu Ailenin Korunması ve Dinamik Nüfus Yapısı Programını Açıkladı”, http://www.aile.gov.tr/haberler/basbakan-ahmet-davutoglu-ailenin-ve-dinamik-nufus-yapisinin-korunmasi-programini-acikladi Last accessed on 20 October 2015.

[12] The problematic conceptualization of the popular notion of the “work-life balance” and the practices related to it are beyond the scope of this article. Let me briefly point out here that framing work outside of life is not simply a misnomer or a misdescription but a direct neoliberal necessity. That said, let me create an opportunity for another article.

[13] Necla Akgökçe, “Hükümetin Kadın İstihdamını Artırma Paketleri: Girişimci Olmayan Hayat Yok Gibi”, Petrol-İş Kadın Dergisi (51) (June 2015) https://www.petrol-is.org.tr/kadindergisi/sayi51/istihdam.htm Last accessed on 20 November 2017.

[14] This term is alternatively addressed with the term flexicurity. I prefer “flexible security” in order to emphasize the primacy of flexibility and to clarify a work relation in which security is rendered flexible.

[15] Sevda Karaca, Interview with Handan Çağlayan, “Özel İstihdam Büroları Gerçeği: Kadın İşsizliği Bahane, İşçi Simsarlığı Şahane!” Evrensel (14 February 2016). http://www.keig.org/?p=1846 Last accessed on 7 October 2017.

Also see KEİG Platformu, Özel İstihdam Büroları ve Bürolar Aracılığıyla Geçici İş İlişkisi: Kadın İstihdamı İçin Çözüm Mü, Güvencesiz Esneklik İçin Tuzak Mı? (İstanbul: Kayhan Matbaası, October 2015).

[16] Gülay Toksöz, “Yeni Aile Nüfus Yasasının Amacı Doğurganlığı Artırmak”, bianet (6 February 2015) http://www.keig.org/?p=1807 Last accessed on 7 October 2015.

[17]https://www.aile.gov.tr/haberler/basbakan-ahmet-davutoglu-ailenin-ve-dinamik-nufus-yapisinin-korunmasi-programini-acikladi (8 January 2015). Last accessed on 10 June 2018.


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