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Female Entrepreneurship in early Republican Turkey
Why did the number of businesswomen remain low in early Republican Turkey? What social and political factors did prevent women from forming and owning companies? In its aim to provide more nuanced answers to these questions, this presentation revolves around female entrepreneurship in Turkey from the formation of the republic in 1923 to the beginning of the multi-party system in 1946. It divides this period into three phases. The first one represented the gradual emergence of female entrepreneurship through the enactment of a series of laws in the first decade of the republic. The second phase witnessed the implementation of the First Five-Year Plan. Although the Turkish Women’s Employment Association advocated women’s entry into the business sphere, female-owned small and medium-sized enterprises began to go bankrupt as the effects of the Global Depression spread. The third phase coincided with the Second World War. The percentage of businesswomen rose to its highest level in these years because the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of men allowed women more opportunities to do business. Nonetheless, the Wealth Tax of 1942 disproportionately affected Christian and Jewish businesswomen, leading to their elimination from the economy. Accordingly, women remained vastly underrepresented in the business world since the share of businesswomen in Turkey was lower than not only Western Europe but also most surrounding countries. To offer a socio-political explanation for this disparity, this presentation looks beyond official rhetoric and government policies. Despite the attempts of several newspapers to encourage women to pursue careers in business, businesswomen largely challenged people’s beliefs about the assumed nature of women. A coalition of men and women, including those who were associated with the government, became vocal about their opposition to female entrepreneurship. They believed that a woman’s place was in the home and a woman of business warranted no respect. Consequently, women played mostly an indirect role in the business world. Although they did not hold administrative positions, they bought shares of different companies, invested their money in a variety of business ventures, and helped their affinal, male relatives run family enterprises. Grounded in archival material, more specifically correspondence between central and provincial officials, local press accounts, commercial magazines, business catalogs, as well as memoirs, novels, and other literary works by men and women, this presentation argues that sociopolitical factors and the indirect role of women are crucial to the scholarly understanding of female entrepreneurship in early Republican Turkey.
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Gender/Women's Studies