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It is not the institutions but ideas! Ambiguous discourses in family policies, population politics and gender rights in Poland and Turkey

Umut Korkut
Glasgow Caledonian University
Umut Korkut
Glasgow Caledonian University
Hande Ziya-Eslen
Bahçesehir University
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper uses care-giving as a case study to test the impact of socially conservative ideas on the functioning of population politics. It looks into the Polish and Turkish contexts for empirical evidence. Polish context shows a highly institutionalized system of family policies in contrast to almost unessential institutions in Turkey. Formally, the labour market participation of women is much lower in Turkey than in Poland. Yet, given the size of the informal market in Turkey, women’s labour participation is obviously higher than what appears in the statistics. Bearing in mind their divergences, the article suggests Poland and Turkey as two typologies for studying population politics in contexts where socially conservative ideas regarding gender reign. We qualify ideas as conservative if they enforce a traditional understanding of gender relations in care-giving and underline women’s role in the labour market as an element of declining fertility. In order to delineate ideational impact and ambiguity in public policy, this article looks into how ideas (1) supplant and (2) substitute for institutions. Therefore, we argue that there are two mechanisms pertaining to the dominance of conservative conventions: conservative ideas may either supplant the institutional impact on family policies, or substitute for them thanks to a superior reasoning which societies assign to them. Furthermore, conservative conventions prevail alongside women’s customary unpaid work as care-givers regardless of the level of their formal workforce participation. We propose as our major findings for the literature of population politics that ideas, as belief systems, are more powerful than the institutions since they provide what is perceived as legitimate, acceptable and good for the societies under study. In the end, irrespective of the presence of institutions, socially conservative ideas prevail.