Historically, Turkey has not been on the cutting edge of gender equality in the workplace; according to the Global Gender Gap Report, conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2014, the country ranked 125 out of 142. But times are changing.

As of August 2014, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is partnered with six Turkish banks—Finansbank, Garanti Bank, İşbank, Şekerbank, Türk Ekonomi Bankası (TEB), and Vakıfbank—as well as to the EU to support woman-led business in Turkey, under a program titled “Finance and Advice for Women in Business." The program, which is designed to facilitate access to finance and improve competitiveness, will be launched in Turkey first, then in 15 other countries in which the EBRD is present.

Benefits will include dedicated credit lines to commercial banks for on-lending to companies run by women, a risk-sharing mechanism and advice to help these banks better address the financial needs and growth plans of their clients. The program is expected to furnish women entrepreneurs with a credit line worth about $420 million. The EU, and the Turkish Ministry of Labour and Social Security, are supporting the program with an additional $43 million for credit enhancement, advice to small firms, and technical assistance to partner banks. Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Security, Halil Etyemez, at the launch of the EBRD partnership, said, “We put a special emphasis on the technical assistance that will be provided to the local banks and believe that these services will be an important step in creating sustainable loan mechanisms for women entrepreneurs in the banking sector."

The EBRD estimates that the program will simultaneously address Turkey's gender gap at the executive level and boost the Turkish economy by supporting more than 15,000 female entrepreneurs and their enterprises, thereby creating around 21,000 new jobs. This opens up a huge, untapped labor market for the Turkish economy, which, in spite of being the 16th largest in the world, only employs 24% of its potential female labor force.

The numbers are relatively positive for women-led businesses in Turkey's major industrial centers. For instance, around 12% of the CEOs in Turkey are women, compared to just 4.8% of women CEOs in the Fortune 500. Furthermore, around 20% of Turkish companies operating in Istanbul are helmed by women, including such luminaries as Güler Sabancı, Chairperson of the mammoth Sabancı Holding, and Serpil Timuray, CEO of Vodafone Turkey, both of whom were listed under the top 20 of Fortune magazine's "Most Powerful Women of Europe" list last year.

However, according to Yeşim Seviğ, Secretary General for the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER), the number of woman-led businesses drops to just 8% in Turkey's rural areas. Seviğ went on to point out that the political culture in Turkey presents difficulties for women, who are reluctant to find work in the absence of powerful role models. These role models exist, up to a point, in figures like Sabancı or Timuray, or Pınar Eczacıbaşı,, current Managing Director of GP Trust. But the majority of these women are operating in urban areas, within large multinational enterprises, and with several generations of entrepreneurship behind them. There is a felt need for investment in smaller businesses in the east, as articulated by Eczacıbaşı, who believes there is a need for “microfunding [for] these women in Anatolia; they are hungry, they have the appetite, you just have to bring them the model that can really put them into work." The EBRD's program may well be that model, catering to the needs of women entrepreneurs and SMEs at the same time

Commenting on the project, Michael Davey, EBRD Country Director, has stated “Women play an important role in the Turkish economy and this initiative is a recognition of their importance and an encouragement to strengthen their role. Securing the strong support of local banks as partners in this program is a massive boost and we will do everything we can to make it a success."

Benefiting from the encouraging support of Turkey's Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Turkish Employment Agency, “Finance and Advice for Women in Business" will do much to address the difficulties that gender equality faces in Turkey, and boost the economy in the same gesture.