Battered by soaring food prices, inflation and a plunging currency, Sümeyye Alayumat is among millions of Turkish women battling poverty in addition to inequality and marginalization in a male-dominated society.
The 28-year-old shares a tiny studio apartment in an İstanbul suburb with her mother. Her sister Rahşan joined them with her seven-year-old son, Rüzgar after she got divorced.
In the evening, the three women unfold mattresses on the floor and sleep huddled together to save money on heating bills.
“I feel like I’m only working to pay the rent and the bills,” said Alayumat. “After that, I have nothing left.”
A worker in a textile workshop, she is paid the minimum wage of 4,253 lira (272 euros, $300).
With official inflation reaching a new peak of 54.4 percent in February, the rising cost of living has badly hit the most vulnerable sections of Turkish society.
The two sisters left primary school to work — a practice once common among poor families.
Girls were often the first victims; their education not being considered a priority in conservative families.
‘I wish I could dream’
The economic downturn has triggered school dropouts which had declined due to programs aimed at eradicating child labor, Hacer Foggo, founder of the Deep Poverty Network NGO, told AFP.
Yearning for a better life, Alayumat has resumed her studies remotely and hopes to finish high school this year.
“I wish I could dream. Enjoy simple things, like going on vacation, having social activities. Everything that I can’t do today because I don’t have money,” she said.
But the current state of the economy leaves little room for dreams and makes women’s lives even more difficult.
Less educated than men, only 39 percent of women work outside their home, according to official data.
Turkey ranks 133 out of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest gender equality index.
Finding an apartment for this family of three women was not easy.
“The landlords did not believe that two working women are capable of paying the rent. But women can also earn a living!” Alayumat said.
“With the economic crisis, women have taken on enormous responsibilities in managing the household,” said Zelal Yalçın, social policy coordinator at the İstanbul Development Agency, a municipal body.
“They are often the ones who are in charge of the shopping, even if it means going around all the supermarkets in the neighborhood to find the cheapest products.”
‘I deprive myself’
Many women are struggling to make ends meet while sacrificing their own needs, said Yalçın.
“Many housewives turn off the heating and electricity once the children go to school and their husbands are out. They stay out in the cold all day, wearing several layers of clothing,” she said.
Rahşan Alayumat, Sümeyye’s 35-year-old sister who sells masks to textile workshops where she once worked, echoed Yalçın.
“I manage by depriving myself. I tell myself that my son should eat properly. I don’t mind if I can’t.”
But these efforts are not always enough.
“I couldn’t afford a drawing book that my son needed. I have to work 13-14 hours a day to make ends meet,” Rahşan Alayumat said.
According to the İstanbul Development Agency, 62 percent of families living in Turkey’s largest city spend most of their money on basic necessities.
During previous crises, solidarity within the family and between neighbors made it possible to support women, Yalçın said.
“But this time, this solidarity has also taken a hit. Poverty is such that the visits, once so frequent between neighbors, are vanishing. Because they are ashamed of not being able to offer usual treats besides tea.”