Global Reach: Turkey

Year Work
Total Funds
Invested To Date

EMpower in TURKEY

Turkey is an upper middle-income country with a large population of young people and the largest population of refugees in the world. Despite a robust economy and a large middle class, Turkey has high levels of income inequality, gender inequality and political tensions that create additional challenges.

Education is a top issue that affects young people in Turkey, with issues of quality, accessibility and disparities based on socioeconomic status. A key area of concern is low levels of secondary schooling, that appear to be equally bad for males and females. However, being out of school during adolescence disproportionally affects girls, who are less likely to be employed and face risks of child marriage and early pregnancy. Even completing education does not translate into appropriate work, with high levels of youth unemployment, even among college graduates. These burdens are felt most strongly in marginalized communities and are often exacerbated by crises.

Turkey is among the 20 countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with over 450,000 cases 2020 and 12,000 deaths as of November 2020. While separate statistics are not kept on COVID among refugees, most live in densely-populated communities with high infection rates, low access to water and sanitation, and insufficient access to health and food, and as such are likely to be highly affected.

In Turkey, EMpower seeks to address these challenges by supporting work on livelihoods, education, health and well-being. EMpower focuses on grantees that work with groups that are particularly marginalized, including very young adolescent girls, young people with disabilities, rural-to-urban migrants, Syrian migrant youth, Roma and other communities living in poorly-resourced communities.


Total population (2020): 84 million

Size of youth population, 10-24 (2020): 24%

Turkey is 75% urban, and projected to be 80% urban by 2030. The proportion of people in cities who live in slums has been declining, and is currently at 8.6%.

Special populations: Turkey has 3.9 million refugees and asylum seekers, the largest such populations in the world.

Economy & Environment

GDP per capita (2019): 9,042 USD

GINI index and rank: 41.9 (ranking 49th in the world, indicating high levels of inequality)

13.5% of the population lives below the national poverty line (2017), and this percentage has been declining slowly over the last decade.

Food insecurity and living standards: 2.5% of the population was suffering from hunger in 2018; only 65.2% of the population had access to a safe toilet in 2017. Such conditions are not only harmful on their own, but are exacerbated during crises (like COVID-19 and others) and can put young people, particularly girls, at increased risk for negative outcomes, including early marriage, and unwanted and forced sex.

INFORM Risk Index score (2020): Widely-used tool to assess the risk of humanitarian crisis and disasters, including the Hazard and Exposure subscale, which includes natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and floods, and human disasters like conflict. Turkey: 5.0 (high, increasing risk) overall; Rank 52; Hazard and Exposure score: 7.9 (very high)

Key issues that affect youth:

Gender inequality

Rank in Global Gender Gap report (2020): 130 (out of 153, where ranking closer to the bottom indicates more gender inequality in economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment). Within the region (Middle East and North Africa), Turkey ranks #5 out of 19.

Internet access: in 2019 80% of men used the internet, compared to 68% of women.

Education (Quality education, SDG4)

While Turkey offers 12 years of free primary and secondary education, it has among the lowest school enrollment rates among 15-19 year-olds compared to OECD and partner countries (70.9%, rank 36/40). Net enrollment is approximately equal for males and females. The percentage of young people enrolled in secondary school who are at least two years over the appropriate age for grade is low (2.3%) and similar for males and females (2019). However the returns to education differ by sex.

PISA reading score (2018): 466 (vs OECD average of 487)

PISA math score (2018): 454 (vs OECD average of 489)

PISA science score (2018): 468 (vs OECD average of 489)

Livelihoods (Decent work and economic growth, SDG 8)

Gender-based disparities exist in the labor force, with males more likely to be employed than females.

Youth unemployment is high, even among college graduates. Among 15-24 year olds, 55% of males are part of the labor force, and only 31% of females.

NEET (18-24 year olds, not employed, in education or training) (2019): At 32.2%, Turkey has the highest rate of young people not engaged in education, employment or training of any OECD country [alt: among 15-24 year olds, 24.4% in 2018; or 13.2% males 15-19, 21.2% females 15-19 (2019)]

Health and well-being (SDG 3)

Child marriage remains an issue within Turkey. 14.7% of young women 20-24 were married by age 18 (2018) (2% were married before age 15).

Child marriage is often followed closely by childbearing. While the adolescent birth rate has been declining steadily over the last decade, still 6% of 20-24 year-old women gave birth before they were 18 (2018).

Violence affects girls and young women. Data show that 18% of 15-24 year old women and girls have experienced violence from an intimate partner (2014). Additionally, 10% of 15-19 year-old females agreed that wife-beating was justified under certain circumstances, indicating that not only does such activity happen, it is viewed as inevitable by some.

Social support: 13.8% of 15-29 year olds say they have no friends or relatives they can count on in times of trouble.

Other countries in Turkey & Russia:

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