Women still take a back seat in Turkish politics
The presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in Turkiye on May 14 are among the most crucial and competitive in the country’s history. Two political blocs, the People’s Alliance and the National Alliance, have named their female candidates and revealed their agendas for women’s empowerment.
According to the candidate lists submitted to the Turkish Supreme Election Council, there is a significantly low number of women competing in the elections, reflecting a steady deterioration in women’s presence in Turkish politics, which is still a “boys’ club.” The number of women in candidate lists of political parties has also caused serious disappointment among women’s rights organizations. The lists revealed that the gender gap in the Turkish parliament will continue to remain the same, without any progress.
Although the women’s vote will be important in determining the outcome of the elections, along with the votes of young people and the Kurds, the current picture shows that political parties prefer male candidates. This gave rise to the thought that Turkiye is most likely to have a “womenless” parliament after May 14.
Although the rhetoric of all the parties in Turkiye is that they adopt a welcoming and encouraging stance on women’s involvement in politics, in reality it remains a male-dominated arena. Thus, one of the increasingly polarizing issues in the country is women’s rights, including their role and participation in political and public life. The women’s rights organizations have argued that since Turkiye withdrew from the Istanbul Convention— a 2011 treaty at the Council of Europe on women rights, opposing domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, femicide and forced marriage — there has been a backward trend in women’s rights in Turkiye. In this regard, the National Alliance, composed of the six opposition parties, have pledged to protect women’s rights and return to the Istanbul Convention.
Despite their pledges, women’s rights organizations have been critical of the National Alliance for not taking a clear stance on Turkiye’s return to the Istanbul Convention. Against a background of these criticisms, the low number of female election candidates selected by the opposition parties once again confirms the bitter reality that “Turkish politics wears a moustache.” This pushes women to fight for their place and say in the political arena, where their participation is not considered significant enough by parties, but their votes are nevertheless considered vital.
Women are still under-represented in Turkiye and they still strive to find equality in the political realm.
A century ago, when a new republic under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was established, women became the symbol of the Turkish Republic and its ambitions to Westernize and modernize. In 1934, Turkish women became among the first in Europe to gain the right to enter politics. Since then, women have been active in national politics. However, women are still under-represented in Turkiye and they still strive to find equality in the political realm. Having achieved the right to vote or participate in politics did not lead to a solid change in Turkish politics.
According to research, 62 percent of the public think that with an increase in the number of femalepoliticians, Turkiye will develop and become a better society. However, the fact is that 50 percent of the population is still excluded from decision-making mechanisms, a situation that shows the contradiction between words and deeds of political parties in the country. More important, the quality and strength of a democracy is directly related to equal representation. For a more democratic and inclusive Turkiye, sexequality should be the red line of all the political parties regardless of their ideologies and agendas.
Besides women, the youth vote will be a game-changer in these elections and it is impossible to neglect their influence and role. Generation Z have grown up under the ruling party for the past two decades. Turkiye is a young country; about half of those eligible to vote are under the age of 30. In the May elections, about 6 million members of Generation Z will be eligible to vote for the first time. These young voters, whether conservative or secular, and the views they hold will play a key role in determining the outcome of the coming elections and, most important, the future of their country. For this reason, parties have been trying to court the youth vote.
The centenary of the modern Turkish republic also takes place this year, another reason Turks attach great importance to these pivotal elections. Both political blocs have been struggling to attract votes from women, young people and Kurds. Since Turkiye has an active and complex political climate, it is hard to predict the outcome of elections and the influence of the female and youth votes. Only on May 15 will it be clear whether the rhetoric of alliances matched their actions, and they have succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of women and youth.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East.