Turkish Women Underrepresented In Politics

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Meral Tamer argues that Turkey still has a long way to go in terms of increasing the presence of women in Turkish politics.  

al-monitor A woman stands in front of a Women's Day banner that reads, "There is no excuse for violence against women," in central Istanbul, March 8, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

Topics covered

women’s rights, women's issues, democracy in turkey, democracy

Mar 8, 2013

Today is International Working Women’s Day. In fact, all women — whether officially employed or not — are workers. Many a time I have thought that being a homemaker is harder than being a working woman.

International Women’s Day, traditionally observed on March 8, is becoming International Women’s Week. We have been busy with many panels, lectures and other observances on the occasion.

I was most disappointed to note that although we have but one year until the next local elections, this topic has not been on the agenda. As you can guess, I am talking of Women’s Day observances organized by the anti-AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party] opposition. For me, the local elections in March 2014 will have a vital bearing on the future of Turkish politics. The presence of women in the parliament, although still totally inadequate, went up to 14.5 % in the last elections. However, the status of women in local administrations is truly dismal. Of 2,950 mayors, only 26 are women. Moreover, among village heads, only 65 out of 34,275 are women. This is not even 2%. I had hoped that this situation would be on the agenda of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The coming local elections are the last chance we have to challenge the conservative lifestyle the AKP is forcing on us. The key to this chance is in the hands of women, as we are the ones paying the price for most steps taken toward conservatism, ranging from abortion to the way we dress. The [pro-Kurdish] Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is far ahead of all others in ensuring gender equality. They have women co-chairs at every level. But as BDP women are justifiably focused on the Kurdish issue, they don’t spend much time on women’s issues.
If we look at the women’s report card in Turkey of 2013, the situation is grave:

·        Of 26 ministers in the government, one is woman.

·        Of 81 provincial governors, one is woman.

·        Of 2,950 mayors, 26 are women.

·        Of 34,275 village heads, 65 are women.

·        Of 101 university presidents, six are women.

·        Of 196 ambassadors, 21 are women.

·        Of 26 ministry undersecretaries, none are women.

·        There are no women on the boards of any of the major labor unions.


What about ministerial posts?  Although we boast about being one of the first countries that gave the women the right to be elected, we don’t mention that this right has mostly remained on paper. Here is balance sheet:

·        In the 90 years since the Turkish Republic was formed, we have had 17 women ministers.

·        The first woman minister [Turkan Akyol] wasn’t elected until the 48th year of the republic. She was an independent from outside the parliament.

·        The first woman minister from a political party was Imren Aykut, the Minister of Labor in the 2nd Ozal government.

·        Suleyman Demirel did not appoint any women to the six governments he led. He appointed Tansu Ciller as the Minister of Economy in his 7th government, but has regretted it since.

·        Bulent Ecevit formed five governments but never selected a woman member of parliament from his own party.

·        The conservative government of Necmettin Erbakan in 1996 was the first and only government with four women ministers.

·        The longest serving woman minister was Nimet Cubukcu, who served only six years.

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