Where are Turkey's female politicians?

Although Turkish women gained the right to vote and be elected nearly 80 years ago, they are still vastly underrepresented in Turkish politics.

al-monitor Turkish President Abdullah Gul and members of parliament listen to the national anthem during a debate marking the opening of parliament after a summer recess, Ankara, Oct. 1, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

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turkish women, turkey, politics, female participation, elections

Dec 10, 2013

Dec. 5 marked the 79th anniversary of the day when Turkish women got the right to vote and be elected. But because of the country’s messy domestic and foreign political agenda, this big gain of Turkish women was not celebrated as it deserves to be.

Following the republic's establishment, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his comrades strived to elevate Turkish women to their rightful place. On the basis of the 1926 Civil Code, they granted women the right to participate in local elections in 1930. In 1932, women acquired the right to be elected as mukhtars [village/neighborhood heads] and members of village aldermen councils. And eventually, on Dec. 5, 1934, they won the general right “to vote and be elected.”

So, starting from Dec. 5, 1934, Turkish women began to participate in Turkish political life. In time, Turkey got to know active female politicians, with Tansu Ciller becoming the first woman to hold the prime minister’s post.

Yet, the number of women in the Turkish parliament and local administrations is still very low.

How do women fare?

Last week, I tried to illustrate the state of municipalities with data from the Local Administrations Assessment Report, compiled on the basis of 2012 statistics by the Interior Ministry.

The report, drawn up by the Directorate General of Local Administrations, also clearly illustrates the current state of women in local administration.

Out of the 2,950 incumbent mayors in Turkey, 2,923 are men and only 27 are women. This corresponds to rates of 99.08% and 0.92%, respectively.

Out of the 31,790 municipal assembly members, only 1,340 are women, which means that 95.78% of the seats are held by men and 4.22% by women.

The data shows that 3,379 people are involved in local politics as members of provincial general assemblies. Men hold 3,269 of the seats, corresponding to 96.74% of the total, while women hold 110 seats, accounting for only 3.26%.

And what about village mukhtars?

A total of 34, 275 village mukhtars are currently on duty in Turkey, and 34,210 of them are men. The figure corresponds to 99.81%, meaning that the proportion of women is close to zero. Only 65 female village mukhtars are currently in office, corresponding to a mere 0.19%.

The picture is no different at the village aldermen councils, whose members include 137,848 men and only 329 women, corresponding to 99.76% and 0.24%, respectively.

Female mukhtars

The men-women proportion is slightly different when it comes to neighborhood mukhtars.

The neighborhood mukhtars elected across Turkey at the last local elections include 18,178 men and 429 women, corresponding to 97.69% and 2.31%, respectively.

In the neighborhood aldermen councils attached to the mukhtar offices, men hold 71,174 seats, while women 1,409, corresponding to 98.06% and 1.94% of the seats, respectively.

The overall figures in the ministry report draw a clearer picture: 298,052 men are involved in local politics as opposed to only 3,709 women striving to be politically active on the local level. The figures correspond to 98.77% and 1.23% overall. 

The timetable for the local elections [in March 2014] has already kicked off, and political parties are announcing their candidates. The men-women proportion in local politics is in the state described above. How will the picture change after the 2014 municipal polls? There is a general anticipation that the figures will shift in favor of women. But judging by the candidates announced so far, the prospect for women is still far from being bright.

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