Women Organisations in Turkey

No Moustache, No Place in Politics!

In Turkey, the 'Kader' association supports and campaigns for the representation of women in politics. Marielle Esvant reports from Istanbul

photo: Kader Association
In Turkey, Kader's 'Women in Moustaches' campaign seems to have achieved its goal and attracted attention to the issue of parity in Turkish institutions

​​'For years, women have been viewed as being designed to carry out domestic tasks, bring up children, and even care for the elderly and sick.' This observation by Seyhan Eksioglu, president of the 'Kader' association, seems very clear. In Turkey, only 4.4% of women are deputies, whilst not even 1% are mayors.

In Germany, women occupy 31% parliamentary seats. Across the border in France, they count for up to 12%. Turkey however continues to trail behind its European counterparts. The brief apparition of Tansu Ciller, elected the first woman prime minister of Turkey ten years ago, or Leyla Zana, the first female Kurdish deputy, has changed nothing. In this country, women are not welcome in politics.

Confronted by these pitiful numbers, the Turks have decided to take up the challenge, united under the banner of 'Kader'. This local association currently counts over 3, 000 members spread out over the eleven provinces of the country. It has been campaigning for ten years, with the support of the European Women's Lobby (EWL), to increase the number of women in political organisations. To convey their message, the activists do not hesitate to burst onto political properties, brandishing moustaches and chanting the slogan 'Do you have to be a man to get in Parliament?'

In adopting this symbol of Turkish virility, they hope to attract the attention of the ruling bodies of Turkish political parties and awaken the consciences of their compatriots. According to Hülya Ugur Tanriover, professor at the University of Galatasaray, specialist in the representation of women in the Turkish media, the gap between the sexes remains rigid. If nothing juridicial prevents the participation of women in politics, reality is there to dissuade them.

The traditional vision of a woman supposes that 'even if she works in the big cities, she is still considered first and foremost a wife and a mother.' Turkish society also pushes women’s needs into the background. 'Look at the very feeble number of crèches and nurseries, or the differences in salary that clearly disfavours women,' highlights Tanriover.

In Turkey, Kader's 'women in moustaches' campaign seems to have achieved its goal and attracted attention to the issue of parity in Turkish institutions. The newspapers have brought the association's main personalities into the media spotlight, and the political parties have not been able to ignore the appeal. The majority of coalitions have decided to react, even if the measures taken are not currently achieving the '33% of women on the list of representatives and the ease of candidature for women' that Kader demands. Next test: the legislative elections next 4 November.

Quotas, discrimination or equality?

Although measures have been taken in the majority of European countries for positive discrimination in favour of the fairer sex, the issue still provokes passionate views in Turkey. For the writer Nüket Kardam, the quotas are the only way of 'saving Turkey from its shameful 162nd place world rating of representation of women in politics, and to become a real democracy.'

The principal is however, largely criticised by women themselves. 'Businesswomen for example (of which there are surprisingly many in Turkey), are not really interested in feminist issues,' laments Tanriover.

And as for their masculine counterparts, 'they have said 'yes' to human rights, women's rights, education, health, economy and even gender equality in the civil rights code and the penal code. But they hope that politics stays theirs,' analyses Seyhan Eksioglu. 'It's the final rampart that affirms their force and their vision of the hierarchy that remains men's.'

However, it is undeniable that better representation of women in political bodies would have something of an impact. 'That 52% of the Turkish population would finally be politically represented. It would mean addressing the issues directly concerning them,' states Kader's president. Major problems such as domestic violence, girls' education and honour crimes would finally be properly dealt with, as well as more subtle issues such as the number of nurseries, equality of salary, changing the image of women etc.

More women in parliament 'would not change everything,' observes Tanriover, making the link between women's proverbial pragmatism and the speed of decision-making. 'But the slowness of decision-making would disappear, everything would go faster. And if we include male deputies sensitive to women's issues, then that would be a real festival for the country!'

Marielle Esvant

© Café Babel 2007

Translated from the French by Rosanna O'Sullivan

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