Women on the Rise?

The new Turkish Parliament has twice as many women representatives than previously. Turkish women's rights advocates emphasize, however, that it is not just the number of women in Parliament that counts. Ayse Tekin reports

Seventy-three years after women gained suffrage in Turkey, for the first time 48 women were elected to Parliament (representing 8.7 percent of the assembly). In regard to women's issues, Turkey is a country of many contradictions. Women make up the majority in universities, the legal system, and the world of finance, and they are represented in the highest positions.

On the other hand, the illiteracy rate among women is one of the highest in Europe, and until recently just 4.4 percent of Parliamentary representatives were women – one of the lowest quotas on the continent.

Turkish women now occupy the highest positions

The women's movement, which has been very active for many years, is trying to overcome these inequalities. A campaign this spring garnered much attention when posters of prominent Turkish women wearing mustaches were seen on television and in advertising posters saying: "Do we have to wear these to get into Parliament?"

The campaign was designed by KADER (Association for the Support and Preparation of Women in Politics). Chairperson Hülya Gülbahar is satisfied with the outcome: "We worked very hard, and the result of the campaign is that the percentage of women in Parliament has been doubled. But we cannot rest on this success, we must continue."

"Shop-window women"

Türkel Minibas, professor of gender studies at Istanbul University, also emphasizes that the issue is not just the number of women in Parliament: "The AKP put women up front during the last election. But when we consider their ideology or their work in Parliament, we see that women are often not part of the decision-making. They are there instead to raise their hands at the right moment."

And Professor Necla Arat, a newly elected social democratic representative, complains that, "Some parties think – and I quote – 'women are good for their shop-windows.'"

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan made sure his wife was always at his side during the election campaign. This was an unusual sight for both secular and Islamic Turks. Erdogan looked to the American model in this instance, says Türkel Minibas, but she is critical: "When we look at the government, we see very few women."

This is true also for the social democratic Republican People's Party (CHP). "What matters are the measures that Parliament passes. What matters are women's experiences when they get divorced or are exposed to violence."

"Men don't move forward on women's concerns"

Turkey's reform efforts are also being observed by the EU. The social democratic EU representative Emine Bozkurt has created two reports on women's rights in Turkey for the EU Parliament. Bozkurt sees improvements in women's rights as a success, but she also demands more reforms:

"Tayyip Erdogan promised to establish a parliamentary commission on equality. And second, we want to see more women among the ministers in the new government, namely in important cabinet positions, and women must also be well represented in the commissions. Because when women's concerns are put into the hands of men, they do not move forward."

According to KADER chairperson Hülya Gülbahar, the most pressing problems for women in Turkey are violence, honor killings, lack of education, poverty and the lack of political participation. "We expect both the women and the men in Parliament to tackle these problems," adds Gülbahar. She also demands more money and freedom for the women's commissions in the parties to set agendas.

A long way to go

Professor Türkel Minibas agrees, and she even goes a step further: "What is important is that the standard of living improves in this country. For this, women – starting in the family – must have equality with men. Women in Turkey are granted equality in the law, but not in everyday life. We will judge the AKP according to the positions they offer women in the new cabinet, in the civil service, and in the commissions."

The success of the election campaign shows that women in Turkey are on the rise. But they still have a long road ahead of them.

Ayse Tekin

© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Christina M. White


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