Men uninterested in sharing power with women in Turkey
While MHP surprised activists by having 30 female candidates, the BDP presents the best example as they have put forward two candidates one male one female for all mayoral mayoral races , says Aydın. HÜRRİYET photo, Emre YUNUSOĞLU
Political parties raised hopes by promising they would run more female candidates for the municipal elections of March 30, but the results have proven disappointing, according to an activist. Compared to the last time, many more women put forward their candidacy, yet political parties again failed to place their trust in women, said Çiğdem Aydın, the chairwoman of the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER).
What’s the current picture of female candidates ahead of these local elections?
We were hugely disappointed because political parties said this time they would encourage woman candidates. And this is why many more women put forward their candidacy compared to the past. Political parties did not take money from female candidates for instance; that was a huge incentive. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) said one of three candidates would definitely be a woman. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has a 33 percent quota anyway. So we thought this time more women would be on the lists. Yet it seems everything was a lie.
We currently have nearly 3,000 municipalities. Only 26 are run by women. Currently, there are around 200 women running for municipal elections. If half are elected, this current number will be multiplied by four. But the initial number is so small that even an increase of four-fold becomes insignificant. Then again, having 100 or 150 women instead of 26 is still an important success.
So would you say the glass is half-empty?
There are improvements, obviously. More women have put forward their candidacy compared to the past, and this has led political parties to today have more woman candidates.
But even this has come around through the efforts of women. Because if there are, let’s say, only 10 women knocking on the door of the political party, it is easier to ignore it; but when it is 100, it is more difficult to ignore it.
Why isn’t there a better picture?
Men do not want to share their power and area of governance. This is especially true in politics. They just cannot trust women and cannot delegate responsibility to women. We also have to talk about a specific factor in these elections: the number of municipalities will be cut in half from 3,000. There are more than 1,000 municipalities that are being closed down. The mayors and all those who were working in municipal assemblies are people that have served their parties; they are known to the public. So spaces had to be made for them too, leaving fewer spaces for women.
Let’s elaborate each party’s performance.
The AKP has 18 woman candidates, only one is for a metropolitan municipality, [former Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Şahin in] Gaziantep. The MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] has 30; all of them are candidates for districts. The CHP has 51 candidates; of them, eight are for [provincial centers], the rest are all districts.
The AKP’s case is particularly interesting since it is the party with the largest number of registered female members; it is said to be 3.5 million. Fifty-one percent of women are said to vote for the AKP. But the numbers for the candidacy are very limited. There are so many women working in their city and provincial organizations. Among their candidates, one was a minister, another one a high-level party official, another one was a member of Parliament. They are all very important names, but they have already proven themselves in politics; can’t the AKP bring in other women? The AKP has been in government for 11 years; I think this is a shame on their behalf.
What do you think is specifically stopping the AKP?
What is specific to the AKP here is conservatism; the wish to have the family at the forefront; to present women not as an individual but as a member of the family, as a mother, a wife. Therefore, a female politician is not an example they want to see multiply.
What is the situation with the main opposition party?
The CHP really made us unhappy. When they accepted the 33 percent quota two years ago, we said, ‘Finally, the CHP will place itself in the category of social democrats.’ But they have not stuck to the quota for either mayors or municipal assemblies. We have serious doubts as to their approach to equality.
Is there anything that has made the CHP adopt this stance?
The fact is that both parties want to increase their votes and win the elections. The only area where they can recruit votes other than their loyal constituencies are MHP voters. They don’t have any other space to expand their voting base. The CHP has chosen candidates with MHP origins, for instance. And this is a game that is among men. Women are not in this game. There are these types of calculations in not having more woman candidates. This is valid for the AKP as well.
Women don’t get into these types of games. They enter politics for motivations that differ from those of men. Women mean business; they want to accomplish something when they enter politics.
Men enter politics to make money, to socialize, to provide work to their acquaintances; serving people comes fifth or sixth on the list, whereas for women, it is at the top of the list. And women don’t change their minds easily, their loyalty is strong.
How about the MHP then?
Interestingly, we appreciate them a lot because the MHP has no quota and no specific aspiration in this respect, but they are changing slowly but in a consistent manner. We can see this both in rhetoric and numbers.
They had no woman candidate in the last local elections. Now, they have 30 candidates this time. And they have many women on the list for municipal assemblies. The MHP also changed its rhetoric beyond our expectations and the change is also valid in terms of the work undertaken by female party members. Their female members use a women-friendly rhetoric. Before, we did not hear much about women’s issues from their female members. Their rhetoric makes us think that they know the problems and are working on solutions. This is new and great news.
How about the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)?
The BDP and HDP [People’s Democratic Party, the BDP’s sister party] are good examples. They have put forward two candidates – one female, one male – for all the mayoral [races]. This makes women visible in politics. This means they have a voice and weight in all decisions. This is a step based on equality.
Actually, when the BDP started the co-chair practice, it was debated since it did not exist in the law. Not only did the BDP put this into practice and gain experience, they expanded this experience into politics. This practice is now in the law, and this is an important achievement.
How do you explain this stance since their constituency, especially in the southeast, is not known to be gender-equal? In fact, feudal ties are believed to be stronger among Kurds in the southeast.
From day one, this was an issue for them. If you are seeking your democratic rights, you cannot achieve this by leaving the other half of society on the outside. In the Kurdish movement, they realized they could not accomplish much if Kurdish women, alongside Kurdish men, did not acquire their democratic rights.
When we look at the CHP, we have seen cases where women were included in the lists for the parties’ provincial organizations, but when the headquarters approved the lists, the women were forced to resign to be replaced by men after the HQ saw that the quota had been fulfilled. The CHP has the practice of a quota, but they are not doing anything about implementing it [effectively].
Also, BDP members are on the streets; this is very important. You do not see the female members of other parties on the streets so much.
Is there a conviction in the political parties that the electorate might not trust woman candidates?
There is such a perception, but this is not true. But men do spread this type of perception. We made public surveys and the electorate has said it wants to see more woman candidates and that they will vote for women.
Looking at politics today with all these corruption claims, where do you see women in the current political turmoil?
We think that women are precisely the ones to clean up this political dirt. Women do not set up their relations the way men do; women don’t get involved in corruption and, in fact, it is one of the reasons why they are excluded from politics.
But just as it is wrong to say that a pious person won’t become corrupt because he is pious, it should also be wrong to assume that women are not corrupted just because of their gender.
Of course, we cannot say women never get involved in corruption. But the issue is the motivation that makes women enter politics. They enter to serve people, and it is difficult for them to forge these types of networks that are prone to corruption. Where you have women, you don’t have these types of relationships.
Who is Çiğdem Aydın?
Çiğdem Aydın was born in Istanbul. She received a B.A. from Hacettepe University Psychology Branch and an M.A. from Ankara University Women’s Studies Department and has also worked as a freelance translator, consultant, educator and scriptwriter.
Between 2002 and 2009, she was active in politics as an executive board member in the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP).
As a member of the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER) since 1999, she has supported the association by writing training materials, giving training, running projects and more. In 2010 she became a chairwoman of KA.DER. In addition, she works as a psychological consultant at a private school.