What do women want?
Once again the critical vote in this election will be women’s vote. For more than a decade, President Tayyip Erdoğan has dominated the female electorate with his charisma, oratory and his personal appeal for women’s financial troubles. Now, for the first time, he may actually have a rival.
On Tuesday, the Boyner Group and International Finance Corporation announced a program called “Good for Business.” Ümit Boyner said the retail giant would create a program for its woman suppliers. The IFC’s “Business Edge” program will teach woman suppliers of Boyner on finance, marketing, strategic planning and human resource management. During the launch of the program, the IFC’s vice president, Dimitris Tsitsiragos, stressed the urgency for more women’s employment in Turkey.
“According to the World Bank figures, 22 percent of Turkey’s Gross National Product is lost because of women’s underemployment,” he said. “What we know for sure is, supporting more women in the business is not just good for business but it is also good for the balance sheet of corporations.”
“We hope our effort to empower women in business will have a ripple effect on other corporations,” Boyner added.
Investing in women is a long-term process but it pays off handsomely. Ümit Boyner knows this all too well. So does Erdoğan and so does Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş. As we approach the final stretch in the elections, two men are fighting for the very critical women’s vote. Erdoğan (and somewhat PM Ahmet Davutoğlu) still has the upper hand in the rallies. But it is not surprising to see young women wearing the hijab and screaming with joy when seeing Demirtaş at the podium. During his rally in the conservative town of Konya, he was more like Barack Obama in Virginia. His appeal to the young, women and to the poor masses is changing the dynamics of voter behavior.
President Erdoğan is also using his charisma and personal power toward the audiences, especially to woman voters. He has supported financial aid packages to women who could not work. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has created an immense women’s voter base who are dependent on handouts and social aid. As a result of this, the AK Party is almost guaranteed to have a solid 35 percent of the vote. Anything above that would be the deciding factor.
On the HDP’s side, woman voters are still a bit of a challenge. Despite the fact that the HDP has put more women on the ballots, urban, middle-aged and younger women still have question marks about the party line. There is a deep sympathy for Demirtaş’s personality, but there is also a hidden fear of the Kurdish politics taking democracy hostage.
Many skeptical women I talked to stressed the irony that the intelligentsia that brought AK Party to power and the elites that supported the constitutional referendum in 2010 are now lining up behind Demirtaş. During a CNN Turk Show, he stressed the fear for the “personality cult” or the “rock star” appeal that is attached to him. Unfortunately it is, too, little, too late to change that fact.
So what do women really want at the end? They want to have a long relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Erdoğan was the symbol of this for more than a decade. With Demirtaş, even though question marks remain, woman voters are seeing the potential for a better, younger, more fun political partner.
After all women seek someone who will invest in them for a better future.