Do women vote in Turkey?

Do women vote in Turkey?

Do women vote in Turkey

A woman casts her vote in Istanbul on March 30 in local elections. AFP Photo

What a silly question. Of course women vote in Turkey. Thanks to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, women’s suffrage was achieved in Turkey in early 1930s, earlier than some European countries.

That is what has been taught to us, what we thought was the reality of this country.  

In the March 30 local elections in Turkey, we saw once more that there are two Turkey’s. In one Turkey – that we know of – women do vote. In the other Turkey – that we are not so much familiar with – women do not actually vote.

Besides, in these local elections, we saw hundreds, thousands of people acting as independent observers, a fairly new concept for us. Those witnesses in polling stations and centers – mostly from the side of Turkey we know – later shared their observations in social media, opening a window for us to the other Turkey.

I voted in my former place in Üsküdar, Istanbul where there is a traditional neighborhood of individual buildings; and right next to them, there are fairly modern housing complexes called “sites.” The polling stations in the same area, which are 100 meters apart, were like two different worlds. The clothes, attitudes, women’s helplessness, the smell was rural, pathetic, of the 19th century in one, and in the other – the one we voted – (How can I explain?) well, everything was normal. Women and men were dressed in this century’s clothes, polite, washed, smiling and helping each other. The first one was written all over it: “The Justice and Development Party [AKP] wins here. This is AKP territory.”   

Anyway, my second anecdote, in my new neighborhood, which is a far place on the European side of Istanbul, Esenyurt, dominated by a Kurdish population, belongs to my cleaner who is a strong Kurdish woman, Hediye, married to a nice guy who is a Turkish nationalist. They went to the polls; her husband told the officials Hediye is ignorant (cahil) and would make a mistake, so they entered the booth together. Her husband stamped the Republican People’s Party (CHP) (on behalf of Hediye) because the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) candidate had no chance to win in our constituency. Hediye said she would have voted differently.

Other incidents reported by independent observers in social media: Ayazağa, Istanbul, Gülkan K.G.: “A family came to vote at my polling station. The woman said she cannot vote alone. She wanted to go in the booth with her husband. I said ‘No.’ One election official asked me, ‘Why did you interfere? We like our wives stupid.’”

My reader Shirley Morris from Alanya posted this piece from Didem S. who observed a polling center at Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpaşa district where most of the voters were from the eastern provinces Bingöl and Siirt. They flew with an early plane to Istanbul that morning and they had to rush back, probably to vote again in their hometowns.  

Didem said, in this district, women had no name, no thought, no education, no brain, no political affiliation and actually no language: “All of them cover their heads with a headscarf; most of them do not speak Turkish anyway. The envelope, the ballot paper, the stamp are rocket science for them. For this reason, their sons, husbands or fathers decide for them, pull them by their arms and think it is normal to enter the voting cabin together with them.”

Again in Didem’s polling station, when husband and wife were not allowed to enter together, the husband was giving instructions to his wife shouting in Kurdish showing the ballot paper: “Count eight from the left and stamp it.” Didem wrote, “Well, dearest, the number eight slot belongs to different parties in each of the three separate ballot papers…”

Famous journalist Ayşe Arman from daily Hürriyet was also a “müşahit” (they have picked up an old Arabic word for observer or witness, as if there is no other word left in the Turkish language) at the polls. She tweeted that a woman came and said she was illiterate. She was holding three children. Her husband and officials tried to explain to her what she should do. She was clueless. She did not recognize the symbols. She went behind the curtain and tried to do her best. Arman was later criticized for this because she acted like a “White Turk,” that she was elitist. She said she was only sharing her observation.

My classmate Füsun was at an AKP neighborhood inside a CHP district starting at 6:30 in the
morning and worked for 18 hours. She met around 1,000 people all day long and she concluded, “What else would these people do, but vote for AKP?”

Back to Didem, at her post in Gaziosmanpaşa, Istanbul, her words were: “For female voters, sadly, the election officers had to show them how to use the stamp on a blank paper several times before they went to the booth. One of the women did not want to take the stamp from the “male” election officer. She asked if there was a “clean one.” … she was demanding a stamp which was not touched a male’s hand ... Maybe we should have separate polling stations for women and men in next elections, then women can vote freely … not through their husbands and sons and fathers…”