DEM Party’s mayor lauds co-mayoral model as win for all women of Turkey

Gülistan Sönük, the eastern Batman province’s first woman co-mayor, reiterated the importance of the co-mayorship model implemented by pro-Kurdish parties for the women’s movement in Turkey while discussing her landslide victory with Gazete Duvar. 

Evrim Deniz / Gazete Duvar

Gülistan Sönük was elected the first female co-mayor of Turkey’s eastern Batman province from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party in the March 31 local elections.

Sönük garnered 64.52% of the votes in the province, becoming the mayor to be elected with the highest vote share across Turkey. 

Sönük’s election also broke biases about the Batman province, where critics were doubtful that the constituents would vote for a woman candidate.

Indeed, her opponent from the radical Islamist Just Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR) ran a misogynistic campaign to receive only 15 percent of the votes in the province. 

Gazete Duvar talked to Sönük about her performance in the election, plans for Batman’s future, and the power of the women’s movement in politics. 

Sönük poses with supporters after her victory was announced.

While evaluating election results, Sönük emphasized the organizational strength of the people of Batman. "During the election process, some individuals dared to speak for the people and spread statements such as 'A woman cannot win in Batman,' 'the people do not vote,' 'the people of Batman do not want a female president.' 

However, Sönük believed that the people responded to these baseless claims in the elections. “They declared, ‘No one can speak in our name.’”

According to Sönük, the election success was also due to people rallying around the DEM Party instead of individuals. 

“The people embraced the co-mayorship model because they grasped and internalized women's representation, rendering all statements futile,” she said.

Sönük continued, “The chanting of the 'Jin Jiyan Azadi' (Women, Life, Freedom) slogan by everyone from 7 to 70 on election night was not only a response to our opponents here but also patriarchal politics throughout Turkey.”

Sönük also commented on the destruction caused by the trustee mayor of the province, stating that a report on the subject was on the way. 

Sönük said, "The debts left by the trustees are not yet clear. But we know that many problems await us. We are already experiencing and witnessing the social destruction."

The trustee mayor also harmed women’s institutions in Batman. Sönük mentioned that violence against women had increased as a result. 

Pointing out the closure of the Selis Women's Solidarity Center, Sönük drew attention to the fact that the institution's building was leased for 25 years for an annual fee of merely 1500 Turkish liras (45 dollars) just days before the election. 

Sönük stated, "These outcomes, coupled with the absence of any deterrent laws, also increased the number of murders in the region.” 

Therefore, the most important issue for the newly elected mayor was to prevent violence against women. “Having previously experienced what local governments can do in this regard, we are determined to minimize violence against women,” she said.  

Sönük believed that this goal would be achievable not through lectures in conference halls, but through community gender panels in neighborhoods.

“We will establish units that will go door-to-door in neighborhoods so that women can learn about their legal, vital, and social rights,” announced the mayor. 

Her biggest goal was to form this mobile team consisting of expert psychologists, sociologists, educators, and social workers. 

This would allow the municipality to gain firsthand knowledge of the problems and needs of families, making it easier to provide solutions.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government pursued policies not only against the rights of women in the region but also against all women in Turkey, Sönük commented.

She said, "A monopolistic patriarchy systematically destroyed all women's achievements one by one here, which weighed much heavier on Kurdish women.” 

Kurdish women were more vulnerable to these government policies, due to their intersectional identities. 

The co-mayorship model implemented by the predecessors of the DEM Party was the “greatest achievement” of both Turkish and Kurdish women's movements.

Therefore, embracing and protecting it should not only be the concern of Kurdish women but of all women of Turkey. 

Sönmez held that the overnight withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention was a repercussion of the silence the greater public had against the closure of women's institutions and the arrest of female co-chairs in Kurdish-majority provinces.

Sönük evaluated the solidarity that arose in response to the Turkish government’s attempt to hijack the mayorship in eastern Van province from the DEM Party’s elected candidate.  

She continued, "During this process, the party received support from many leftist-socialist organizations and parties in Turkey, as well as women's institutions.”

Following the elections, nearly every women's institution in Turkey and abroad conveyed their congratulations to Sönmez, which made her administration know they were not alone.

“If the government wants to shut down any women's institution here from now on, they should know that they will face not only Kurdish women but also all women of Turkey.”

Sönmez emphasized that the women's movement in Turkey was only as strong as the Kurdish women's movement. 

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)