‘Woman has no name’ on Turkish local election ballots

The Women for Equality Platform (EŞİK) has drawn attention to the lack of women candidates as the 31 March Turkish local elections approach. The platform volunteers emphasize the importance of women's equal representation in local administrations.

Duygu Kıt / Gazete Duvar

Duvar on March 19 discussed the lack of women candidates in the upcoming local elections with representatives from Turkey’s Women for Equality Platform (EŞİK). 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) fielded four women provincial mayoral candidates across Turkey, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) eight. 

The average is increased by the 38 pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party candidates due to the party’s co-mayoral candidate protocol. 

In Turkey, women earned the right to vote and stand for election in 1930. In the 19 local elections of the past 94 years, only 150 women were elected for local offices. 

EŞİK volunteer Özgül Kaptan said that women could not pass through the candidacy bottleneck in their parties, barring some exceptions. “For years, we were fed excuses that women did not want to run as candidates,” said Kaptan.

“We know that is not true, as over 30 women just within the EŞİK volunteers had become candidate nominees.” Only very few of them were made candidates, Kaptan explained. 

“There is no genuine effort for equal representation,” the volunteer said. 

‘Equal representation not a privilege, but a right’

Kaptan maintained that local administrations could take on larger roles for women’s freedom. One of the main reasons for the lack of advancement was the belief that equal representation was a privilege, not a right. 

Kaptan criticized some campaign promises by current mayoral candidates that were tone-deaf and ignorant about women’s issues. “For example, there is a metropolitan mayoral candidate who believes that women-only ‘pink’ buses are a good campaign promise to prevent sexual harassment on public transport,” she criticized. 

“You cannot solve a problem without addressing the root cause,” she added.  

‘Parties do not fulfill their gender quotas’

Süheyla Doğan was one of the volunteers who participated in EŞİK’s candidacy campaign in Turkey’s western Çanakkale province. Many women applied to become candidate nominees from various political parties in various provinces of Turkey as part of the campaign, demanding equal representation. 

However, almost none of the EŞİK volunteers made it to the final list. “The CHP did not abide by its own 30 percent quota rule,” she said. 

Such low rates of representation were unacceptable for the volunteers. Doğan added that their efforts paid off in Çanakkale, where the party branch used a “zipper system” to obtain equal representation. “We succeeded in Çanakkale, but not anywhere else,” Doğan complained. 

Women’s lives picked apart to prevent them from running

Ayşe Kaşıkırık, women’s representation advocate and founder of the Global Equality and Inclusion Network urged more emphasis on “mukhtar” (neighborhood or village head) posts for local representation. 

She noted that women’s representation rate decrease further in rural administrations. Only 124 of the 18,000 village mukhtars of Turkey were women. In total, women constituted 2.24 percent of Turkey’s 50 thousand mukhtars. 

On the field, Kaşıkırık heard many objections and excuses against women mukhtar candidates, such as “Were there no male candidates,” or “Who would vote for a widow?” 

“A woman’s marital status, her children, her outfits, the color of her nail polish or lipstick… All these are picked apart when she tries to run for office,” Kaşıkırık explained. 

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)