This past week’s local elections have shown a positive move for women’s participation in politics in Turkey. The number of elected female mayors has risen 30% from the last elections and for the first time women will be running metropolitan municipalities, three in fact: Diyarbakir, Gaziantep and Aydin.
Up until this past week, only 5% of all mayors were women and none of them were running metropolitan municipalities. Now, out of the three female winners, two of which will be running major cities in the southeastern region, which is famous for it’s traditional gender roles.
Previous Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Sahin, regularly spoke on gender issues in Turkey. Born in Gaziantep, the city that she was elected to run, she was previously quoted saying women, were, in fact, the driving force behind development. She’s also publicly recognized that Turkey lags behind in terms of women’s political participation and employment.
Having won mayorship in Diyarbakir, Gultan Kisanak, was previously co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Gultan has been outspoken about the rights of the Kurdish and Alevi minorities in Turkey.
Finally, Ozlem Cercioglu was re-elected as mayor of the western city of Aydin. Aydin recently became a metropolitan municipality in September of 2012. She hails from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and is known for being a prominent industrialist, who previously served at CHP deputy.
In southeastern Turkey, a region where forty-five percent of women cannot read or right, women were making unprecedented gains. The first woman mayor of Hakkari, Dilek Hatipoglu, was elected, Fatma Toru became mayor of Konya’s Meram district and Havva Yıldırım became mayor of Ankara’s Güdül district.
UNDP’s Cihan Sultanoglu noted that in the southeast, only three percent of women engage in paid labor. We can only hope that by giving the women and girls in this region a political role model, it will have a positive impact on their futures. Allowing young girls in Turkey to pave their own futures and not fall into whatever cultural role is placed before them is a road we could see in the making.