Ballot proposal aims for gender equality
Advocates hope to strengthen the influence of women in Turkey in the political system.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 10/12/12
Women's rights supporters are hopeful that a proposal to change the way women candidates are listed on ballots will increase their representation in political institutions.
Under the "zipper system," male and female candidates would be listed on ballots one after the other. The purpose would be to make female candidates more visible, increasing the likelihood they will ultimately be elected, proponents said.
In its recent statement proposing the idea, the Istanbul-based Association for the Support of Women Candidates (KA-DER), said the way candidates' names are currently listed on ballots is unfair to women.
"Men are listed on the upper lines of candidate lists, where they have a better chance of being elected, while women are listed on the bottom rows as filler," it said.
Turkey recognised women's right to vote and be elected in 1934, but they are still unrepresented in the political sphere. Although they account for half the population, only 14 percent of parliamentarians in Turkey are women, as is one of 26 cabinet members in the current government.
As of 2012, 26 out of 2924 mayors, 65 out of 34,210 village headmen (muhtar), one out of 81 governors, five out of 103 rectors, and 21 out of 185 ambassadors are women, while there is not one woman under-secretary among 26 throughout the country, according to KA-DER.
Women's rights supporters hope the zipper system would help more women reach elective office.
"We know that women have a right to 275 parliamentary seats (within the total 550). We want this right, which has been stolen by men," KA-DER's statement said.
Vildan Yirmibesoglu, an Istanbul-based attorney who has worked extensively on women's rights, said the idea had been applied successfully in other places. "This zipper system has brought good results in countries like Belgium, so it's seen as a model that provides hope," she told SES Türkiye.
KA-DER president Cigdem Aydin told SES Türkiye she sees opportunities to strengthen gender equality measures as the parliament's constitutional reconciliation committee continues to work.
"In order to make [the zipper system] effective and feasible, there should first of all be a constitutional amendment," she said.
Aydin added that additional measures would be needed.
"Later, the law on political parties as well as the internal regulations of each political party should be revised [to strengthen women's representation] accordingly," she said.
Neither the law on political parties nor the election law includes binding regulations on quotas. The BDP has a 40 percent internal quota, while the CHP's is 33 percent. Neither the AKP nor MHP have one.
The BDP, with nine female lawmakers out of its current 29 current parliamentarians, claims the highest proportion of women's representation. The AKP and CHP follow, with 46 female MPs out of 326 and 19 out of 135, respectively. Three of the MHP's 51 deputies are women.
"We are discussing this issue with women parliamentarians in order to create a pressure group within their own parties," Aydin said.
KA-DER conducted survey research on women's representation in politics in March 2011 by interviewing more than 5,000 people face-to-face in their homes in 36 provinces of Turkey.
According to the results, 72.7 percent of the interviewees agree that women should play a bigger social role as decision-makers, while more than half of interviewees supported women's participation in politics. Most respondents also said Turkey would develop and become a better society if the number of women politicians increased.
"That survey shows us that at the grassroots level, people are very positive towards women's increasing presence in the political sphere," Yirmibesoglu told SES Türkiye.
CHP Ankara deputy Aylin Nazliaka told SES Türkiye that her personal experiences were consistent with the survey's findings.
"As a woman parliamentarian, I've mostly seen positive feedbacks from the society when I get into contact with people," she said.
Despite the momentum in their favor, Nazliaka and other advocates said their fight is far from over.
"First of all, political leaders should change their discourse regarding women's place in the society by seeing them as individuals, not as only an integral part of the household. The social role of women should be well defined," Nazliaka told SES Türkiye.
"There should be an exhaustive mentality change among men who prefer transferring the responsibilities in household directly to the women's shoulders. That burden discourages women from being active in the political and administrative levels," she said.
According to Yirmibesoglu, "Turkish men would rather give up their lives than their seats [in parliament]."
Nazliaka said their goal shouldn't be to unseat men, but to allow women to define themselves on their own terms.
"I strongly reject the approach that says 'women should be strong like men,'" she said. "We should create a new model for our citizens to see female political figures as acting like a woman and feeling like a woman, but succeeding also like a woman."