By Burcak Keskin

"If a society does not wage a common struggle to attain a common goal with its women and men, scientifically there is no way for it to get civilized or developed." -- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Citizens participate politically to obtain a share in the allocation of social resources. But in the contemporary world we see an imbalance characterized by the relative underparticipation of women. We will evaluate reasons for this imbalance in Turkey then examine women's participation in elections, public service, political parties and associations.

While in the Ottoman era women's status was improved over the time when Islamic social hierarchy was accepted, they were still almost totally deprived of political rights. Reform edicts made it possible for them to hold some public offices. There wereassociations headed by women but these functioned as charity organizations. In 1924, the Kemalist Reforms opened the way for the women to join the civil service. In 1930, women gained the right to participate in municipal and, in 1934, national elections. (International Congress on the 50th Anniversary of Political Rights Granted to Turkish Women, pp. 98-105, 1984) This emancipation fromabove somehow delayed conscious participation of women in politics. It was only in the 1980s that Turkish woman began to see herself as a political actor rather than as a housewife at home with a life based only on her family.


Turkey's parliament provides a way for women to participate in politics but barriers still exist to their activity:

--Through the modernization process, the belief that being a female politician would hinder women's traditional family role has lost its significance but not totally disappeared. Recent research shows 68% of women said involvement would not create problems with their spouses and that some problems with children might arise but could be solved.

--Women often prefer other occupations and can view politics as interfering with their career plans.

--Politics requires huge expenditures and Turkish women do not have much capital.

--Women do not benefit completely from educational opportunities, a factor hindering their participation in an elitist democracy. (Koray, pp. 71-74, 1995).

--A prevailing Islamic view views women's nature (fitrat) appropriate to carry out familial roles while men deal with other issues. (Ergil, 1975). This belief still lingers on in the 1990s among a significant portion of society which to some extent does not identify with the secular state and its policies.


Gunes Ayata states that since voting demands no extra activity, women vote independently. (Tekeli, 1991, p. 237) This statement reflects a change in political participation patterns. InäJ1978, Tekeli states that 83.8% of married couples voted the same way, wives generally following their husbands. (Kandiyoti,1978, p. 40) In 1962, Ozankaya reached a similar conclusion in research over 4 villages, showing that 75.4% of husbands said they told their  wives for whom to vote and 18.5% left them a free choice. In comparison, 11% of women said they vote on their own and 53.4% that they vote in line with their husband's wishes. (Caporal, 1982, p. 714) The trend over time is that weakened patriarchal structure and women's entry in the labor force leads to more independent decisionmaking by women. Researching the relationship between social situation and voting behavior yields interesting results. Married women participate in elections more than single or widowed ones. The reason might be attributed to husband and wife voting as units. However married women still participate 8% less than their spouses. On the basis of class, petit-bourgeois and working class women participate 8.9% more than those of the bourgeoisie and peasantry. In general, working women vote more than housewives, since they are integrated in the wider society through work. In Turkey's most developed city, Istanbul, data from 4 polling stations in the 1973-1975 elections showed women as voting 13.5% less than men. (Kandiyoti, 1978; Unat-Abadan, 1979)


Turkish women entered parliament in 1934 but the number of female MPs has decreased in time. (See appendix) This decrease may be explained by the notion of "symbolic women MPs." In the early Republic, Ataturk was facing accusations of dictatorship. In order to eliminate this undemocratic image, women's suffrage was granted in 1934. During the one-party regime women had secured their place in the parliament. These guaranteed, reserved seats had begun to be lost when the multi-party regime was established. The struggle for seats among parties toughened. Conservative tendencies of big parties outlawed women MPs from parliament. Small parties, with little likelihood of gaining seats, followed the "symbolic women candidate" model but with little success. (Unat-Abadan, 1979)   In Turkish governments until 1994, only 5 women held 10 ministerial posts in different cabinets. During 1971-1973, posts asministers of state, health, and culture were held by women In 1987 an elected woman MP became minister of state. In 1991, a female MP became minister of state responsible for economy. In the cabinetholding office as of 1993, there were 3 female ministers--two ministers of state and the minister of tourism. (Resmi Gazete, No: 22572, pp. 1-4). Between 1993 and 1995 a female prime minister was in office. (State Ministry for Women's Affairs and Social Services, 1994). Beside the low number of posts, these ministers tended to be in weaker, shorter-lived governments. (Unat-Abadan, p. 404, 1979) Female MPs usually had university degrees or were very successful professionals. They had to have more qualifications in comparison to male colleagues, and they often grew up in very politicized families. In a survey by Unat-Abadan, 7 of 16 female MPs said that their father and mother had definite political interests whereas only 1 of 10 male MPs said the same thing; about 60% of female MPs--compared to 40% of the males--had close relatives who were politicians. This shows that female MPs experienced more politics in private family life. (Arat, p. 84, 1989) Indeed, women MPs were often following a family tradition. They entered politics either as "husband's wife or father's daughter" or because of personal resentment stemming from a political event affecting their family. (Arat, p. 93, 1984) Tekeli defines this tendency as "widow's right." Female MPs may enterpolitics to take revenge on behalf of relatives or to act as an heir. (Tekeli, 1991) In local governments and municipal councils the proportion of women participants' is greater:   In 1984, 0.3% of 2202; in 1989 0.8% of 2653; and in 1994 0.9% of 3018 of administrative council members were women. In 1984, 0.6%; in 1989, 0.7%; in 1994, 0.9% of municipal council members were women. (State Ministry for Women's Affairs and Social Services, 1994) After 1980, 12.1% of Ankara, 4.3% of Istanbul, and 13.2% ofIzmir municipal councils were composed of women from left-wing parties. (Koray, p. 31, 1995)   In 1984 there were no women mayors but in 1989 0.2% and in 1994 0.4% of mayors were women. (State Ministry for Women's Affairs and Social Services, 1994) The reason behind this extended participation in local politics is that municipal activities are closer to ordinary life and affect family affairs. Also municipal decisionmaking processes are less important than national politics so women can be deemed more "capable" of holding the posts. (Unat-Abadan, 1979; Arat, 1984; Koray,1995; Tekeli 1991) However, although municipal government seems like a higher area for women's activity, only 10% of Istanbul housewives, who comprise 52% of all women in Istanbul--are housewives. (Unat-Abadan, 1979)   The founding of the Republic increased the number of women in civil service, too. The number of female civil servants increased by 1,900% between 1938-1976, more than six times faster than the number of males. However, the jobs held by women tended to be defined as more feminine ones (eg., work in nurseries). The number of female executives tends to decrease at higher ranks because of traditional social judgements and approaches hindering women's promotion. Also women tend to leave work when they get married or have children. (International Congress on the 50th Anniversary of Political Rights Granted To Turkish Women, 1984) A women in the Ministry of Interior must spend as much as 9 additional years within the central ministry to achieve the status of "district administrator" in comparison to men. (Lewis, 1983) Again, discrimination is slowly declining.


In 1923, there was an attempt to establish a women's party but this received many criticisms and did not succeed. In the 1931 municipal elections, the Turkish Women's Federation declared a party program. However this attempt also met with resent and the Federation's president had to resign. Later, women's branches of political parties were established. (Guksel, pp. 14, 93) These branches were ineffective in affecting party decisionmaking. None of them were aimed at promoting women's rights. They were expected first to mobilize support for the party among women, then to encourage them to perpetuate their traditional roles within the family and finally to encourage them to partake in political and social life. Since protection of traditional family structure defines women to be at home, active participation of women in politics is blocked. (Arat, p. 50, 1989) Soon the women branches turned into power centers which could be mobilized more easily than men. By "women-to-women" speeches, members of women branches attracted inactive female votes to have male candidates be elected. (Arat, p. 241, 1989) Both female and male MPs admitted that male leaders easily coopted women through women branches to extend their control over women at the same timeas providing them access to politics.(Arat, p. 103, 1989) After 1980, the women's branches continued their activities without any formal connection to the parties but with a huge de facto support. They remained to function as charity organizations. For example, Turkish Women Promotion Organization which is implicitly supported by the Motherland Party, perceived women's part in politics as limited to voluntary activities about her family life. (Tekeli, p. 243, 1991)   In the 1973 election, there were only 75 female candidates compared to 3,296 males. In the 1995 elections, 531 of 12,775 candidates were women. Among the big parties, female candidates comprised about 5 percent of the list, except in the True Path party (9.63%) and the Islamic Welfare Party (0%). Proportions were almost always higher in smaller parties. Also, 12 of 175 independent candidates were women (6.85%). Running as an independent was bold since the Turkish electorate usually votes for the party instead of individual candidates. Women's participation as independence and smaller parties shows a willingness to work hard to express their views even though they have no chance of winning the election. (Resmi Gazete, Volume 22485,)


There are 211 associations for women in Turkey. (State Ministry for Women's Affairs and Social Services, 1994) In general they aim to integrate women in social, economic and political life.However, as noted above, most of them function as charity groups. By 1983, they did begin to publish journals for woman, hold meetings, and conduct petition campaigns. Outside these activities, though, 25% of women questioned found these movements not to be useful. 33% said they were interested neither in politics nor in women's movements. 20% stated they were interested in women's issues but only 7% participated actively. (Koray, p. 60, 1995)   Some newer associations, however, show promise, especially Ka-der which aims to support female candidates in national politics with financial and educational assistance.


In the 1990s Turkish women seems to participate in politics more actively than before. This may attributed to rapid modernization and eradication of the patriarchal, traditional social structure. Women are more active in local than national politics. In civil service, occupation and career opportunities are improved but still unequal. In political parties, women remain as "vote gatherers" rather than "decisionmakers." Still, many--if not all--women have discovered their status outside of the kitchen and entered the political as well as the socio-economic realm.



Election Year Total of MPs # of Woman MPs %

1935-1939 411      18         4.08%

1939-1943 465      15         3.23

1943-1946 484      16         3.31

1946-1949 497        9         1.81

1950-1951 491        3         0.61

1954-         535         4        0.75

1957-          602       8        1.35

1961-          449          3      0.67

1965-1966-1968 455     8      1.76

1969-         450      5         1.11

1973-1975 456      6         1.31

1977-1979  455     4         0.88

1983-1986 410    12         2.93

1987       449         6         1.34


1995-... 550         11           0.02

TOTAL 6639     117           1.76


-Arat, Yesim, "Patriarchal Paradox: Women in Politics in Turkey," Associated University Press, 1984.

-Caporal, Bernard, "Kemalizm ve Kemalizm Sonrasinda Turk Kadini," Turkiye Is Bankasi Kultur Yayinlari, Ankara, 1982.

-Dogu, Ergil, "Turk Toplumunda Kadin," ODTU, Ankara, 1975.

-Dulger, Ilhan, "Turkiye'de Sehirde Yasayan Kadinin Siyasi Haklarini Kullanma Egilimleri," DPT, Ankara, 1987.

-Guksel, Burhan,"Caglar Boyu Turk Kadini," Kultur Bakanligi, Ankara, 1993.

-"International Congress on the 50th Anniversary of Political Rights Granted to Turkish Women," Ankara, 1984.

-Kandiyoti, Deniz, "Women in Turkish Politics (Seminar Notes),"  Istanbul, 1978.

-Koray, Meryem, "Turkiye'de Kadin," Turkiye Sosyal Ekonomik Arastirmalar Vakfi, 1995.

-Koker, Levent, "Modernlesme, Kemalizm ve Demokrasi," Iletisim Yayinlari, Istanbul, 1990.

-Lewis, G. L. "Women Career Involment in 4 Professions in Turkey," Nufus Bilim Dergisi, Cilt: 5, HIPS, Ankara, 1983.

-Resmi Gazete, June 12, 1995.

-Resmi Gazete, March 1, 1996.

-State Ministry for Women's Affairs and Social Services, "The Status of Women in Turkey," Ankara, 1994.

-Tekeli, Sirin,"Kadinlar Icin," Alan Yayinlari, Istanbul, 1988

-Tekeli, Sirin, "Women In Modern Turkish Society," Zed Books Ltd, London, 1991.

-Tuncer, Erol, "27 Mart 1994 Seçimleri: Sayisal ve Siyasal Degerlendirme," TESAV Soylesileri No:2, Sonsoz Matbaasi, Ankara,1994.

-Unat-Abadan, Nermin, "Turk Toplumunda Kadin," Kadin Arastirmalari Serisi, Ankara, 1979.