– What is your name?
– You know how to use a gun?
– I do.
– Can you ride?
– I can.
– Are you afraid of fire?
– Battle is like a wedding to me, Pasha.
Atatürk asked me other things. He must have liked my answers, since he kissed my forehead and said:
‘I wish all women were like you in this moment, Kara Fatma.’
Fatma Seher tells the story of her first meeting with Mustafa Kemal in her memoirs. The word “Kara”, meaning “black”, is used as a synonym for “brunette”; when used for fighters it means courageous. Fatma was a militia leader who commanded over 43 women and 700 men in her platoon. The fearless women who took part in the establishment of Turkey were not only those holding weapons, of course. Women also took an active part in the struggle for democracy and human rights. As early as 1908, many associations defending women’s rights were founded in Turkey. Tub-thumpers such as Halide Edip (American press calls her Turkish Jeanne d’Arc) made several impressive public speeches during the Turkish War of Independence.
The Turkish Women’s Union was established only a year after the establishment of the country. They came out fighting for women’s right to participate in political and social life. In six short years, they won their rights to be elected. In 1935, they organized the Istanbul International Women’s Congress. There were countries like Japan that could not participate in the congress due to lack of sufficient resources. Today, our peasant women continue to learn to read and write even at the age of 70. Women of this country are tough by nature.
When it comes to the today’s women, Considering the European Statistics Office’s (Eurostat) 2017 report, in Turkey, the ratio of women scientists performing studies in research, technology, health, engineering and R & D is 45%, with 7.1 million female scientists and engineers. This report shows that the rate of Turkish engineers, which is above the EU average of 41 percent, exceeds the rates in Germany, France and the UK.
If we consider the number of women involved in decision-making processes, however, the situation is not, at all, encouraging. The ratio of women to men population in Turkey is almost 50%-50%. However, the number of women in local governments is way lower. The field of politics is considered to be a male dominated public space. Despite the efforts of women’s rights organizations and political parties in this area, the rate of female mayors is 2,8%, and similarly, the rate of female municipal councilors is 10,7%. Again, for the 2019 local elections, AK Party’s female candidates’ ratio among all candidates is 2.1, for CHP, it is 4.9, for MHP, 1.8, whereas HDP has a male and female co-chairmanship in place for all cities.
In spite of this disproportionate representation, equality of genders is at the top of all the parties’ promises for this election period. Again, most frequent concepts are the traditional kind that facilitates the lives of women: kindergartens, parks, and day-care centers, cooperatives where women can sell what they produce at home.
In the media, we follow news about men in the field of economics and politics. If the campaign period falls on March, the most ironic election campaign videos of the candidates are as follows: “I congratulate the 8th of March for our working women. Women are human too. And we’re sons of those humans. Stop the violence against women.” Even the message “our women” that reeks of insincere ownership, is an ineffective communicative language that needs to be re-considered again and again. Moreover, the reason 11 million women are unemployed today is the wrong policies implemented by these very politicians. So, not very convincing lip service here. The slogans echoing from the election buses that preach to the women staying home are the likes of: “Ladies, our president is distributing boxes of tea for you in shopping bags.”
Meanwhile, one of our institutions, which has not been able to adapt to the concept of gender equality, recently announced that the contents of “the Attitude Certificate of Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions” will be changed in terms of “Justice Based Women’s Studies”. The head of the institution, Mr Yekta Saraç, turned the point of view of the higher education from equality to justice. I hope this creative gender mainstreaming movement will help.
Fortunately, the issue of Gender Equality Courses in Schools is one of the main challenges of women’s rights organizations of Turkey. The fact that women are not involved in decision-making process cannot be reduced to a single reason. So, I would like to hold both sides accountable, instead of criticizing the political parties as a pervasive judgement. The other side being women, of course.
Obviously, women in our country are not as courageous as men in politics. When did they lose their courage, was it instant or did it arrive in small steps via wrong policies? That is the whole issue.
It is a serious concern when a woman shapes herself according to the wishes of men and accepts this as if her own volition. This is not the case for male candidates. Women who concur that male domination is only natural in politics, are only running to carry the male candidates to higher offices. They’re the routine volunteers of campaign brochures. Very few of those brochures include a photo of a woman candidate. Nonetheless, the success of Mukhtar of Konya Saraycık, Meryem Öztürk who won the election with 2 votes, should be an inspiration for all of us.
Unfortunately, a woman candidate does not only have to persuade the voters, but she also has to prove herself in politics. Voters are expecting much more from women then male candidates. Women Mayors in Turkey are sick and tired of meaningless questions directed at them: First, “Who will take care of your children if you are elected?” Second, “What is the profession of your spouse?” The election process for a female candidate begins with convincing one’s self. Many women limit the dream of their local governance status to a mukhtar or a council member. They cannot convince themselves that they deserve higher positions. At least for now. For this election. Maybe it will change later.
In order to be a long-lasting politician, women should start with local authorities. The first step for a female candidate is to eliminate the general anxiety of “what do people think about me?” A woman freed from this fear is a strong candidate to become an excellent mayor. Recent research shows that women’s emotional intelligence is superior to men. My standpoint is that a strong EQ is indispensable for a local governor. In addition, local authority covers the issues directly related to women’s lives. Parks, street lighting, care centers mostly affect every aspect of women’s lives. Quality of services confines women to home or liberates them in social life. That is why a thriving local governor is the most beautiful thing that can happen to a neighborhood.
If we do not take into account the local associations in our country, the advocates of rights-based NGOs are generally women. Women who have experience in solving social problems need to be more strong-willed, persistent and tenacious for high-level decision-making mechanisms. Protesting February 14, striking at March 8 and demanding gender equality from governors should not be what they are dealing with any longer. These are revolutionary-looking but, unfortunately, conservative recitations. I strongly believe that women have the power to do more.
Nevertheless, rise of volunteer movements and the dissemination of gender equality campaigns, such as the UN Global Compact Women’s Empowerment Principles – WEPs (globalcompactturkiye.org), Global Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality – HeForShe (heforshe.org) campaigns are promising. Digital transformation seems to be transforming the political future of women. Now, it’s time to be as fearless as Fatma Seher. It is time to dare the forming of the future of Turkey.