Women demand equal representation in the parliament

07 Sep 2006

“Women’s Summit”, within the context of the ‘Women in Politics’ project conducted by UNDP in partnership with KA-DER (Association of Supporting and Training Women Candidates), is being held in Ürgüp during 31 August-4 September.

Local Agenda 21-Women’s Councils are the official organizers of this 5th Summit whose theme is to promote stronger participation of women in all levels of politics and equal representation in the Parliament with the help of the Gender Quota system.

Turkey’s leading academics, politicians, journalists, businesswomen, trade unionists, writers, women’s initiatives and NGOs is participating in the Summit where such topics as the status of women in politics, women’s involvement in the history of Turkish politics, women’s impact on policy making process, parliamentary works relating to women, the mission and functions of the women branches of political parties, the necessary legal reforms to provide gender equality in parliamentary representation and women’s quotas is being discussed.

Local Agenda 21’s Women’s Councils, the leading organizer of the Ürgüp Summit, are active volunteer initiatives working in a large scope of areas from conducting literacy courses to publishing books, protecting women’s legal rights, supporting women’s economic independence, improving the conditions of women’s and children’s health and education, and organizing art and culture activities in nearly 60 cities throughout Turkey. However, in this period leading to the 2007 general elections, the priority issue in the agenda of Women’s Councils is to strengthen the voice and visibility of women in politics and to press for the implementation of legal reforms to enable equal representation in the parliament, in other words to put the Quota System into effect.

Prior to the Ürgüp Summit, Women’s Councils’ Quota Working Groups redoubled their efforts. They held a coordination meeting to prolong the signature campaign demanding the adoption of the quota system, which they will pass on to the Parliament immediately after the Summit. They developed sub-projects relating to ‘women in politics’, and drafted the Women’s Summit Proclamation. Women’s Quota Groups also redoubled their lobbying efforts amongst parliamentarians, political party leaders, municipalities and the media.

“Gender Quota System” is a method used to enable gender equality, by placing a compulsory number of women candidates in the election lists. Currently, in the 550-member Turkish Parliament, only 24 seats are held by women. Women are represented by a mere 2% in city and provincial councils. Of the 3,234 mayors in Turkey, only 18 of them are women. (In EU countries on the other hand, 1 out of 5 elected local administrators is woman.)

Presently, Gender Quota is applied in elections in 81 countries. In 16 of these countries, the quota system has been regulated by the Constitution, in 27 countries by election laws. In 47 other countries, the quota is incorporated in the regulatory statutes of the political parties. Belgium adopted its quota system in 1994, France in 2000. Among the Latin American countries, Argentina endorsed the Quota in 1991, and following the 1993 elections, increased the number of women’s seats by 13.2% to 28.4%. In Turkey, however, neither the Law on Political Parties, nor the Election Law includes any Quota regulation. Although Turkey had signed CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) in 1986, and thereby declared its vigilance on the issue of gender equality, legal reforms regarding the Quota system are still pending. Yet the country is in urgent need of this system, because currently 50% of the population is represented by a mere 4.4% in the Parliament. In the area of parliamentary participation by women, Turkey ranks 114th among 119 countries worldwide.

Women’s Councils’ volunteers also meet with political party leaders and MPs to voice their demand for gender equality in representation. The volunteers found out that some party leaders don’t like the word “quota”! Some others, however, support the volunteers and point out that they have allocated a 30% quota for women and young candidates in their election lists. But generally speaking, the majority of party leaders do not think 50% representation by women MPs is “realistic”!

On the other hand, many women who support the quota system think that female political candidates should be of high calibre, as they believe many politicians (both men and women) currently are not, and that women politicians must be very well-equipped.

What do women politicians think?

Mine Kılıç: “I had a female student at the Uludağ University, Teachers’ College. Her parents entrusted her to me. I liked her very much. After graduating, she was appointed to a teacher’s post in Diyarbakır. One day I watched on TV news that she and her father were killed by bandits. This incident moved me and hurt me deeply. Why?, I said to myself. How can this be? I thought of my own children. It could have happened to me, too. If this could happen to an educated, young working woman, doing service to her country, it was time to say ‘stop’ to this bad course of events, time to do something about it. Previously, I wasn’t at all interested in politics, I didn’t sympathize with any of the political parties, but after that terrible event, I felt I must definitely become politically active. Soon after retiring from my teaching job, I went into politics.”

Involved in active politics for 40 years, Beyhan Akgün has been promoted to the Supreme Disciplinary Committee, the highest organ of her party. “I didn’t come to this position thanks to Quota, I was elected. But I absolutely believe in the quota system. It would be a starting point to involve more women in politics. But the women MP candidates should be well tried and tested in the party first, that’s a must. They should serve at least 2-3 years. To place inexperienced people in the lists just to fill the quota would do no service to the country. I think, pre- election is the most democratic method.”