Women demand 50% quota in elections

01 Oct 2006

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In the morning of September 1st, 2006, people of Ürgüp woke up to the sound of a cheerful parade outside their homes. Nearly 500 volunteer women were marching on the quaint streets of the town, with banners and placards in hand, chanting slogans... They were the peaceful activists, demonstrating for women’s rights and gender equality in Turkey!

New Horizons - That was how the 5th Women’s Councils Summit in Ürgüp began. From 1-4 September, representatives and volunteers of Local Agenda 21’s Women’s Councils coming from 35 towns in Turkey, as well as women politicians, academics, NGO members, journalists, trade union representatives and writers participated in this Summit within the framework of Local Agenda 21 Programme which was supported by the UNDP “Women in Politics Project”.

On the first day of the Summit, Ürgüp Mayor Bekir Ödemiş, Local Governor Necdet Türker, Local Agenda-21’s National Coordinator Sadun Emrealp, Ürgüp’s LA-21 Secretary-General Necla Kırca, and , UNDP’s ‘Women in Politics’ Project Assistant Aslı Şahin on behalf of Deputy UNDP Representative Sarah Poole delivered their opening speeches.

Sadun Emrealp pointed out that Local Agenda 21 will continue to support Women’s Councils, while Mayor Bekir Ödemiş said they have always supported women’s efforts as part of their town’s cultural activities, adding that he believed women’s participation in decision-making mechanisms is a very important factor in creating a better educated society.

At the first panel of the Summit on “Women’s Place in Political and Social Life”, CHP’s (Republican People’s Party) Ankara MP Gülsün Bilgehan Toker elaborated on the reasons why Turkish women participate in every aspect of social life but remain rather passive in political life. Mrs. Toker also stressed the importance of the quota system and civil society’s support in promoting women’s presence in politics.

At the second panel on “Women’s Role in the Political History of Turkey” where KADER President Seyhan Ekşioğlu and Milliyet Columnist Ece Temelkuran were among the speakers, the participants argued that women actively involved in politics must venture to run on the same race track with male politicians, and that’s one of the reasons why men try to keep women out of politics. “Women always come against the prejudice that they are sentimental and cannot tackle with political responsibilities and household responsibilities at the same time”, the panelists pointed out, and suggested that women politicians should fight against this false image, not be intimidated in political struggles, face their fears in social life and overcome them, not be afraid of diversity, and always remember that there cannot be improvement without women’s solidarity and to be able to understand others, one should first understand oneself.

However, the most heated discussions of the Summit revolved around the issue of women’s quota in elections. On the threshold of the 2007 general elections, Women’s Councils have increased their efforts for the adoption of the Quota System, carried out a public signature campaign and lobbied influential members of the political parties, MPs, mayors and the media.

Women’s Councils’ volunteers found the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the women’s branches of political parties at the panel on “The Women’s Branches of Political Parties in Turkey: Their Mission and Functions”. The volunteers forwarded their demand for the Quota system, and defended it by asserting that because of the approaching elections the political parties need women’s votes, so they should respond to women’s political movement. Volunteers also insisted that women’s branches of political parties should become more than just “branches” and act as units creating projects and policies for women. One of the most important outcomes was that members of the women’s branches shared auto-criticism about the usefulness and effectiveness of these party organs which are in need of autonomy to implement women policies.

The Quota issue was also discussed during another panel on “The Necessary Legal Reforms to Provide Gender Equality in Political Representation: the Quota System”. Chairwoman İlknur Üstün, KADER’s Ankara Branch President, shared her experiences with Bonnie Bernstrom, a former member of the Swedish Parliament and Filiz Öztopal, a member of Local Agenda 21’s ‘Quota Working Group’. Ms. Bernstrom talked about “political perception” and how the women’s movement in Sweden achieved success, adding that political parties in her country apply gender quota voluntarily because, by joining forces, women pause a threat for political parties, which in turn feel obliged to consent to women’s equal representation in the elections.

On the last day of the Summit, Women’s Councils’ Declaration was submitted to the participants’ vote and was unanimously approved, and then announced to the media. (Click for the Declaration.)

Women’s Declaration demands that the State of Turkish Republic comply with the articles of the ‘Law on Local Governments’ pertaining to gender equality, one of the most important criteria for European Union and Millennium Development Goals of achieving equality between men and women, and abide by the rules of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination Against Women) of which Turkey is a party.

Turkish women who participated at the Ürgüp Summit believe that the 10th Article of the Turkish Constitution, which states that “All men and women have equal rights; and the State of Turkey is responsible for implementing gender equality in all aspects of daily life”, is sufficient to solve all problems, as long as this decree is actually implemented, and not remain on paper!