Gender Imbalance: The Case of Women's Political Participation in Turkey
Kasapoglu, Aytul, Ozerkmen, Necmettin, Journal of International Women's Studies
The primary aim of this paper is to show the links between women's demographic characteristics and their political participation. Focusing on low female participation in politics, we carried out a survey with 408 women living in Ankara, Turkey. The paper attempts to answer the following questions: What is the level of female political participation? What are the obstacles preventing female political participation? What is the level of female participation in political parties and Non-Governmental Organizations? What kind of links can be made between women's demographic characteristics and their political attitudes and behaviors? What suggestions could be made to increase female political participation? Findings reveal that women's active political participation in Turkey is not at the expected level. There are several barriers to their higher involvement. Women are still not independent of their families and are influenced by the politics of their parents and spouse. This can also be seen as a sign of patriarchy. Several suggestions are made to improve the existing situation.
Keywords: Women, political participation, Turkey
Although women's contribution to society can be seen as higher than that of men due to their dual roles, in the economy in terms of production and in the family in terms of reproduction, their participation in every aspect of political systems and processes is insufficient. According to United Nations resources (UNDP, 2005), the proportion of women representatives in the political arena worldwide is only 15%. Despite high levels of commitment to gender equality on the part of international agencies watched by the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), desired changes still fall below the expected rates.
Women's political participation is one of the most important indicators in the evaluation of gender inequality in all societies. In this context there are two basic arguments: intrinsic and instrumentalist. As discussed by Bari (2005), the intrinsic argument refers to human rights in terms of democracy and the proportion of the female population, which is half that of the total world. On the other hand, the instrumentalist argument mostly focuses on the differences between men and women. Since women hold different values and views regarding politics, they bring special and unique implications for politics hitherto missing. One should be aware that there a very rich literature exists regarding the inclusion of women in politics and that both arguments carry equal importance for the present study, which considers the case of female political participation in Turkey in particular. As stated by Sancar Usur (2000), participation of women in the decision-making process means having an equal opportunity in citizenship and society. This would fill a gala in Turkish democracy and assist in the struggle especially against domestic violence, since it occurs behind closed doors and intervention is usually extremely difficult.
In order to increase female political participation, structural and cultural burdens that create barriers to female empowerment should be evaluated. In the case of Turkey, in the first instance one should remember Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's contribution. Ataturk was the founder of the modem Republic of Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. He believed in the necessity of absolute equality between men and women, and hence all human rights and citizenship rights were given to women in a very short period of time during nation state building. For example, women obtained the right to vote and to be elected in local elections in 1930 and in Grand National Assembly parliamentary elections in 1934 (Caporal, 1982; Yaraman, 1999). There were only 27 countries in the world in which women had the right to vote for parliament earlier than in Turkey. In comparison, in France women obtained the right to vote in 1944, in Italy in 1945, and in Belgium in 1948. …