Turkey's Upcoming Elections and Women's Rights
By Asli Saban
“If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Turkey is set to hold its presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14, 2023. The upcoming election will be one of the most significant ones in the history of Turkey.
There are two alliances running in the elections: The People's Alliance, led by current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the National Alliance, comprising six opposition parties. Both the alliances have already kicked off their race, and are busy running their own propaganda.
Turkey is currently challenged by soaring inflation, and is still reeling from the twin earthquakes from earlier this year - which left 50,000 people dead and 11 cities affected. Although the emergency needs are still not fully addressed and remain urgent challenges, the upcoming election has become the main agenda in Turkey. Inflation and the economic crisis will play a significant role in the elections. In addition to the inflation and the earthquake, human rights, the freedom of speech, and having and protecting a secular lifestyle will be major determinants in the outcome of the election. Erdogan and his party say that they will bring inflation down to single figures (echoing a commitment that was already made by their opponents), and create a new Türkiye, most voters will bear in mind these challenges while selecting the new government in Türkiye.
The rampancy of femicide and violence against women are serious problems in Türkiye. Women are killed, raped, and beaten every day. Critics say that the main reason for this situation is the policies of the AKP government, which protects violent and abusive men by affording them impunity. After the terrifying earthquake, women’s and girls' most urgent needs remain unmet. Women suffer disproportionately in the aftermath of disasters. While tens of thousands of people have lost homes and jobs, women continue to work ceaselessly in makeshift tents and containers set up for displaced survivors – finding food or trying to cook, washing or cleaning where water is available, constantly providing for others. Erdoğan decided that Turkey would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on July 1, 2021. This decision is a major setback to the women’s movement in Turkey. Most women’s rights defenders consider this a backlash against women's rights in Türkiye, given that the right-wing populist government is in charge. The election results will affect women’s rights in Turkey.
Both alliances have announced their women’s empowerment and rights agenda and pledges. The National Alliance has promised to protect women’s rights and return to the Istanbul Convention regime. The People's Alliance has announced an agenda to support women, the family, and youth. Nevertheless, under the People’s Alliance, political parties have not discussed the protection of women’s rights under the law, or returning to the Istanbul Convention regime. The current government accepted Law 6284, which aims to protect families and prevent violence against women, on March 8, 2012. The purpose of this law was to protect women, children, family members, and victims of stalking, who have been subject to violence or are at the risk of violence, and to regulate procedures and principles vis-a-vis measures for preventing violence against them. Political parties under the People’s Alliance, such as the New Welfare Party (YRP), calls for the repeal of Law No. 6284. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) group deputy chair Özlem Zengin claimed to have been targeted and threatened for defending Law No. 6284 and said that it has utmost importance and will continue to operate. A popular preacher from the İsmailağa order of Naqshbandi Sufis, targeted AKP group deputy chair Özlem Zengin and Family Minister Derya Yanık, without explicitly giving their names, over their support for the Law No. 6284.
Another political party under the People’s Alliance called The Radical Islamist Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR) has drawn views against women and human rights. They say that for the welfare of society and generation, adultery, which has been decriminalized as a result of the imposition of secular understanding, should be defined as a crime again, as prohibiting adultery is a human right aimed at protecting the safety of one's family. The party claims that women should focus on family and household work, arguing, “There is no discrimination between men and women in terms of the right to work. However, considering the positions and physiological characteristics of men and women both in the family and in the society, it is necessary to find work areas suitable for their characteristics.” The Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP), which officially joined the ruling People’s Alliance unlike HÜDA-PAR, and the AKP signed a protocol including subtle clauses that are discriminatory against women and the LGBTI+ community.
In terms of women’s political representation during the upcoming election, The low number of women on parties’ candidate lists for the elections reflects the steady deterioration in women’s rights in the country. According to the women rights activists and experts, this is a direct result of the erosion of women rights in recent years. Women’s rights will always remain essential. Turkish women who support either party will remain committed to defending their rights during the election and after the election results.