Win over women, win the election, Turkish studies show

A proposal prepared jointly by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition-turned-ally Nationalist Action Party (MHP) to set a legal basis for their proposed “People’s Alliance” in the upcoming presidential elections passed the Constitutional Commission without a single amendment.

There is not much now that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) can do to halt the bill allowing electoral alliances as debate began in parliament on Monday. Members of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), subjected to physical assaults at the assembly, can do perhaps less.

But two studies released to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8 show that, even after the bill is passed, whoever wins the women’s vote wins the elections.

The 2017 Women in Statistics report by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) presents data on women’s employment, education and related subjects. As one-sided as TÜİK may be, it was still impossible to conceal the fact uncovered in its research that Turkish women face grave inequality in education beyond primary level.

At 8.5 percent, the proportion of illiterate women is more than five times higher than for men, and the fact that only 28 percent of women over 15 are employed is a sign that the remainder of women are alienated from economic and social life.

The fact that only one-in-three women of working age have entered the workforce, and that the rate of unemployment for women is seven points higher than men, is a reality that even TÜİK could not hide.

Another study that signposts what opposition parties must do to reach out to women voters in the local, parliamentary and presidential elections due next year is the annual Study on Social Perception of Women and Gender published by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

The number of registered voters in the 2017 constitutional referendum was 55 million. As 4.8 million more people reach the voting age of 18 by the elections in 2019, that figure will rise.

With every fraction of a percentage point of crucial importance in the presidential elections, which are due before November 2019, winning over these nearly five million new voters and more than 27 million women voters is vital, and far more so for the opposition than the “People’s Alliance”.

According to the Kadir Has University’s report, women’s life satisfaction has dropped to 15 percent this year from 25 percent in 2017. The three most pressing issues are violence, unemployment and education.

The government’s decision to allow religious officials to perform legal marriages is viewed unfavourably by 64 percent of women and 52 percent of men. There has also been a rise in the rate of women who describe themselves as republican and nationalist, and a drop in those who say there are religious or conservative, the two traditional bases of the AKP.

Eighty percent think that women should play a more active role in politics. And 85 percent of women say they would vote for a party leader who advocates views close to their own.

This data shows what a critical role women voters will play in the three elections expected in 2019.

Especially in the case of the presidential election, in which a difference of as little as a tenth of a percent could decide the winner.

The data is highly promising for Meral Akşener, the opposition centre right Good Party leader who has put herself forward as a candidate for the presidency. Pervin Buldan, the HDP co-chair will also find it heartening given that her party plans to run a candidate in the presidential elections. If the HDP runs a woman candidate, it would be no surprise to see the party gain a considerable portion of the vote during the first round of the election.

As for Akşener, the Good Party leader has aimed a number of stinging criticisms at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from a gender perspective, starting with the comment that the “only remaining person in the country” who could criticise and keep the president under control was his wife, Emine.

Akşener also compared the president to a “pathological” kind of authoritarian family patriarch who “metes out love or justice to his children as he sees fit”, and “smothers some of them with love and hates others”.

“On that point I would like to note that girls, in the house where this father metes out justice as he will, will not be able to live as women,” continued Akşener. “You will not be able to breathe. Because I am convinced that President Erdoğan truly sees himself as a father figure, and is not content only with obedience; he wants to make his children grovel.”

The CHP is too caught up in internal problems to consider women’s issues, and women are not prominent in the MHP. Erdoğan has stated his wish that the AKP’s female members engage in door-to-door campaigning. The HDP has already announced its plans for a “women’s alliance” in the elections.

The message is clear for politicians who want to go into 2019 with strategies that reflect the pulse of society. Whoever wins the women’s vote, wins the elections.


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