Most of the competitors in last week’s mayoral race were men, but two of the rising stars were women.
One of these stars is Özlem Çerçioğlu, who made herself politically visible in Turkey’s male-dominated political sphere, where even innocent humor from a women’s organization hoping for equal gender representation in politics ended up in court.
Once a member of Parliament, Çerçioğlu proved she is a daredevil, risked her parliamentary seat in Ankara and eventually accomplished her dream to be mayor of the Aegean province of Aydın. She became one of two female provincial mayors who, after 32 years, brought victory to the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, by taking over the dominance of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Çerçioğlu, a decisive and idealistic political figure, is a mother of two children and graduate of Aydın’s Selçuk University. She has dealt with industry and served as a public relations director in New York. Before entering politics, she ran a family business. She went to Parliament in 2002 as the CHP’s Aydın deputy and in last week’s elections she became mayor of Aydın.
Woman’s touch needed
Çerçioğlu believes politics needs more female participation. Women actually want to be a part of this world, she says, but it is the system and the AKP’s mentality that exclude women from social, political and working life and that discourage them from entering politics. She didn’t encountered prejudice during her election campaign because it was not her gender but her personality, deeds and future projects that played a much more crucial role in her recent success.
"A woman’s touch is needed in politics because women make difference. If there had been more female mayors, I am sure the cities would be much tidier, cleaner, planned and harmonic under their hands. Women can look at things with different eyes. Personally, as a mayor, I look at a city as a mayor, as a mother and as a woman," Çerçioğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.
"However, women’s role in politics and economic life further faded away during the AKP’s administration. If a prime minister of a country encourages the female population to have at least three children and a foreign minister implies that women need not work as the men earn enough income, then how could the women exist in political life?"
She thinks the minimum 25 or 30 percent quota and positive discrimination for women participation could have changed the overall picture, including women’s role in politics and the results of the elections. In 2004, the CHP submitted a proposal to Parliament asking for quota system, but the proposal wasn’t welcomed by the AKP, including the AKP’s female deputies. Still, she hopes her mayoralty and other examples will create a synergy not only for the CHP but also for the other parties to produce more female candidates.
"Females make up half of the Turkish population and you ignore the half of society via this system. The issue shouldn’t be left to the party leaders’ initiative. The quota system is urgent in such male-dominated politics," she said. The long-held stereotype of dominant woman figures in Ottoman times and even in family management has been smashed in politics today. The ratio of woman candidates in the elections did not even reach 3 percent. The number of male candidates was slightly more than 13,000, while the number of female candidates was below 400, according to unofficial data.
The AKP was the party with the least number of female candidates, with only 18 candidates of a total 2,946, while the CHP was the most woman-friendly party, with 46 of 1,964 candidates. Çerçioğlu was one of the two female mayors chosen during the elections; the other was Edibe Şahin, who won the mayoral seat in Tunceli from the ranks of the Democratic Society Party, or DTP.
Mayor, mother and woman
Çerçioğlu thinks the poor quality of politics today also discourages women in politics. She rejects the male-oriented discourse that women aren’t interested in politics, saying the parties’ women’s branches and the high number of women in youth branches was the clearest evidence for women’s interest in politics. Instead, she said, women have good reasons to enter politics and be fairly successful in their political bids. "This sort of discourse is simply the sign of ignorance of the problem," she said. "Women in political parties work even harder and with more enthusiasm than men."
"Women can be more sensitive [to what they see around], attentive and self-sacrificing. They can more skillfully take the pulse of people in some respects. Their sixth sense can be more developed. Some find female politicians more sympathetic. I received a great deal of women’s support in this election. Many said they would feel freer to get in touch with me. People’s expectations have increased."
She emphasized that, regardless of gender, locals are most interested in a mayor who implements promises, keeps contact and, most importantly, in what a mayor can do for them.