Turkey gave the country's women the right to vote and be elected on this day in 1934, well before many European countries, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a video message on Sunday.
On the occasion of the 87th anniversary of Turkish women receiving full suffrage – the right to both vote and be elected – Erdoğan said the fact that Turkish women obtained this opportunity much earlier than many women in Europe is an "important indicator" that reflects the Turkish nation's view of women.
"Although our women gained the right to vote and be elected in 1934, they started to use their rights freely under the Justice and Development Party (AK party)," he said, referring to the AK Party coming to power in November 2002.
Erdoğan decried how those who "segregated" Turkish women based on their clothing blocked them from exercising their constitutional rights, especially the right to be elected.
Before the AK Party came to power, women wearing headscarves were barred from official settings and positions. The policy was ended by the AK Party government.
"With the grace of Allah, we will continue to develop solutions to the problems of our women, especially violence against women, in the coming days," Erdoğan added.
Women’s Rights Day, which marks the anniversary of amendments for the right to vote and stand for electoral office for Turkish women, was observed on Sunday. It was the 87th anniversary of suffrage and the seventh anniversary of another revolutionary step for women wearing headscarves: the right to be elected.
In 1930, Turkish women were granted suffrage in local elections held that year. Four years later, Turkish women were among the first in Europe to achieve the right to vote and run for elected office through a constitutional amendment.
Since then, women have been active in national politics and founded the National Women's Party of Turkey in 1972 and the Women's Party in 2014.
There has been an increase in the number of women elected to Parliament in recent decades.
While in 1935, only 4.5% of lawmakers were women, this share increased to nearly one in five legislators in 2019, even with the number of lawmakers rising from 401 to 600. Today, there are 101 female deputies in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, just about 17% of all lawmakers. Politics is still a man’s game in Turkey and although women have a relatively larger presence in Parliament, only four out of 81 provincial mayors are women.
Women’s suffrage and the right to stand for electoral office have a tarnished history in parallel with Turkey’s shaky political scene. Led by the founding President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country switched to a republic in 1923 but it was not until 1946 that Turkey adopted a multiparty democracy. Democrats split from the all-too-powerful Republican People’s Party (CHP) run by Atatürk protégé Ismet Inönü and introduced Turkey to true democracy.
However, they met with a tragic end as the country’s first coup in 1960 derailed democracy. That coup would pave the way for more of its kind and haunt the women seeking a voice in politics. Women had a right to stand for office but it applied only to “certain women.”
It was not until a 2014 amendment that women wearing headscarves had a chance to be elected. The amendment by the incumbent AK Party ended the decades-old influence of an ultra secular mindset in Turkish politics, an unprecedented victory for women wearing the headscarf, who were shunned from politics under the pretext of secularism. But it came at the cost of insults, harassment and broken lives for many women.
Among them were late women’s rights icon Şule Yüksel Şenler, whose resilience in the fight for the rights of headscarf-wearing women landed her in prison, and Merve Kavakçı, who would have become the first headscarf-wearing woman to be sworn in as a lawmaker if it were not for Democratic Left Party lawmakers, who mobbed her to leave Parliament before she took her oath, in a notorious scandal.