Women mayors and the support of the people

Cizre has a 27 year old female mayor now, Leyla Imret, from Germany. Diyarbakir has Gültan Kisanak, Mardin has Turkey’s first ever Syriac mayor, Februniye Akyol. All together the BDP had more than 44% female candidates in the local elections, and many of them won. But do they really have the support of the people?

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Women mayors representing the BDP: Leyla Imret, Gültan Kisanak, Elif Kilic

The Turkish election system is undemocratic. There are mayoral elections, but you cannot vote for a mayor, you can only vote for a party. The party designates the candidates, and even if you don’t like the candidate at all, this is the man or woman who will get your valuable vote. The party you favour wins, with a candidate you never had any influence on – and that is going to be your mayor for the next five years.

That’s also how the system works in the general elections. It looks as if MP’s represent their province, but in fact the citizens of the province have no influence on who will be their candidate. The party leadership decides who runs where. You vote for a party, you automatically vote for the appointed candidate, and then you are supposed to feel represented.

So for any mayoral candidate, male or female, we can wonder how much support they really have among the people, and this goes for every party competing. But with the female candidates, there is another issue. The southeast can be considered among the most patriarchal parts of the country. The position of women has definitely improved since the Kurdish movement put the issue on the agenda, but the equality of women is far from becoming a reality.

Even when I stayed with a family in Qandil village, at the heart of the Kurdish armed struggle, where gender equality is put into practice as much as possible among the ranks of the PKK, traditional gender roles were all over the place in the general population. I was sitting under a tree with the males of the family, watching the females pass by with a kid on the hip and a vacuum cleaner in the hand, or hearing them prepare lunch in the kitchen. ‘Lot of work to be done here for women’s emancipation, isn’t there?’, I remarked. The men agreed without blinking and were served tea.

What if in every town where the BDP competed they were to hold pre-elections, in which the people can choose their representative? The candidates would of course not be appointed by the party, but would come forward from society or from the party. The BDP would not exert undue influence by saying they only accept female candidates, like they did recently in Diyarbakir.

Then imagine ballot boxes are put all over these towns and cities, and the people could choose from let’s say two female and three male candidates. How big would the chance be that the BDP would still have more than 40% female candidates? I think it would be very low.

Of course, the BDP is contributing to changing gender prejudices by appointing as many female candidates as they do. What else can they do but support the freedom of women, it’s an inalienable part of their struggle, and women have become much stronger over the last thirty years. As Gültan Kisanak said when I talked to her about this: ‘Several Diyarbakir municipalities have had female mayors for years now. They have been successful and got the support and trust of the people. Someone who asks if a woman can govern a whole city is not being realistic. In the Kurdish movement, women have taken responsibilities in many fields, they have taken risks and the whole of society acknowledges this heritage. The Kurdish women’s movement has smashed the prejudice against women to smithereens.’

Wonderful, but is it true? Would the BDP be brave enough to put it to the test in the next local elections, by not just appointing more than 40% female candidates that the people just have to swallow, but introducing a more democratic mayoral election system? I doubt it. They know the outcome wouldn’t be as peachy as they wish to picture it.

You can read the Turkish version of this post here! 

4 thoughts on “Women mayors and the support of the people”

  1. I understand that your first impression is that the Kurdish people and mostly men may not fully accept the female candidates. Because admitted; the Kurdish men tend to let the female do all the kitchen work and house holding. But that is the strange thing about Kurds: when it comes to politics there is no difference between men or women. Everyone who is engaged in politics is respected. That is the reason why in the PKK there are many Kurdish women who are respected by the Kurdish civilians. Also, Abdullah Ocalan has always emphasized the role of the women in this revolution. He says that the women play the biggest role in the Kurdish revolution. In the Kurdish language the word “jiyan” means also “jin”. So the word ‘life’ means also ‘woman’. I think that if you will dig further in this matter you will realize that when it comes to politics women are just as much preferred as men. And there are many examples of woman in leading role: like Sakine Cansiz for example. It’s because those women put all of their energy in the Kurdish matter, they become epic in our eyes. We don’t just see them as women but we see them as politicians, guerrilla’s, …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Frederike,

    You’ve just come back from Agri and your feeling frustrated at the conservative nature of life there, which has sparked you to write a provocative article hoping to stimulate debate.

    Fine. But how do you think the co Mayoral candidate of Agri, Mukaddes Kubilay would feel reading such an article?

    Many Kurdish women have taken the responsibility to fight such conservatism and face daily indignities and barriers in that fight from patriarchal mindset but Kurdish women fight on and gain the respect and support for the struggle and for themselves from many male colleagues and members of Kurdish society.

    It’s an ongoing revolutionary struggle that is being waged primarily by the Kurdish Freedom Movement. I personally know Mukaddes and spent time in her family home when she was appointed as the first woman mayor of Dogubayazit and saw with my own eyes her incredible struggle and the enormous respect that she gained, not just as a BDP member but as a woman and a person during her time in office.

    I am sure that every single woman who is active in BDP can tell of the same struggle.

    I understand where you are coming from but I think you should perhaps give a little more respect to the struggle of those Kurdish women as the tone of your article almost gets dangerously close to patronising them as, ‘just because they are BDP people vote for women and if they wern’t they wouldn’t’ angle.

    Mukaddes was returned as Mayor twice and the people of Dogubayzit literally begged her to stand again as she had done the most amazing work for the town. Built water pipes for the town, repaired the roads, gained funding for a women’s hospital from Europe and much much more besides including a full frontal challenge to patriarchal mindsets with a women’s refuge and cooperative restaurant and carpet making projects for widows of those who had died in the war. One woman who came to her asking for her support as she was suffering domestic violence from her husband who worked for the council. Mukaddes summoned the husband to her office at the town hall and told him that if he laid a finger on his wife again he would be sacked and his wife would be employed in his place.

    Kurdish women are respected for who they are and the work they have done for the Kurdish struggle and empowering the Kurdish people as a whole, men and women.

    With a new set of Kurdish women mayors in place they will set out to push the mindsets back further and challenge deeper the male patriarchal mindset.

    It is, as you know, not an easy road of course but one that I think they deserve much more credit for and support as Kurdish society continues to develop and change.

    Personally, I am incredibly proud of Kurdish women and the Kurdish Freedom Movement who are at the forefront of the Kurdish struggle.

    Many Kurdish women’s lives have been empowered and changed forever and through their change the hope is that Kurdish society will change at a faster pace too.

    In revolutions change happens that way. :O)

    Like

  3. Dear Frederike,

    You’ve just come back from Agri and your feeling frustrated at the conservative nature of life there, which has sparked you to write a provocative article hoping to stimulate debate.

    Fine. But how do you think the co Mayoral candidate of Agri, Mukaddes Kubilay would feel reading such an article?

    Many Kurdish women have taken the responsibility to fight such conservatism and face daily indignities and barriers in that fight from patriarchal mindset but Kurdish women fight on and gain the respect and support for the struggle and for themselves from many male colleagues and members of Kurdish society.

    It’s an ongoing revolutionary struggle that is being waged primarily by the Kurdish Freedom Movement. I personally know Mukaddes and spent time in her family home when she was appointed as the first woman mayor of Dogubayazit and saw with my own eyes her incredible struggle and the enormous respect that she gained, not just as a BDP member but as a woman and a person during her time in office.

    I am sure that every single woman who is active in BDP can tell of the same struggle.

    I understand where you are coming from but I think you should perhaps give a little more respect to the struggle of those Kurdish women as the tone of your article almost gets dangerously close to patronising them as, ‘just because they are BDP people vote for women and if they wern’t they wouldn’t’ angle.

    Mukaddes was returned as Mayor twice and the people of Dogubayzit literally begged her to stand again as she had done the most amazing work for the town. Built water pipes for the town, repaired the roads, gained funding for a women’s hospital from Europe and much much more besides including a full frontal challenge to patriarchal mindsets with a women’s refuge and cooperative restaurant and carpet making projects for widows of those who had died in the war. One woman who came to her asking for her support as she was suffering domestic violence from her husband who worked for the council. Mukaddes summoned the husband to her office at the town hall and told him that if he laid a finger on his wife again he would be sacked and his wife would be employed in his place.

    Kurdish women are respected for who they are and the work they have done for the Kurdish struggle and empowering the Kurdish people as a whole, men and women.

    With a new set of Kurdish women mayors in place they will set out to push the mindsets back further and challenge deeper the male patriarchal mindset.

    It is, as you know, not an easy road of course but one that I think they deserve much more credit for and support as Kurdish society continues to develop and change.

    Personally, I am incredibly proud of Kurdish women and the Kurdish Freedom Movement who are at the forefront of the Kurdish struggle.

    Many Kurdish women’s lives have been empowered and changed forever and through their change the hope is that Kurdish society will change at a faster pace too.

    In revolutions change happens that way. :O)

    Like

  4. Marc, I wrote this before going to Ağrı. The rest of Kurdistan isn’t an equality paradise for women either. Actually, a female friend of mine in Diyarbakır, a BDP voter, said when she heard Kisanak was candidate mayor for the city: ‘A woman? For such a big city?’ I kid you not.

    Liked by 1 person

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