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?
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.