Thirty-one female candidates throughout Turkey won mayoral posts in the March 30 local elections, but especially in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region, which led by a wide margin in terms of the number of women elected to mayoral positions thanks to a quota for woman in the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
In the male-dominated Turkish political landscape, only three women were elected mayors in the southeastern metropolitan municipalities of Diyarbakır and Gaziantep as well as Aydın, in western Anatolia. Districts that have a population of over 750,000 are qualified to become metropolitan municipalities. Former Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was elected in Gaziantep, Gülten Kışanak from the BDP was elected in Diyarbakır and Özlem Çerçioğlu from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) was elected in Aydın for a second term. The Kurdish BDP is the only party to have a “co-chairperson” system that allows for two mayors, one male and one female, to rule at the same time. Thanks to such a system, southeast Turkey by far took the lead in the nomination and election of female candidates, despite prevalent problematic traditions in the region, such as child marriage and honor killings.
The first headscarved mayor, Toru, was elected on the AK Party ticket in Konya’s Meram district. (Photo: DHA)
The March 30 elections marked many "firsts" in the country. The first mayor who wears an Islamic headscarf, Fatma Toru, was elected on the AK Party ticket in the conservative Meram district of Konya, a Central Anatolian metropolitan municipality. An engineer by profession, Toru had previously been in charge of urban development projects in Meram.
First Assyrian and female mayor of Mardin elected
Turkey's first Assyrian mayor also turned out to be a woman. Also one of the youngest mayors, 25-year-old Februniye Akyol will serve as a one of the two mayors of the southeastern province of Mardin, which is a historical home to a community of Assyrian Christians. She is also from the BDP, which nominated two candidates in each district in the elections.
Another young female mayor is 27-year-old Leyla İmret of the BDP, who was elected in Cizre, a district of Şırnak province in southeast Turkey. Having left her hometown for Mersin and Germany after the death of her father when she was only 5 years old, İmret returned to Cizre. As a result, the German media paid attention to her candidacy when she returned to her birthplace as the first female mayor of the traditional town. In addition to Turkish, İmret can speak Kurdish and German. Similarly, coming from a multicultural background, Akyol can speak Arabic, Assyrian, English, Kurdish and Turkish. She is reportedly working on learning Hebrew at the moment.
In her inauguration speech, İmret vowed to bring the people of Cizre all the services they need as she acknowledged the difficulty of her task.
Meanwhile, reactions have risen against the male mayor of Bingöl from the AK Party, Yücel Barakazi, who reportedly announced that he would not appoint a female vice mayors. A woman from his party, Nurten Ertuğrul, resigned in protest last week. The mayor of one of the biggest districts of İstanbul, Kadıköy, Aykurt Nuhoğlu of the CHP, appointed two of the 13 city council members to the post of vice mayors. However, being one of the most “developed” cities of Turkey, İstanbul failed to elect female mayors in any of its over 30 districts except for one, Avcılar.
Having served as a doctor in Avcılar for the last 22 years, Handan Toprak of the CHP said that her main motivation to enter politics is because of her interest in social services, particularly in the area of public health. Toprak received 44 percent of the votes in Avcılar, leading four percentage points ahead of her rival from the ruling AK Party. Vowing to serve everyone regardless of political affiliation, Toprak expressed her sorrow that no other female mayor was elected in İstanbul.
According to Toprak, because women prefer peace, women-led management will normalize things. She promises to realize projects to empower women and increase their participation in society. “We will make women partners in sharing the burden of making a living for a family,” she said.
Another female mayor of the small district of Mihalgazi in the western province of Eskişehir, Zeynep Akgün, has attracted special attention due to her traditional clothes. She assumed office last week wearing a "şalvar" (loose, Ottoman-style pants) and the white scarf customarily worn by women in Anatolia.
The most well-known female mayors are two experienced politicians, Gülten Kışanak and Fatma Şahin. Both served as deputies in Parliament before their election and are considered successful politicians.
Kışanak, who stated that she was tortured during her young years, worked as a journalist prior to entering politics with the Kurdish movement. Having taken over the office from another BDP mayor, Osman Beydemir of Diyarbakır, Kışanak promised to carry the flag further in the race to serve the people.
Although elected as the first female mayor of the industrial city of Gaziantep, Fatma Şahin's first action was to cancel an event organized by the civil society in her hometown. Before her election, a sports hall had been allocated by the municipality to host a book reading contest on the prophet Muhammad. Şahin canceled the event, which was the first thing she had done contrary to the wishes of her constituency.
A female mayor will run the Urla district of İzmir for the first time. Sibel Uyar from the CHP assumed office last week along with 30 other female mayors.
In the small neighborhood Özkürtün in the Kürtün district of Gümüşhane province, Aynur Zorlu Kaya became the first female mayor in the region from the AK Party.
The first second-time female mayor of Turkey is from Aydın. Having elected the first female mayor of Aydın in 2009, Özlem Çerçioğlu was a deputy from the same party, the CHP, before her term as a mayor. She is known for her strong interpersonal relations.
Dilek Hatipoğlu from the BDP is another mayor from southeastern Turkey. Married with two kids, Hatipoğlu says that her husband will take care of the children at home, as their household is a democratic one.