|Halide Edip (R), the only female officer during the Turkish War of Independence & an outspoken feminist, and Nezihe Muhittin, co-founder of the Turkish Women's Union that campaigned for women's suffrage|
On December 5, 1934, women in
granted full universal suffrage. They participated in parliamentary elections for
the first time on February 8, 1935, winning 18 seats. While many countries,
such as Turkey Denmark, Sweden, the United
Kingdom, and the Russian
Republic had granted this right
earlier, Turkey was ahead of
states such as France, Italy, Holland
that granted full suffrage a decade later. Japan
had won the right to vote in
municipal elections back in March 1930. Their political rights formed part of an
important raft of reforms implemented by the founder of the Turkey ,
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to modernise the country. Turkish Republic
Turkish women played a vital role in the War of Independence, which is detailed in Human Landscapes, a book by acclaimed Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet and separately by Halide Edip. Edip was a novelist and respected feminist, and became one of the inspirational voices of the Nationalist Movement. She was the only female officer in the Resistance Army, which she wrote about in her memoire The Turkish Ordeal, published in 1928.
After the Turks’ epic victory in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was keen for women to continue to help the country progress by being allowed to fully participate in political, social, economic, and academic areas of life. In his public addresses, he talked of the need to have women even better educated than men in order to train children to meet the needs of a modern
Atatürk: "Our most urgent present task is to catch up with the modern world. We shall not catch up if we only modernize half the population.”
The run-up to full suffrage is summarised by author Judy Ayyildiz: “In 1926, the Turkish Assembly passed laws of secularization. Women and men got equal inheritance rights. Divorce could no longer occur at the whim of a husband. Either parent might receive child custody. However, men still held the position as head of the household, and women could not work outside the home or travel abroad without the permission of the husband. But, with the new laws, women could not only teach in girls’ schools but in mixed primary and middle schools. Women, furthermore, could begin careers in law, medicine, and public services -- although social change was gradual and limited. Life in the countryside went on much as before. While the law no longer recognized religious or polygamous marriages, conservative rural society still did.”
“President M. Kemal [Atatürk] delivered a number of speeches in the early twenties that insisted on the full emancipation of women in the Turkish state and society. “Our most urgent present task,” he repeatedly said, “is to catch up with the modern world,” and furthermore, that, “We shall not catch up with the modern world if we only modernize half the population.”
|Mustafa Kemal Atatürk championed the full voting rights and equality of women in Turkey|
On 5th December 1934, 258 of the 317 Turkish MPs voted in a change to the Turkish Constitution. Women aged 22 and over were given the right to vote and those aged 30 and above could stand for elections. As soon as the law was formally published two days later, the Turkish Women’s Union, which had been formed a decade earlier by Nezihe Muhittin, Latife Bekir (Çeyrekbaşı) and Sabiha Zekeriye (Sertel), organised a massive march from Istanbul’s Beyazıt Square to Taksim to celebrate this huge milestone in Turkish history.
Today, there are 79 female MPs out of a possible 548 seats in the Turkish Parliament. With 46 female deputies, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has the most female representation. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has 19 women MPs, while the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has just three. The smaller Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has eight female politicians. People's Democracy Party (HDP) has one female MP and there are two independent female MPs.
|First 18 female MPs in Turkey, following the 1935 General Elections|
On this the 80th anniversary of Turkish Women’s Suffrage, T-VINE is proud to honour the dedication work and sacrifices made by Turkish grandmothers, aunts, mothers, sisters, and wives who have collectively helped Turkey evolve into a modern, democratic society.