The earliest known treaty in history is the Kadesh Agreement signed between the Hittites and the Egyptians.
Signed in 13th century BC, it bears the sign of the Queen next to the King. This document is the perfect example showing the status of women in Anatolia at the time. Queen Hatti, Hurri, Lydian and Phrygian queens and princesses, Anatolian queens were all women of mighty political and military power, often equalling that of the kings.
The Turks accepted Islam with no trouble, because it coincided with their values: freedom, equality, respect for the elderly, compassion for the young, respect for women, love for children. In Islam, women were equal to men, and apart from the task of raising children, housework was not even the responsibility of the woman. Prophet Muhammad ‘s wife Hz. Ayşe, had commanded the army during Cemel war. Which country today is courageous enough to send an army headed by a woman to Iraq or Syria? The Prophet’s first wife, Hz. Hatice was a businesswoman in her own right. Islam brought a very progressive version of equality to Arabs who were, at the time, burying new-born baby girls alive.
But during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, who supressed the Turkish identity, women were distanced from the social and political life, although the empire claimed to respect the lifestyles of the sovereign peoples. The Arab traditions and customs greatly influenced the Ottoman Empire and the women were pushed inside homes. The West tends to mix-up Arab traditions and customs with Islam, and reacts accordingly. In the Ottoman Empire, the Queen Mothers were active in social affairs in the form of charities and foundations. Not many of them have risen above plotting and aimed for the political power.
Turkish women came to the forefront again in the War of Independence, and they started to actively participate in social life. She worked as a farmer, produced food and textiles, fought alongside her man, carried ammunition on her back along with her baby. Turkish people, working together as men and women were victorious.
By the end of the War of Independence the country was left in ruins. An educated populace and workforce were lost. Atatürk had been working on serious reforms even at the peak of the war. Being the incredible man that he was, he stroke the Arab influences out, introduced the new Latin alphabet, and supported women’s education, so that they could be back in the workforce. The effects of the rights and reforms that benefitted women had a great impact on the economic revolutions that followed.
In 1926 we adopted the Swiss Civil Law System. In 1930, we gave women the right to enter into local politics.
In 1934, women were granted the right to elect and be elected, a reform that didn’t yet exist in most Western countries (Italy 1945, France 1944, Canada 1948). In the following year, women commanded a 4% representation in the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Unfortunately, today, 83 years later, the percentage of women in the Parliament is 14% -an unacceptable figure.
In 1948, Behice BORAN became the first women helming a political party. In 1950, when Democratic Party came to power, woman’s place in the society was once again pushed back. In 1960 the CHP pioneered the other political parties in establishing Women’s Branches. Unfortunately, these branches fell short of their goal of making women active in politics, and instead directed women to activities such as selling tickets to social gatherings and distributing buns to people standing in queues.
Post-1960, woman MPs were demanding to have a say in various issues. In the 1980s women’s workforce expanded greatly and women gained power in civil society organizations. Politics which was effectively only open to women of the elite class until that time, began to welcome women from the middle-class as well. Those women started to deal with various issues of Turkey just like their male counterparts. During 1983-1991, the ruling Motherland Party in the Presidency of Turgut ÖZAL, established the “Foundation for Strengthening and Promoting Turkish Women” and signed the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women”. It initiated the” General Directorate of Women’s Status and Issues” as well as the Papatyalar (Daisies) Foundation. The very same the same party, however, under Mesut YILMAZ, could not utilize the Papatyalar Foundation beyond having them organize collective civil marriage ceremonies!
It is interesting that Turkey’s military regimes were progressive in their support of women’s politics. The September 12 junta established the “Advisory Council” in which they included the highest number of women since the founding of the Republic. The fruits of this endeavour were not late to come: We had the first female mayor in 1989 as well as half a dozen female ministers between 1987 and 1995.
“Tansu to the kitchen, Mesut to the seat”
In 1991 Tansu ÇİLLER became the second woman party leader and the first Minister of Economy in Turkey’s history. Soon after, she became the first female Prime Minister in 1993. The politically active women in her party and her government became role models for many young Turkish women. She was modern, attractive, intellectual, in short, a very successful specimen. Ciller of course suffered from the same humiliations that other women in politics had before her. Some called her “the beautiful blonde woman” but it was Mesut YILMAZ that had it worst with his election slogan: ‘Tansu to the kitchen, Mesut to the seat’. YILMAZ came to power in 1995 but was soon buried under heaps of corruption claims.
The coalition between DSP and MHP was a trusted government, but they were not able to overcome the economic crisis of 2001. Rahşan Hanım, the wife and assistant to Prime Minister ECEVIT, was almost like a Hittite Queen in her powers over the party and her husband. Unfortunately, she did not help the women’s causes much.
In November 2002, the Turkish people chose the dynamic and promising Tayyip ERDOĞAN as their prime minister over the old-and-tried politicians. Unfortunately, ERDOĞAN’s initial government failed to boost women in politics. At the Alliance of Civilizations Conference, the Prime Minister himself admitted to their shortcomings in this area, and he promised to raise the women’s quota. As a result of the quota increase, we began to see more and more women in the provincial and district governorships, but most of these women were hand-picked by men, and only because of the quote requirements. These women did not even participate in political discourse.
Today we have only two female ministers and a 14% ratio of female deputies. Not nearly enough!
We cannot continue to picture women as housewives, men as businessmen, girls clearing the dinner tables while boys play ball in elementary school books and expect women to spread their wings beyond their premediated roles in the social and political life. When a boy reading these textbooks is grown up, he will regard the woman’s place to be the kitchen and will not accept women in politics/workplace. Women, on the other hand, will abide by the roles bestowed upon them by the society and will not take the steps to further their cause. We must revise and update our elementary school textbooks before we do anything else, for this is a crucial step for the cause of Turkish women.
Not every one of the 35 million women will become politicians, just like not everyone is a CEO or a marathon runner, of course. But women who improve themselves to become politicians, who dedicate themselves to the problems of this country, should see something in return. The presence of 200 women in the parliament, 10 women in the government would strengthen not only the Turkish women, but also Turkey’s position in the world. The female power, blessed with its natural gentleness, endurance and empathy, has the potential to carry our country into a better tomorrow. United we stand, divided we fall. We are ready for a strong Turkey where there is no sex, race or sectarian discrimination.