Women’s Participation in Politics in Turkey: Obstacles and Struggle Methods

Politics as a public activity is seen as 'men's job'. Thus, the result is that women cannot have power even when they have authority. The fact that politics is seen as a 'men's club' also paves the way for the reproduction of the old-boy network, which are especially dominant in local politics.

The presence and visibility of women in politics provides the legitimacy of democracy as well as equal citizenship. While this participation means women’s presence in the public sphere, which is seen as belonging to men due to the division of labor between the sexes, it is also important for gender inequalities that have been rendered invisible to be on the agenda of politics. Thus, it is possible to represent the experiences of those on the disadvantaged side of gender inequality in the public sphere and in politics. This makes it possible to combat these inequalities. Therefore, the presence and visibility of women in politics will have multi-layered and long-term results. With this approach, a study was conducted for İstanPol between January and November 2021. A summary of the research titled ‘Women’s Participation in Politics in Turkey: Obstacles and Struggle Methods’ will be presented, and women’s experiences in political participation will be discussed.

Structural, Institutional and Cultural Obstacles

Despite the importance of women’s political participation, it is not possible to talk about equal and qualified representation. The main reason for this is that there are a number of obstacles in front of women. According to the studies on the subject, these obstacles are examined in three groups: structural, institutional and cultural obstacles. In the first group, obstacles created by socioeconomic status variables such as income, education level, and marital status are expressed. In the ‘Global Gender Inequality Index 2021 Report’ published by the World Economic Forum, it is calculated that it will take 267.6 years to close the gap between men and women in terms of economic participation and opportunities. This disadvantaged situation of women also makes it difficult for them to enter politics and have a presence. In the second group, obstacles related to the functioning of institutions such as the election system and the nomination processes of political parties are expressed. For example, in list-style proportional systems where the place and order of nominations are critical, it has been found that women are often nominated in the place and order where they are less likely to be elected. In the last group, the reflections of the male-dominated perspective in politics are expressed. The male-dominated perspective, which dominates the society in general, imposes a gendered division of labor and causes women to be excluded from the public sphere, also shapes the political sphere. Politics as a public activity is seen as a ‘men’s job’. Thus, the result is that women cannot have power even when they have authority. The fact that politics is seen as a ‘men’s club’ also paves the way for the reproduction of the old-boy network that are dominant especially in local politics. In addition, due to gender roles, the primary responsibility of women is seen as caregiving. Due to the gendered division of labor, it becomes more costly for women who undertake care work to participate in politics.

The Place of Women in Politics in the World and in Turkey

These obstacles that women face in the political arena complicate the quantitative and qualitative equality in representation. While quantitative representation focuses on numbers, qualitative representation refers to the representation of women’s interests as a gendered social group. Although the increase in the number of female politicians does not always guarantee qualitative representation, it is an important data as it is a prerequisite. In this article, equality in representation will be looked at from a quantitative perspective.

According to the data compiled by international organizations such as the UN Women, World Economic Forum (WEF), and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), as of 2021, the quantitative inequality of representation between women and men continues on a global scale.

Translation: Rate of the Female MPs (%) – 25,5

Rate of the women in ministerial positions (%) 21,9

Number of the countries with female Prime Ministers and Presidents 22

Rate of the countries with female President (%) 5,9

Rate of the countries with female Prime Ministers (%) 6,7

Source: UN Turkey. (March 10, 2021). ‘According to the UN Women – IPU “Women in Politics 2021” map: The rate of women has increased in parliaments, ministries, heads of state and government, but the representation of women is still not enough.’ (https://turkey.un.org/tr/115804-un-women-ipu-siyasette-kadin-2021-haritasina-gore-parlamentolarda-bakanliklarda-devlet-ve).

According to World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Inequality Index 2021 report, the most significant decline in gender inequality on a global scale in 2020 was in the field of women’s participation in political life. According to the report, only 26% of parliamentarians in the world are women. In Turkey, on the other hand, an optimistic picture is not seen in terms of women’s participation in politics. The rate of the female MPs is 17% as of 2018 elections. Turkey, which is ranked 133rd among 156 countries according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Index, has dropped three places in the Index ranking compared to the list in 2020.

Percentage of female representatives in national parliaments

It is observed that the rate of women in the decision-making bodies of political parties, such as the Central Executive Committee, the Party Assembly or the Central Disciplinary Board, does not fully reach the level of 30-40%, which is expressed as the ‘critical minority’.



Justice and Development Party

Total Number Of Women Rate Of Women %

Central Executive Board 
Central Decision and Executive Board (Including Reserve Members)
Intra-Party Democracy Arbitration Committee
Political Virtue and Ethics Committee (Including Reserve Members)


Republican People’s Party

Total Number Of Women Rate Of Women %

Central Executive Board 
General Secretary
High Disciplinary Board
Party Court Members


Peoples’ Democratic Party

Total Number Of Women Rate Of Women %

Central Executive Board 
Party Court Members
Conciliation Board (Including Reserve Members)

Nationalist Movement Party

Total Number Of Women Rate Of Women %

Central Executive Board 
Presidency Council
Central Disciplinary Board

IYI Party

Total Number Of Women Rate Of Women %
Presidency Council
General Executive Board
Central Disciplinary Board


Source: Formed from the web pages of political parties. (Access Date: 06.08.2021) & Serpil Sancar. (December 2018). ‘Mapping and Monitoring of Gender Equality in Participation in Political Decisions’. CEID (Gender Equality Monitoring Association). (Access Date, 28.09.2021: http://www.ceidizleme.org/medya/dosya/94.pdf)


Quantitative and qualitative representation in local politics also points to a similar picture.

Use of multiple ballots, free candidacy application for women, in-party trainings etc. to change this negative picture indicated by the data. exists but the most common policy is the gender quota. Studies have calculated that gender quota practices at the parliamentary level increase female representation from 12% to 24%. According to Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) data, as of 2021, 36 of 48 countries have gender quotas. In Tunisia, a law passed in April 2017 stipulated that equal numbers of male and female candidates should be on the party lists. As a result of this law, 47% of the candidates elected in the local elections in May 2018 were women.

The basic affirmative action policy applied by political parties in Turkey has been the gender quota. There is a gender quota application in CHP (Republican People’s Party), HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and IYIP (IYI Party) statutes.

Experiences of Women Politicians and Suggestions for Struggle

One of the main issues underlined by the female politicians interviewed within the scope of the fieldwork of the research was the existence of structural obstacles. According to the research participants, being able to enter politics is an action that requires ‘to have access to economic resources’ and it is not a possibility for women to enter politics if they do not have economic power, ‘do not have money in their pockets to pay for the minibus or gas to fill their car’. For this reason, it is seen that the education level of women in politics is higher, and their age is more advanced compared to men. Moreover, structural inequalities cause women to exert more effort to get where they are. While women are expected to be ‘perfect candidates’, these expectations are less effective in male candidates.

Two more factors related to socioeconomic status stand as an obstacle for women. One of them is age. Women’s entry into politics mostly takes place at an advanced age, during retirement. However, women who enter politics at a younger age are seen as inexperienced both by their colleagues and the society. In addition, being married is considered more acceptable for women than being single. Age and marital status, which are not important variables for male candidates, can be highly determinative for women.

Even if the structural obstacles are overcome, institutional obstacles have a negative effect on women’s participation in politics. In this category, mostly leader-oriented party structures and in-party democracy deficiencies were pointed out. According to one participant, even if a female candidate has access to socioeconomic resources, it is not possible for her to advance in her career if there is no male manager in the party to ‘protect’ her. Male administrators who have a say in candidate lists, distribution of duties within the party and other decision makers are called ‘gate-keepers’ by the relevant literature. Since it is the initiative of these gatekeepers to enroll women from eligible regions and ranks, entry into politics may not be possible even if structural obstacles are overcome. In local politics, on the other hand, with the effect of old-boy network, the obstacles created by gatekeepers are rising. The fact that decision-making processes take place in areas defined as ‘men’s media’, such as ‘either drinking or playing games’ outside of working hours, or that limited, male-dominated teams make decisions with non-democratic methods, cause women to be unable to take initiative even if they are in office.

Cultural obstacles, which can be understood as the expectations created by the male-dominated social structure and the constraints of the political field it shaped, confront women at every stage of politics. Politics is a public business and according to the expectations created by the patriarchal social structure, men belong to the public sphere and women belong to the private sphere, namely the home. This understanding sees politics as men’s business from the very beginning. As one participant stated, even if women prepare the food with all their preparations, they cannot be ‘the person who takes this plate from the kitchen and offers it inside’. The fact that politics is seen as a man’s job has even affected the places. While one participant noticed that the rostrums were too high for the participants wearing skirts while conducting political work, another participant stated that there were no women’s toilets in the party buildings in the districts.

The distinction between the public sphere and the private sphere assumes that women’s basic responsibilities are within the household and accepts that domestic labor and care responsibilities belong only to women. This causes women to carry the burden of domestic labor and to work extra in order to enter the political arena and exist. While one participant stated that he could not get rid of the burden of domestic labor even if he was a deputy, and that the households expected service from him, another participant stated that he could only establish a balance between home and political life by working in a programmed, disciplined and coordinated manner. The temporal and labor costs of being in politics for women are considerably higher than for men.

The basic tool of women to combat all these intertwined and layered obstacles is expressed as their personal determination to struggle, their persistence and not giving up. As a matter of fact, being in the political arena despite these obstacles is actually a sign of the acumen shown.

In order to overcome these obstacles, on the one hand, effective positive action policies must be produced, on the other hand, existing policies must be fully implemented. For example, the application of the gender quota policy not only in the candidate lists but also in the party management levels emerges as a demand. It has been reported that when the quota is not implemented at every stage, the parties avoid the responsibility of ensuring equality in representation through ‘showcase’ female candidates.

Apart from the quota practices, it is striking that the participants have detailed proposals for change, especially regarding the functioning of political parties. Changes in the preparation processes of the candidate lists, women taking a higher place in the candidate lists than men and making changes in the bylaws for this are among the suggestions. Apart from these, it has been suggested that ‘transparency’ especially in local politics will be beneficial in overcoming women’s hesitations to enter the political arena, the introduction of chronometers to prevent women from being interrupted at meetings, gender equality trainings for men in parties, and empowering trainings for female candidate candidates.

The suggestions of the participants show that women analyze the obstacles well and can produce concrete policies to overcome these obstacles. In addition, the fact that the suggestions made in this section mostly point to institutional changes also reveals that women have expectations of change from their parties. The fact that suggestions are presented from a broader perspective than the methods and strategies of tackling obstacles is a promising result regarding the change that women can create in the political arena.


In this research, it has been revealed that women encounter obstacles that are differentiated as structural, institutional and cultural in the literature at every stage of their political life. Despite these obstacles, being able to exist in the political arena is only possible with the persistent attitudes of women. It is understood from both world examples and the suggestions of the participants that there are a series of policies that can be implemented at the level of political parties without waiting for a comprehensive social change to overcome these obstacles. Considering that underrepresentation of the interests of a group that makes up half of the society hinders democratization, it is an urgent need for the public to discuss the obstacles in front of women and what needs to be done to overcome them.

You can find the link to the report here.

Image: New York Times