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Women Pushing for Increased Representation in Turkey


Seventy years ago, Turkey was one of the first countries to give women the vote. Seven decades later, there is only one woman in Turkey's 20-member parliament. From Istanbul, Dorian Jones reports on a new initiative to build women's political power.

Didem Engin is not your typical Turkish politician. For one thing Engin is only 30 years old. She is also a woman.

Engin says the days of women having only five percent of the seats in parliament have to end.

"Once we are going to have more and more women in parliament, I believe the rights of the women have to be much more discussed in the parliament," siad Engin.

Kader, a non-partisan group, wants to put more women in parliament. Nuket Sirman is one of the founders of Kader. She says the members of the organization came up with what they think is a winning slogan to promote their cause.

"We took out mustaches and stuck them on our faces, and the slogan was, is a mustache necessary, in other words do you have to be a man to go into parliament," said Sirman.

Kader took the idea a step further. The group persuaded many of Turkey's most powerful women, including pop stars and business leaders, to don mustaches, to highlight the male domination of parliament. The media ran with the story. Soon Turks were seeing famous women wearing mustaches on television and in newspapers and magazines. Sirman says the publicity campaign has struck a chord.

"For the first time in the elections you had huge numbers of women, going to political parties and asking to become candidates," said Sirman. "Of course this is very very difficult because most political parties demand enormous sums of money from candidates and, of course, women are not the richest people in this country. So that is a very big problem."

And, it is not the only problem. All Turkish party leaders are men. It has been difficult for women to be taken seriously. One exception may be Neval Sevindi. She is first on her party's list of candidates in Istanbul. Sevendi says her position has raised eyebrows among her male colleagues.

"When are politicians inside our party, look at me, oh you are women," said Sevindi. "How you get first [laughs] and I have to be strong, but I don't want to change my women identity because I want to show new role model."

The coffee shop is one of Turkey's male domain's. It is traditionally a place where men go to escape their wives and enjoy a game of dominos or cards. But the men here say they support female candidates. Taxi driver Metin Demir says he is disappointed few women are running for office. this year.

He says the most of his countrymen support equality. But, he says women must work hard to see it becomes a reality

During her campaign, Didem Engin has met a lot of Turkish men, who share the opinion of that taxi driver. In fact, Engin thinks people are ahead of the politicians when it comes to women having power.

"I believe that there is much more and more role for the leaders of the party to support women and bring them to the parliament, because Turkish society likes to see women acting," saidn Engin. "We had a women prime minister. When we are talking to people in the street, they really want to see women and young persons, so I believe Turkish society is really supporting women."

This Sunday's election appears likely to justify Engin's optimism, as political analylsts are predicting that the next parliament could see a near tripling of women deputies. Advocates of Turkish women's rights hope that this will pave the way to their voices being increasingly heard in Turkish politics.

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