Turkish Women Raise Voice for Secularism

June 5, 2007

Author: Emma Ross-Thomas

Source: Dawn

Wire Service: Reuters


ISTANBUL: Turkish women are on the street protesting as never before as the fight to preserve Turkey’s secular status gives them a louder political voice that could translate into parliamentary seats in this summer’s elections.

Women have dominated recent rallies in Turkish cities against the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, fearful of what the party might do if, as expected, it wins another big majority.

“I don’t trust these people. They want to make Turkey like Iran,” said Nilufer Celik, a 42-year-old marketing director, referring to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

“We won’t be able to dress as we want,” said Celik. She said she had never been to a demonstration in her life until she attended a million-strong secularist rally in Istanbul in April, and has cancelled holiday plans to vote in the July 22 poll.

That was brought forward amid a clash between the AK Party and the secular establishment over Turkey’s next president.

Turkish women won the full right to vote under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, revered founder of the modern secular Turkish Republic, in 1934. By 1935 they accounted for 4.6 per cent of deputies — the highest proportion ever, just ahead of a current 4.4 per cent.

“This election will be the year that brings women into parliament ... Now it’s 4.4 per cent, perhaps afterwards there will be 10.4 per cent, or 14.4 per cent,” said Canan Guller, head of the Federation of Women’s Associations.