Politics at the local government level: How much of it is ‘’For Women’’?

Politics at the local government level:  How much of it is ‘’For Women’’?

May 2014

Unlike those passed in 2005 and 2006, the recently enacted law concerning local governments, titled the Whole City Law (Law N. 6360), does not constitute a genuinely significant or needed legislative change. The law declared 16 metropolitan cities and 13 cities where a total of 56 million citizens live as ‘’whole cities” without any prior preparation toward such a transformation. With this law, which brings very extensive centralization within the provinces while rendering the latter more dependent on the center, the geographical service domains of the 29 municipalities that will become ‘’whole cities’’ have increased by more than three or four times.

 

Boroughs are now comprised of towns and villages that were hitherto outside their boundaries. From the 2,950 existing municipalities, 1,580 are now being closed. More than 15,000 villages will become mere districts. The functional units providing services to the villages and the special provincial administrations are in the process of being dissolved. In those provinces now made “whole cities,” the responsibility to provide services to rural areas has been placed on metropolitan municipalities, on municipalities and on some central government agencies not yet identified.

 

The powers of borough municipalities have been diminished; for example, the right to determine base station locations has been transferred to metropolitan municipalities. In line with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the towns’ inhabitants should have at least been consulted on whether their municipalities should be closed while such vast changes were being made. Yet, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not feel the need to ask the people whether they wanted this change. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), however, has conducted referendums through its own organization in towns whose municipalities are being closed. The participation rate was 54 percent of total registered voters, with 98 percent of these saying, “Our municipality must not be closed!”

 

To what extent were women taken into consideration?

What the “whole city” law means for women and what consequences it will bring for them has not yet been examined or discussed. In this respect, we can see a repetition of what happened when the boundaries of metropolitan municipalities were enlarged through a system called the compass method in 2005 and 2006. But for women, town municipalities are places in the vicinity or in the immediate neighborhood; whereas in Turkey, borough and metropolitan municipalities are far away and difficult to reach. For example, in places like Ankara and İzmir the journey can take more than one and a half or two hours. Reaching these municipalities requires certain expenditures and staying away from home for a long time. Moreover, it involves either getting permission from or overcoming one’s dependency on the man of the family in order to deal with an issue at the municipality.

Which women will be elected in the “whole city?”

In the 2014 local elections there will be a noteworthy increase in the proportion of female council members. But , the question is: will women serving on the municipal councils of town municipalities set to be closed as part of the change or those on the municipal councils of metropolitan municipalities in provinces scheduled to be turned into “whole cities” be able to preserve their place in politics? In my opinion, the female council members of town municipalities set to be closed have little chance of being elected to borough and municipal councils. The chances of the existing women continuing to serve as metropolitan municipality council members will also diminish. This is firstly because, at present, the proportion of women in the Provincial General Councils is lower than in municipal councils, meaning women are less represented on the provincial scale. Secondly, in places with large rural areas and mountain villages, Provincial General Council members are generally men. (During the 2011 General Elections when I was a candidate for Parliament, I personally observed that even in İzmir, where women are very present in so many areas of life, the Provincial General Council members of boroughs with large rural areas and many mountain villages were largely men.)

Can local governments be for “equal and free human beings?”

The lives of women and men differ.  Even when they have the same education, job and status large domains like family responsibilities and the differentiation of social life are full of unevenness in regards to roles and tasks. Obviously what is dangerous here are not the differences, but their transformations into instances of inequality as a result of gender-based roles.

Local governments constitute a critical area in this respect. Failing to take into consideration women’s needs in the preparation and delivery of services causes a serious inequality in the shape of an uneven utilization of services and resources by women. It perpetuates or deepens the existing inequalities. Services that address women’s needs such as centers for combating violence against women, laundries and more are clearly important. But planning and implementing services without taking into consideration women’s access and use is the more common approach. For example, if features such as timetables and transportation means are not planned in such a way as to make one’s return from work safe female employment is affected. The dust and mud of unpaved roads mean additional housework. Planning parks and sports facilities without considering women’s needs means that women cannot benefit equally from leisure, rest and healthy life opportunities. Also, if some services like those in the area of care are lacking, it is women who must fill the gap. In Turkey, where there are more than 12 million housewives, the reality is that a majority of women must stay home to look after children, the elderly and the handicapped. The result is that in any case women are restricted in their participation of life. If we want women to become “equal and free human beings” we have to consider local governments in a new light and also ensure there are women’s representatives defending their needs in the decision making and implementation processes.

To conclude: CHP’s success at local elections is of critical importance

With respect to her level of development, Turkey is seriously lagging behind in terms of equality between women and men in international classifications. One of the main reasons for this is the low employment rate of women. The second reason is the limited presence of women in political life. In the 2011 general elections, women’s rate of representation in Parliament rose to 14.2 percent. Although this is an improvement, it is not sufficient.  In the 2014 local elections, even if we increase the representation rate of women by 100 percent, we will still not reach the level of 10 percent. Therefore, implementing the quota system in candidate lists is becoming much more important under these circumstances. In accordance with the CHP’s new constitution, 33 percent of the candidates should consititute  women. Thus, the CHP’s electoral success in the forthcoming local elections will be of critical importance from the viewpoint of women’s representation in the area of local government.

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