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Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Third Presidential Victory: Implications for Women in Turkey

In Turkey's most recent elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won in a nail-biting runoff, defeating his fellow opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. According to its electoral database with approximately 99.43% of the votes counted, preliminary official results announced by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) on Sunday showed Erdogan winning with 52.14% of the votes. Kilicdaroglu on the other hand suffered defeat with only receiving 47.86% of all votes. After winning the election, Erdogan proceeded to give statements based on the elections, stating the need to “put aside all the debates and conflicts regarding the election period and unite around our national goals and dreams.” He also said, “We are not the only winners, the winner is Turkey. The winner is all parts of our society, our democracy is the winner.” But after this long-standing battle for the win, how does this affect the general population for everyone, more specifically women residing in Turkey? This situation seems extremely split, and this is coming to terms with a largely conservative and religious majority of women supporting Erdogan throughout the presidential race.


Turkey’s History in 1923

In 1923, Turkey was established as a secular nation, granting the government authority over religious institutions and restricting overt religious displays in public life. While secularism was valued by some as a fundamental principle of the republic, it stirred discontent among devout individuals, particularly women who believed it marginalized them. For example, some women were required to remove their headscarves to access education, while others resorted to wearing wigs.


Ever since Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged as a prominent Islamist politician in 2003, he has marginalized Turkey's secular elites and concentrated more authority in his own hands. In the process, he advocated for the relaxation of restrictions on wearing headscarves. These restrictions were lifted on university campuses in 2008, and in 2013, four veiled women from Erdogan's party were elected as members of Parliament, marking a significant milestone. Since then, the number of veiled women in political positions has increased considerably, and conservative voters continue to show their support for Erdogan as an expression of gratitude. This gratitude, however, has followed him up until the recent elections with traditional women with Islamic faith continuing to support Erdogan and his actions.


Marginalization of Women

However, what does this mean for other women? Specifically, those gearing away from religion or more focused on the gender equality that one wishes to possess outside of religious faith. Under Erdogan's leadership, there has been an occurrence of policies and actions that have raised concerns about their impact on women's rights and gender equality in Turkey, mostly due to his religious faith which is viewed to go against modern feminism.


Starting off, Erdogan executed mass incarceration and public arrests of women's rights groups, with most police crackdowns including dozens of arrests on feminist groups. A strong example of this involves the situation in Diyarbakir, Turkey, where there have been reports of the arbitrary arrest of women's rights defenders, as highlighted in a recent article by FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) in Europe and Central Asia. According to the article, women's rights defenders in Diyarbakir, a city in southeastern Turkey, have faced unpredictable arrests. The arrests have raised concerns about the violation of human rights, particularly freedom of expression and association.


Another event would be the erosion of reproductive rights for women, when in 2012 under the leadership of Erdogan, a strict law was passed in the country that restricted access to abortion by imposing new requirements and procedures. This law was officially called the "Amendment to the Law on Family Planning, Population, and Health.". One of the restrictions implemented included stricter gestational limits. While the previous law allowed abortions to be performed up to 10 weeks of gestation, the new law reduced this limit to 10 weeks earlier unless the pregnancy posed a threat to the life or health of the pregnant person. This specific policy can have challenging effects since the criteria for determining such exceptions were not clearly defined, leaving room for discretion and potential challenges in accessing abortion services in critical situations. Following this policy, there were severe limits on the implementation of this law which raised concerns about its potential impact on women's access to safe and legal abortions. Critics, for example, from the World Health Organization (WHO), argued that the law created bureaucratic hurdles, delays, and increased costs, making it more difficult for women to exercise their reproductive rights. According to Amnesty, an international statement had records of the WHO indicating based on this policy passed in Turkey that “the more restrictive legislation on abortion [is], the more likely abortion [is] to be unsafe and to result in death.”


There was also another event that occurred in 2011 which was again under the presidency of Erdogan, which some people detail as a “public hate crime”. In this, the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty aimed at preventing violence against women and domestic violence, was pulled back by the Turkish government in 2011. Turkey was the first country to ratify the agreement, which is named after Istanbul, the country's commercial center. Regrettably, however, it is also the first and only country to withdraw from the convention, distinguishing itself from the rest. Following the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, Turkey has experienced a notable rise in femicides. Ever since the country’s discontinuation, We Will Stop Femicides, an organization that collects data from news reports and victims' families, reported a minimum of 334 femicides and 245 suspicious deaths of women (potentially disguised as suicides or accidents) in 2022. These figures indicate a total of 579 deaths, representing a 16% increase compared to 2021, which had 497 cases. Even in 2020, there were an estimated 470 femicides, further highlighting the upward trend in such tragic incidents. So far in 2023, there has been a total of 165 femicides and suspicious deaths of women.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the re-election of Erdogan for a third consecutive term has resulted in a firm consolidation of power in Turkey. With his extensive background and history in Turkish politics regarding women's rights, the country's future remains uncertain for its citizens. While Erdogan enjoys support from the conservative segment of Turkish society, millions of women and individuals identifying with the LGBTQ+ community are now facing the prospect of another five years under a government that has previously imposed restrictive measures on these marginalized groups. The outcome of this continuation raises concerns about the rights and freedoms of these individuals for the coming years.



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