Turkey is heading to the polls on Sunday for presidential and parliamentary elections that could have a significant impact on women’s rights in the country. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power since 2003, is facing a tight race against a united opposition that has vowed to reverse his authoritarian policies and restore democracy and human rights.
Women’s rights activists have been among the most vocal critics of Erdoğan’s government, accusing him of trying to roll back the hard-won gains of Turkish women, including removing legal protections against gender-based violence, severely limiting access to abortion, and promoting a conservative and patriarchal vision of women’s role in society.
Erdoğan has also faced backlash for withdrawing Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, a landmark treaty that aims to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The move sparked nationwide protests by women’s groups and opposition parties, who said it would leave millions of women vulnerable to abuse.
According to the World Economic Forum, Turkey ranks 133rd out of 156 countries in terms of gender equality, with low scores on women’s political empowerment, economic participation, and educational attainment. Women also face high rates of domestic violence, femicide, child marriage, and sexual harassment in Turkey.
Despite these challenges, women have been at the forefront of social movements and political campaigns in Turkey, demanding more representation and participation in decision-making processes. Polling shows that most Turks want more women involved in politics, but their underrepresentation continues.
In the upcoming elections, only four parties out of 11 have nominated more than 30 percent of women candidates for parliament, which is the minimum quota recommended by the United Nations. The Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP) has the highest proportion of female candidates at 40.5 percent, followed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at 37.5 percent.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has selected 156 women out of its 600 candidates, or 26 percent. However, only 11 of them are ranked first on the party lists in their electoral districts, which means they have a higher chance of winning a seat. President Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has nominated 113 women out of its 600 candidates, or 18.8 percent. Only four of them are ranked first on the party lists.
Some NGOs have been trying to boost female participation in politics by identifying and supporting potential women candidates from different backgrounds and ideologies.