Women’s mayoral wins signal change in Turkey’s politics 

Women’s mayoral wins signal change in Turkey’s politics 

Written by Leila Hawkins

Photo: 2024 local election celebration, Istanbul, Turkey / Mehmet Sümer

  • The number of female mayors has tripled in Turkey following local elections, rising from four to 11
  • The 2024 local elections saw a higher number of women candidates compared to previous years
  • Erdogan’s AK Party experienced biggest losses since taking power

The number of female mayors in Turkey has almost tripled following the country’s local elections on March 31. There are now 11 female mayors, up from four elected in the last local polls in 2019. 

Women won in 64 of Turkey’s 922 districts according to unofficial results, with most votes going to the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) or the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM). 

The result is a blow for President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which suffered its worst defeat since taking power in 2002. The CHP won in most of the major cities, including Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul, as well as several provinces. 

Among the successful candidates is Gulistan Sonuk of the pro-Kurdish DEM party, who becomes co-mayor of Batman, a conservative city in the south east of Turkey that has been plagued by the alleged suicides of hundreds of women over the years, which women’s rights campaigners believe to be honour killings. Sonuk’s party took 64.52% of the vote, and has called the result a vote for women’s freedom. 

The district of Uskudar in Istanbul, a conservative area and Erdogan’s home district, went to Sinem Dedetas of the CHP. 

Türkan Kayır, a Syriac woman of the DEM party, will become co-mayor of Azakh in south east Turkey alongside running mate Doğan Adıbelli after winning 71.27% of the votes. The last time the town had a Syriac mayor was in 1979. 

Meanwhile 22-year-old Zeynep Celik, running as an independent, will be the youngest female mayor in Turkey after securing the majority of the vote in Kalkım Town, in the western district of Yenice. 

Women in Turkey’s political sphere

The increase from four to 11 female mayors may seem small, but is a significant step forward. The 2024 local elections saw a higher number of women candidates compared to previous years, resulting in a greater number of female winners. 

According to the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum, only 17% of parliamentarians in Turkey are women. 

Women’s rights have been backsliding in recent years. In 2020 President Erdogan announced the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, the European treaty that seeks to prevent violence against women and girls. Turkey was the first country to ratify it, and to date is also the only country to withdraw from it. 

The decision to withdraw from the treaty led to nationwide protests in a country where the rate of femicides has been increasing year-on-year, with at least 403 women killed in 2023 by a partner or former partner. Women’s rights campaigners attribute the deaths to a lack of protections for women by law, as well as inadequate policies and services like shelters and telephone hotlines. 

As Turkey grapples with the challenges of a marked regression in women’s rights, draconian clampdowns on freedom of expression and steep rates of inflation, the latest election results show that the population is ready for change. 


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