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Elections saw the number of female mayors nearly triple to 11 out of the 81 provinces. Sonuk, representing the pro-Kurdish DEM party, attributed the victory to a resounding statement on gender equality and the rejection of male chauvinism

In a historic electoral outcome, Gulistan Sonuk, 31, emerged victorious in Turkey’s conservative heartland over the weekend, marking a significant shift in the country’s political landscape. Sonuk’s win, along with those of other newly elected women mayors, dealt a notable blow to President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and its allies.

The nationwide local elections saw the number of female mayors nearly triple to 11 out of the 81 provinces, with five women assuming leadership roles in major urban centers. Sonuk, representing the pro-Kurdish DEM party, attributed the victory to a resounding statement on gender equality and the rejection of male chauvinism.

Reflecting on the election dynamics, Sonuk emphasized the stark contrast between competing mentalities—one advocating for women’s freedom and equality, while the other perpetuated a second-class status for women. The electorate’s choice, she noted, overwhelmingly favored the latter.

Securing nearly 65% of the vote in the eastern province of Batman, Sonuk surpassed her closest competitor, Serkan Ramanli of the Kurdish-Islamist Huda-Par party—an ally of Erdogan’s government in parliament. Following her victory, supporters echoed the Kurdish revolutionary slogan, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Sonuk highlighted the significance of her win against entrenched gender biases, noting that her opponent did not view her as a serious contender simply because of her gender. She expressed pride in overcoming such obstacles and affirmed her commitment to representing her constituents with dedication and integrity.

The vote marked Erdogan and his ruling AKP’s worst defeat in their more than two decades in power, with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) claiming mayoralities in most of the major cities and winning over
several central provinces.

Ten of the 11 female mayors were from opposition parties, and of those, they won nearly 53% of the vote on average, Women’s Platform for Equality (ESIK) data shows. Only four female mayors were elected in the last local vote in 2019.

Of Turkey’s 922 districts, women won 64 according to unofficial results – with most from the CHP or DEM.

GENDER GAP
The rising female political representation comes as government critics say women’s rights have regressed in recent years under Erdogan’s rule, charges Ankara denies.

Turkey in 2021 pulled out of the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty combating gender-based violence, on grounds that it threatens family values and that local laws were sufficient.

“Although the gender gap is still a major issue, the latest local elections show an important increase in the number of female candidates, which in turn resulted in a higher number of women winning,” said Gulnur Kocapinar, assistant professor at Yeditepe University in Istanbul.

“Once parties nominate female candidates more, and provide them with similar opportunities as male candidates, they may also have significant public support,” she said.

Analysts said voters punished the AKP primarily over the cost of living with inflation nearing 70%.
One surprise result was in Istanbul’s Uskudar, Erdogan’s mostly conservative home district, which ditched its AKP leader and elected the CHP’s Sinem Dedetas, 43, a marine engineer who becomes its first female mayor.

Feyza Akinerdem, a sociologist and the founder of ZFA Research and Consultancy, who studied Uskudar on the city’s Asian side, said it was ready for a “female mayor who embraces its unique values”.

“Contrary to general opinion, Uskudar is not the capital of strict conservatism, but rather of inclusive spirituality and shared cultural belonging,” she said.

With inputs from Reuters

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