Turkey’s Election: A New Hope (for Women)

Recent local elections in Turkey breathed fresh air of opportunities into women’s prospects and security. Credit: Dia Images/Getty Images


After over 20 years in power, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was defeated by Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey’s local elections on 31 March 2024. The CHP has the potential to lead Turkey towards a more democratic, secular and pluralistic country, which contrasts with AKP’s past performance.

This defeat represents a significant setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has led the AKP for over two decades. He told AKP executives that this election result represents not only an electoral defeat but also a loss of the party’s soul.

Although CHP and the Goodness Party (İyi Parti) achieved significant victories and took control of several major cities in the local elections, they continue to be part of the opposition parties as AKP obtained majority of votes in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023.

Many former AKP supporters either refrained from voting or switched to opposition parties as a form of protest against the deteriorating conditions in Turkey. The primary problem is the failing economy, with inflation reaching 68.5%. Moreover, increasing gender discrimination and inequality have made Turkish women worried about their future.

Fresh Air for Turkish Women

Turkish women have faced continuous discrimination and oppression from social, structural and institutional actors. Throughout history, issues related to women’s rights have been cynically exploited and utilized as a tactic to shape political discourse in Turkey, with gender-based violence increasing over time.

There were 315 documented cases of women murdered by men and 248 who died under suspicious circumstances throughout 2023 alone. In most cases, the perpetrators were men with close relationships to the victims, such as husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, brothers and even fathers.

There are indicators to suggest that women’s rights have deteriorated in recent years under AKP’s rule, which have led to protests. Notably, since 2019, the party’s anti-genderism act has become increasingly prominent.

This is further evidenced by AKP’s co-optation of radical anti-gender groups that opposed the Istanbul Convention (IC) – which promotes the protection of women from violence – and successfully pressured Erdogan to withdraw Turkey from this important agreement. They argue that IC’s ideology is an imposition of a Western construct that distorts Islamic values.

Other indicators include the abolition of gender-sensitive policies, the annulment of the law on family protection and domestic violence, the legalization of underage marriage as well as the proposal to establish gender-segregated universities.

Difficulties for women living in Turkey are not only experienced by civilians, but also women participating in politics. When AKP won the 2019 local elections, only four female candidates were elected as mayors, whereas only 29 of the 920 regional head seats were filled by women.

However, CHP’s recent victory provides new optimism for women in Turkey, with female candidates winning mayoral seats in 11 provinces (10 from CHP). Cumulatively, women won in 64 out of Turkey’s 922 districts, with the majority of them being opposition party candidates.

The Gender Factor

The longevity of AKP’s rule is due to their strategic approach in attracting women’s votes through the clever use of welfare initiatives, underscoring the party’s expertise in utilizing gender dynamics for political gain. The party recognizes the significant influence of women – especially those from low-income backgrounds – and has actively leveraged this constituency to maintain its political dominance. By providing various social benefits and direct assistance to women, AKP has cultivated a strong dependency, ensuring their continued support.

However, the shift to AKP’s political rival in the recent elections was quite palpable. AKP had the biggest proportion of female voters until the 2018 election, with a turnout rate of 36.8%. Nevertheless, this percentage decreased to 33.8% in a survey conducted in 2020. This is inversely proportional to the results of the CHP vote in the same survey, with an  increase in women’s votes to 23.9%. Furthermore, another survey in 2023 showed that the percentage of AKP’s female supporters had declined to 28.9%.

Some factors that may have contributed to AKP’s declining appeal must be considered.

Gender realignment – or the shift of female voting patterns spurred by modernization, cultural shifts and economic condition – is one possible factor. While Turkish women are traditionally more conservative than men (resulting in their support to center-right parties such as AKP), this shifted in the recent elections, with women supporting more liberal-minded parties. AKP’s rule which constricted women’s freedom could have instigated female voters to weigh more about their rights and access to opportunities.

Housewives’ role must not be dismissed either. Together, they make up a group with significant political weight that also influenced the outcome of the recent elections. They were the largest socio-economic group that supported AKP in 2018 (making up 45.1% of its supporters), though they began to sway to other parties in the 2020 survey (dipping to 41.9%).

Up for Grabs

With AKP losing its appeal to women, a new opportunity opened up to opposition parties to secure the support of female voters through pro-women policies and agenda.

Opposition groups, including CHP and İyi Parti, have expressed support for gender equality and women’s rights. These parties have committed to increasing women’s political involvement, improving access to education and career opportunities. After years of restrictive AKP rule, these obviously presented a bigger opportunity for women not only to have more security in political, economic and social dimensions.

The largest opposition party, CHP, has also vowed to ratify IC, which the AKP administration withdrew from previously, indicating a strong commitment to combating gender-based violence.

The opposition hopes to appeal to women’s rising dissatisfaction with AKP programs and policies by portraying themselves as supporters of gender equality. The 2024 local elections give a significant opportunity for Turkey’s opposition parties to demonstrate their ability to meet women’s pressing demands and concerns.

As the implications of the local elections on Turkey’s political terrain begin to unfurl, it is probable that opposition parties will start to push for reforms. This triumph undoubtedly marks the beginning of the fight for gender equality in Turkey, rather than its ultimate conclusion. The shift in women’s voting patterns is a genuine movement, serving as a means of expressing discontent they have endured during Erdogan’s rule.

The achievement of women’s representation in different cities will also serve as a catalyst for more transformations in other areas, thus promoting a more extensive and universally acknowledged participation of women. The future of Turkish women will be partly determined by the acts and policies of elected female mayors.


Prolonged gender-based discrimination, violence, anti-women issues and deteriorating economic conditions have destabilized AKP’s footing and lost its support from Turkish female voters, who were a significant pillar in the party’s voting base. As a result, they switched their political allegiance and voted for opposition parties. As explained above, gender realignment and the power of the housewives must also be considered as two significant factors that influenced the outcome of the recent local elections. While this is seen as a promising development for women’s rights and gender equality, a long and winding road is charted ahead for the victors who must prioritize performance over politicking.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

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