Mona Tajali

Assistant Professor of International Relations and Women’s Studies at Agnes Scott College in Georgia

From ‘Foot Soldiers’ to ‘Aspiring Leaders’: Women and Politics in Turkey

Women in a number of Muslim majority countries compose highly politicized and mobilized sections of their societies, which is apparent from women’s high rates of voter turnout, engagement in voter-recruitment, and participation in mass demonstrations and campaigning efforts. Despite women’s high rates of political participation, their representation in high-level political decision-making positions, such as the parliaments and local governments, remains low. Women’s marginalization is because of various obstacles, including among them, the discriminatory actions and attitudes of male party leaders. Recognizing that party leaders continue to limit women’s political roles to mere voters or voter recruiters in support of the ruling elites and parties, this paper argues that increasingly women activists across the political spectrum are publicly demanding equal access to political decision-making.
Based on extensive field data and ethnographic research in Turkey as case studies, this presentation highlights women’s campaigning efforts in publicly shaming parties that exclude women from formal politics, including the Islamic conservative ruling parties of their contexts. Through a careful comparative analysis of women’s organizing efforts during major recent elections, it examines the different ways women activists—from inside and outside of party structures—assess and try to benefit from political opportunities that arise in their context, including through the utilization of the internet and mass media. This presentation sheds light onto the evolution of women’s conceptions of their political roles and status within religious political movements and the implications of such internally driven transformations may have on gender roles in the larger society.
Mona Tajali is Assistant Professor of International Relations and Women’s Studies at Agnes Scott College in Georgia. Prior to that she was a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University in Middle East Studies. Her current book manuscript focuses on the intersections of political and institutional structures, religious and cultural norms and values, and voter behavior in terms of women’s political representation and the quality of democracy in Muslim contexts, with comparative focus on Iran and Turkey. In 2015 she received the Best Dissertation Award of APSA’s Women and Politics Section for her ethnographic research on gender and politics in Iran and Turkey.