A record 96 women have won seats in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly in Sunday’s elections, bringing the amount of female deputies to a historic high of 17 percent, compared with 14 percent after the 2011 elections. One of those women is Dilek Öcalan, niece of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed founder of the Kurdish separatist party (PKK). Dilek Öcalan’s party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP), has cut into the vote of president Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) in Kurdish regions. The HDP is the first pro-Kurdish party to achieve more than 10 percent of the national vote (the threshold for parliamentary representation), while the conservative AKP failed to amass the required seats to form a majority government. The leftist HDP campaigned on issues such as raising the minimum wage, improving access to university education, and on a platform of gender equality, promising to create a ministry of women and make International Women’s Day a national holiday. They have several policies in place to increase women’s political participation: a near-50 percent quota for female candidates and 10 percent quota for LGBT candidates. Almost half of their candidates, and 31 of their 80 elected MPs, were women. Another one of the party’s notable female MPs includes Leyla Zana, a Kurdish politician who spent 10 years in jail after she was deemed to be “against the unity of the country” because of her political activism. Zana was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Grand National Assembly in 1991, causing controversy by speaking in Kurdish at her swearing-in, since at the time, it was still illegal to speak Kurdish in public (and up until that year, even in private).
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