This Day in World History
February 6, 1935
Turkey Holds First Election That Allows Women to Vote
On February 6, 1935, the women of Turkey were allowed to vote in national elections for the first time. Women were even allowed to stand for office — and eighteen female candidates were elected to Turkey’s parliament.
The radical reform was part of Kemal Mustafa Ataturk’s effort to secularize and modernize Turkish society. Ataturk, a military officer, led a movement that took control of Turkey in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after its defeat in World War I. Ataturk was committed to westernizing Turkish society, as evidenced by his adoption of German business laws, Italian criminal laws, and Swiss civil laws. One of the hallmarks of his effort was to recognize the rights of women. They were allowed to vote and run for local office in 1930. A law from December of 1934 expanded these rights to include national parliamentary elections.
That as many as eighteen women were elected to the parliament in the first election is a bit deceptive. In the early republic, when Ataturk ran a one-party state, his party picked all candidates. A small percentage of seats were set aside for women, so naturally those female candidates won. When multi-party elections began in the 1940s, the share of women in the legislature fell, and the 4% share of parliamentary seats gained in 1935 was not reached again until 1999. In the parliament of 2011, women hold about 9% of the seats. Nevertheless, Turkish women gained the right to vote a decade or more before women in such Western European countries as France, Italy, and Belgium — a mark of Ataturk’s far-reaching social changes.