Few eyebrows were raised when the north’s ‘prime minister’ Unal Ustel made his latest cabinet reshuffle on August 11.
It had been expected for some time that he would banish Hasan Tacoy, who had been openly touting himself for a leadership challenge in recent weeks, to the back benches.
This is how it proved to be, with Tacoy turfed out of the ‘labour ministry’ and replaced by Sadik Gardiyanoglu. However, it was another piece of the reshuffle’s jigsaw puzzle which caught the eye of at least half the Turkish Cypriot population.
Izlem Gurcag Altugra had been the north’s only female ‘minister’ since being appointed as ‘health minister’ in May last year. She also found herself a casualty of Ustel’s latest reshuffle, being replaced by Hakan Dincyurek.
Dincyurek is a doctor, and his credentials for the role of ‘health minister’ are undoubtable, but his appointment to the role of ‘health minister’ leaves the north’s cabinet totally male.
This much was underlined with a jarring photograph published of 11 men sat around the north’s cabinet table, with the only real diversity between them coming in the colours of their ties.
In light of this, we asked Turkish Cypriot women what they made of this new all-male cabinet.
Cagin works in marketing and said: “It’s a classic case of patriarchy at this stage. Even though female representation increased after the last election [in January 2022], there is no change in the cabinet structure”.
She added that even though she personally disagrees with many of Altugra’s political opinions, “she is a woman. She had been at that high level position for such a time that she could have inspired other women”.
Ayse, a theatre student, agreed, saying “male supremacy never changes, especially in politics. They don’t trust women to make decisions”.
Marin, a recent sociology graduate, took the issue further. She said, “it just feels to me like it’s the same people taking turns, and people got so used to little or no change that the fact it’s an all-male cabinet is just overlooked”.
None of the women I spoke to said they felt represented by the new cabinet.
As for the root cause of the lack of female representation at the top of Turkish Cypriot politics, translation student Tanem said “the world overall is so male dominated that it reflects in politics. Some people think women are incapable of making decisions”.
Marin agreed saying “I see these offices more as reflections of our society and I think it would still to this day make a lot of people very uncomfortable to have women in these higher ranks”.
She added, “it goes back to the issue of being afraid of change in Cyprus, so we talk about the same problems, propose the same solutions, and end up essentially having the same people in charge”.
Cagin also put the lack of female representation down to the general role of women in Cypriot society. She said women end up “being a wife, a mother of their children and the mother of their husband and the whole family. Cypriot women look after every family member regardless of age”.
Barista Selen said methods need to be developed to encourage women to enter politics. “Some women may be put off by the current male dominance,” she said.
Tanem agreed, saying “women should be encouraged to get into politics and make their voices heard. We as women should not back off from sharing our ideas and we should fight for the right to represent ourselves”.
“I don’t have any ideas at this point,” Ayse said. “We’ve all given up. The system won’t change”.
Cagin suggested strengthening childcare services to allow more women to re-enter the workforce, as well as improving healthcare services so women do not have to stop working to care for their loved ones should they become old or sick.
She also once again made the point that the number of female ‘MPs’ in the north increased at the last election, offering encouragement for the future. There are currently 11 female Turkish Cypriot ‘MPs’ out of a total of 50 – more than the eight out of 56 in the Republic.
Despite this, she affirmed, “it’s not enough”.