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Gender-Oriented Institutional Transformations in Local Governments: The Case of Diyarbakır

This blog entry is part of the series "Gendered Aspects of Peace and War in Turkey".

Published onOct 31, 2022
Gender-Oriented Institutional Transformations in Local Governments: The Case of Diyarbakır

Gender-Oriented Institutional Transformations in Local Governments: The Case of Diyarbakır


 Translated by: Meral CAMCI

The Kurdish Women's Movement (KWM) is one of the founding actors of mainstream Kurdish politics today, both at the level of ideological-political identity, and institutional structuring and social mobilization. Kurdish women mobilized for “national liberation” in the 1990s have also struggled with gender inequalities over time. They expanded, deepened and diversified the areas opened around the national issue. They have transformed themselves and mainstream Kurdish politics. [1]

Local governments are at the forefront of the areas where this “conflicting transformation” is reflected and reproduced. This article focuses on the period when the co-presidency system started and examines gender-oriented institutional transformations in municipalities through the example of Diyarbakır.

Local Governments and Kurdish Peace

Local governments have a critical state in ensuring Kurdish peace for at least three reasons. The first reason is that, with the 1990s, mainstream Kurdish politics underwent significant transformations in which local governments were at the center. After the forced migration in the 1990s, the center of Kurdish objection shifted from the countryside to the cities. This urbanization process has accelerated with the experience of local government, which started in 1999 and continued until the appointment of trustees in 2016, by expanding and deepening. Along with the local governments, the place of legal institutions within the Kurdish objection expanded and their power increased. Along with the potentialities of local power, there was a remarkable revival in the field of civil society. Finally, mainstream Kurdish politics has been institutionalized in the sense of its capacity to build and disseminate accepted common rules. [2] As a matter of fact, with the dynamics of urbanization, legalization and institutionalization, the hegemony of mainstream Kurdish politics in the Kurdish geography both expanded and deepened.

The second reason is that power sharing constitutes one of the most critical topics in the formation of identity-based territorial conflicts. [3] For example, in 71 of the 101 agreements signed between states and rebels in the 1975-2021 period for the resolution of territorial conflicts, territorial arrangements were made on topics such as independence, federation, autonomy, strengthening local governments, increasing the powers of municipalities, and expanding cultural rights. [4] When the discussions in the negotiation processes between 1999-2015 are examined, it can be said that the most likely form of power sharing in ensuring Kurdish peace is the strengthening of local governments. [5]

The third reason is that local governments have an important place and role in building positive peace. As discussed in the first of the blog series, [6] peacebuilding involves a social transformation beyond the end of violence, it requires a multi-layered and multi-actor social mobilization.[7] It includes ending cultural and structural violence beyond direct violence.[8] The local power of mainstream Kurdish politics directly contributed to the reduction of violence by showing the possibility of a political solution and the functionality of civil-democratic political tools. As a matter of fact, peace processes aimed at ending the Kurdish conflict took place in the 1999-2015 period. In addition, local governments contributed to the reduction of structural violence through the efforts to eliminate class, ethnic/national and gender-based inequalities in the context of the Kurdish issue, and of cultural violence by producing social consent for the legitimacy of peace with pluralist and egalitarian identity policies. [9]

Under the leadership of Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality (DMM), gender-oriented transformations took place in four areas in municipalities where mainstream Kurdish politics is in power:

• Co-presidency and representation of women

• Gender equality studies in the municipal council

• Transformations in the municipal bureaucracy

• Gender-sensitive strategic planning and budgeting


Co-presidency and Representation of Women

With the strengthening of the KWM, the representation of women in local governments increased. The most visible area of this change was the co-mayorship. In the 1999 elections, when the local administration experience of the mainstream Kurdish politics began, only 3 district mayors out of 37 municipalities, one metropolitan and six provincial, were women. This number increased to 9 in 2004 and to 15 in 2009. [10]

Mainstream Kurdish politics, which adopted the co-presidency system with the establishment of the Democratic Society Party in 2005, brought it to the municipalities in the 2014 local elections. Since co-presidency is not included in the legislation, the person who was elected as a member of the municipal council in the first place became the co-mayor. Mainstream Kurdish politics conducted election campaigns with co-candidates won elections in 96 of the 102 municipalities, including 3 metropolitan and 8 provincial municipalities. [11] In Diyarbakır, Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı won the election as co-mayors.

Conversions in the Municipal Council

With the co-presidency system, the representation of women in municipal councils increased. According to the Gender Equality Scorecard research prepared by the Turkish Economic Policy Foundation in 2018, the four provinces with the highest rate of women in metropolitan and district municipal councils were Diyarbakır (26.77%), Van (25.25%), Mardin (22.22%) and Hakkari (21.70%) where the mainstream Kurdish politics were in power. In Turkey's three largest cities, İstanbul, İzmir and Ankara, the proportion of women was 17.06%, 18.70% and 14.67%, respectively. [12] In the same period, 22 of the 92 members of the DMM Assembly were from the AKP (Justice and Development Party), one from the CHP (Republican People’s Party), and the remaining 69 members from the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party). While all AKP and CHP members were male, 22 (31.88%) of 69 BDP candidates were female. [13]

Another important innovation in the representation of women was the Women's Group. Consisting of female co-mayors and elected women, this group worked in the municipal council with a focus on gender equality and women's freedom, and carried out activities in coordination with the works of the council.

The Women's Commission and the Gender Equality Commission were another arrangements made in the context of representation. These structures, on one hand, constituting two of the 14 thematic commissions within the parliament, carried out activities on gender equality within the parliamentary work, [14] on the other hand, they acted as a bridge between the gender-oriented NGOs in the city, the city council and the bureaucracy.

Innovations in Municipal Bureaucracy

In addition to the council, important arrangements were made within the municipal bureaucracy. Firstly, the number of executive women in the municipality was increased. Until 2014, only 2 of the 15 department heads were women in DMM. On the other hand, after the 2014 local elections, 5 of the 20 department heads were women. These women-led service units were women's policies, social services, human resources and education, resource development, and cultural heritage and tourism departments. The representation of women in the general secretariat, which is responsible for the execution and coordination of service units, also increased during this period. While the general secretary and two assistants were men before 2014, the number of assistant general secretaries was increased to three in the following period, with the appointment of a female manager. [15] Although it was aimed to increase the rate of female managers in administrative positions to 50% during this period, this rate remained at 20%.[16] However, considering that 400 (11.92%) of the total 3356 personnel in the metropolitan municipality were women, the fact that the rate of women in management levels reached 20% represented a significant transformation.

Secondly, the Department of Women's Policies was established. With this department, a unit with a unique budget and organizational structure was formed, working in the field of gender equality and women's freedom, with the same status as other main service units. In addition, the aims and objectives of the unit and its institutional structure were determined through discussions with the KWM in the city, as well as with gender-focused NGOs.

DİKASUM (Diyarbakır Women's Issues Research and Application Center) Branch Office, Combating Violence Against Women Branch Office and Women's Economy Development Branch Office were established within the Women's Policies Department. In addition, the Violence against Women Hotline and First Step Station were established. [17] Similar units created in the DMM were later established in other municipalities governed by mainstream Kurdish politics.

Finally, it is necessary to mention the Women's Council and the Women's Policies Coordination Board. It was aimed to increase the participation of women in the management processes with the Women's Council, which was formed with the participation of women who are members of the municipal council and women who work, and which cuts the service units on a horizontal plane. [18] On the other hand, the Women's Policies Coordination Board was formed and its regulation was prepared “in order to ensure commonality on basic political goals and to create interaction environments between the main service units”.[19]

In this period, although it was aimed to establish the Gender Equality Unit and the Gender Equality Impact Assessment Board, this target was not achieved. [20]

Gender Responsive Strategic Planning and Budgeting

Strategic planning and budgeting constitute another critical issue within the scope of gender-focused transformations. The 2015-2019 Strategic Plan was gender responsive in terms of process and scope. The plan was prepared with a “process-oriented” approach, emphasizing participation, dialogue and negotiation. The Strategic Plan Working Group, consisting of unit representatives, managed the planning process which included 188 meetings and the participation of nearly 11,000 people. The Strategy Development Branch Manager, one of the two people leading the process, was a woman. There were also 9 women in the working group consisting of 27 members. [21]

One of the three thematic forums held during the preparation of the “election bulletin”, which was considered as one of the six main sources of information in the planning process, was on gender. In addition, Jin-Jiyan (Women-Life) Forum was one of the 15 thematic forums attended by 1547 people, for the inclusion of civil society actors in the strategic planning process.

When the Strategic Plan is examined in terms of content, at least five important issues in terms of gender can be highlightedin Amed Citizen Rights Declaration: First, citizens' rights were defined in the fields of self-governance and participation, peace, a liveable environment, clean water, clean-renewable energy, shelter, nutrition, work, health, education, socio-cultural identity, transportation, sports, sustainable urban architecture, natural wealth and resources, and equality. In the “Equality” heading, “all the rights listed [above], regardless of gender, age, origin, belief, social, economic and political attachment, regardless of physical or mental disability; Everyone living in Diyarbakır has the right to access equally”. [22]

Secondly, one of the main headings of the Democratic Self-Governance Attitude Document in the plan, in which a participatory management model is committed, is “Gender Equality and Women's Freedom”. According to this, “[g]ender equality and women's freedom will be taken as basis in the structures and mechanisms to be established both within the institution and throughout the city within the scope of democratic self-governance. For this purpose, equality of men and women is ensured in all administrative processes and justice is provided in representation.” [23]

Third, gender constitutes one of the main axes within the municipality's core values, institutional vision and mission. For example, the mission of the municipality is stated as follows: “To build a local government based on democratic self-governance, gender equality and multilingual service, where the resources of the people are used equally and effectively in line with the needs of the people.” [24]

Fourth, one of the 13 strategic areas where institutional goals and objectives are determined is “Women's Policies and Gender Equality”. There are 3 strategic goals, 14 strategic objectives and 72 activities/actions in this area. The strategic goals identified are as follows: “ensuring the development of a gender equality perspective”, “eliminating discriminatory and violent approaches (against) women, engaging in protective practices” and “empowering women economically, socially, culturally and in health.” [25] Activities for gender equality are undoubtedly included in 12 other strategic areas such as environment, health, transportation and social policies. However, an original area appears to have been reserved.

Finally, “Gender Equality and Women's Freedom”, is among the 5 priority intervention areas identified in municipal services and delivery. Other priority areas were: “Rights, Social Justice and Social Policy”, “Mother Languages and Reproduction of Cultures”, “Environment and Ecology” and “Strengthening the Local Economy”. [26]

Even though the administration was interrupted with the appointment of a trustee in November 2016, the implementation process of approximately 20 months allows to analyze the reflections in the practical field. The municipality's annual activity reports and performance indicators[27] show that limited progress has been made in implementation. According to the 2015 Annual Report, the overall success rate of DMM on the basis of strategic objectives is 47.33%. However, Women's Policies and Gender Equality ranks second to last among 13 strategic areas with a rate of 26.37%. Performance measurement is made in a simple way, according to the quantitative realization level of the planned activities and without any weighting between strategic goals, objectives, activities and performance indicators. In this sense, although these ratios do not provide an accurate measurement of performance, they allow to understand the general trend. In short, despite the targeted objectives and institutional arrangements in the field of gender equality and women's liberation, limited progress has been achieved in practice. [28]

In the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan, within the scope of the strategic goal of “providing a gender equality perspective”, it was also targeted to “ensure that all services comply with the budgeting principle sensitive to gender equality”. Nevertheless, “gender impact assessment” was not carried out in any of the activities/projects. Again, it was planned to monitor the beneficiaries of municipal services according to the gender gap, but this activity did not take place either. The only success achieved in gender-responsive budgeting is the holding of a preparatory meeting with 8 gender-focused NGOs in the city within the scope of budget and financial planning. [29]

Concludingly, it should be noted that limited progress made in the area of gender equality has become the target of trustee practices. The de facto co-presidency practice in local governments was presented as one of the most significant reasons for the appointment of trustees. Again, municipal assemblies were de facto dissolved. In addition, the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan was abolished and a new plan was prepared. The new plan was created by extracting the strategic goals, objectives and activities from the previous one that reflect the political vision of mainstream Kurdish politics. In this framework, almost all of the endeavors in the field of gender equality and women's freedom were eliminated. [30]  The Department of Women and Family Services was established instead of the Department of Women's Policies. In addition, the activities of 10 women's centers affiliated to metropolitan and district municipalities in Diyarbakır were stopped and the Violence against Women Hotline was closed. Women's associations and cooperatives working in partnership with municipalities were also closed by decree. Female employees, most of whom were managers, who carried out gender-focused activities were expelled from the municipalities during this period.[31]

Conclusion: What Diyarbakır Taught

As a result, outstanding gender-focused institutional arrangements were made at the level of local governments in Diyarbakır, where is the de facto center of mainstream Kurdish politics. With the co-presidency, women's representation increased both in the parliament and in the municipal bureaucracy. While distinctive women's units were established, arrangements were made to spread the gender perspective to all units. With the five-year strategic plan and annual budgeting, it was aimed to transfer gender-oriented institutional arrangements to municipal services. However, limited progress has been made in practice. The novelty of the experience and its interruption with the trustees can be noted as reasons for this limited progress in services.

Despite all its limitations, the Diyarbakir experience shows that local governments are a critical area in building political consensus and social peace for the elimination of structural inequalities and the end of cultural violence, beyond the end of direct violence. In this sense, it points to the significance of locality in gender-responsive positive peacebuilding. This experience also points out that local governments are not just a field in the decentralization and gender focus of peace work, but can also become a direct actor. Gender-oriented transformation of local governments, which intervene as a founding and regulatory actor in many areas of social life, from infrastructure to superstructure, from social policy to culture, from security to local economy, can bring a new breath to peacebuilding.



[1] For detailed analysis on this subject, see: Handan Çağlayan, Analar, Yoldaşlar, Tanrıçalar: Kürt Kadın Hareketinde Kadınlar ve Kadın Kimliğinin Oluşumu, (Mothers, Comrades, Goddesses: Women in the Kurdish Women's Movement and the Formation of Women's Identity), 3rd edition, (Istanbul: İletişim Publishing, 2012); Cuma Çiçek, Ulus, Din, Sınıf: Türkiye’de Kürt Mutabakatının İnşası (Nation, Religion, Class: Building the Kurdish Consensus in Turkey) (İstanbul: İletişim Publishing, 2015). For an insider analysis see also.: Gültan Kışanak, Kürt Siyasetinin Mor Rengi (The Purple Color of Kurdish Politics), (Ankara: Dipnot Publishing, 2018), 17–61.

[2] Cuma Çiçek, “Kürt Siyaseti ve Yerel Yönetimler(1999-2019)" (“Kurdish Politics and Local Governments (1999-2019)"), Birikim, no. 358–359 (2019): 75–87.

[3] Charles W. Maynes, “Containing Ethnic Conflict,” Foreign Policy, no. 90 (1993): 3–21,; Caroline A Hartzell, “Explaining the Stability of Negotiated Settlements to Intrastate Wars,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 43, no. 1 (February 1, 1999): 3–22,; Caroline Hartzell and Matthew Hoddie, “Civil War Settlements and the Implementation of Military Power-Sharing Arrangements,” Journal of Peace Research 40, no. 3 (2003): 303–20; Caroline Hartzell, Matthew Hoddie, and Donald Rothchild, “Stabilizing the Peace After Civil War: An Investigation of Some Key Variables,” International Organization 55, no. 1 (2001): 183–208, 10.1162/002081801551450.

[4] Shawn Davies, Therese Pettersson, and Magnus Öberg, “Organized Violence 1989-2021 and Drone Warfare,” Journal of Peace Research 59, no. 4 (2022). The data set is accessible on the internet. See: UCDP Dataset Download Center (, Access date: 25.08.2022.

[5] Cuma Çiçek, Kürt Meselesi ve Siyasi Barış Bağlamında Güç Paylaşımı ve Ademi Merkeziyet (Power Sharing and Decentralization in the Context of the Kurdish Issue and Political Peace), (Istanbul: Memory Center, 2021); Cuma Çiçek, Süreç: Kürt Çatışması ve Çözüm Arayışları (Process: The Kurdish Conflict and the Search for a Solution) (Istanbul: İletişim Publishing, 2018). 

[6] Cuma Çiçek, “Toplumsal Cinsiyet: Sivil Toplumun Barış Çalışmalarında Sınır-Aşan Ortaklıklar” ("Gender: Transboundary Partnerships in Civil Society's Peacebuilding Efforts"), Off University Blog Series: Gender, Conflict and Peace in Turkey, 2022,

[7] John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1999).

[8] Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (London: SAGE Publications, 1996).

[9] Çiçek, “Kürt Siyaseti ve Yerel Yönetimler (1999-2019).” (“Kurdish Politics and Local Governments (1999-2019)”)

[10] HDP Kadın Meclisi, Eşit Temsiliyet ve Eşit Katılım Için Eşbaşkanlık (HDP Women's Assembly, Co-Presidency for Equal Representation and Equal Participation) (Ankara: Peoples' Democratic Party, 2020), 20,

[11] HDP Women's Assembly, 23.

[12] Hülya Demirdirek and Ülker Şener, 81 İl İçin Toplumsal Cinsiyet Eşitliği Karnesi (Gender Equality Scorecard for 81 Provinces) (Ankara: TEPAV, 2018).

[13] Personal interview with a council member who served in Kışanak and Anlı period. Interview date: 13.09.2022.

[14] HDP Women's Assembly, Extortion of Women's Libertarian Local Governments: Trustee Report (Ankara: Peoples' Democratic Party, 2019), 9,

[15] Personal interview with a bureaucrat who served in Kışanak and Anlı period. Interview date: 13.09.2022.

[16] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 2015 Annual Report (Diyarbakır: Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 2016), 183.

[17] HDP Women's Assembly, Co-Presidency for Equal Representation and Equal Participation, 37.

[18] HDP Women's Assembly, Extortion of Women's Libertarian Local Governments: Trustee Report, 9.

[19] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, Strategic Plan 2015-2019 (Diyarbakır: Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 2015), 33.

[20] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 2015 Annual Report, 183.

[21] For detailed information on the preparation process of the Strategic Plan, see: Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, Strategic Plan 2015-2019, 6–16.

[22] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 30–31.

[23] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 32–34.

[24] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 36.

[25] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 70–80.

[26] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 38.

[27] The municipality's activity reports and performance programs are available on the internet. See:

[28] Cuma Çiçek, Hizmet-Siyaset İkiliğinden Diyarbakır’a Bakmak: Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyesi Deneyimi (2015-2018) (Looking at Diyarbakır from the Service-Politics Dilemma: The Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality Experience (2015-2018)) (Diyarbakır: Diyarbakır Institute of Political and Social Research, 2019), 79–82.

[29] Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, 2015 Annual Report, 184.

[30] For a comparative analysis of the two strategic plans in question, see Çiçek, Looking at Diyarbakır from the Service-Politics Duality: The Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality Experience (2015-2018).

[31] For a brief summary of the effects of trustees on gender-focused work in municipalities, see: HDP Women's Assembly, Co-Presidency for Equal Representation and Equal Participation, 48–61. For a more detailed study on this subject, see: HDP Women's Assembly, Extortion of Women Libertarian Local Governments: Trustee Report.

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