Image Caption: Sabiha Sertel (wikimedia)
Today is International Women’s Day, and so I thought it fitting to post here my translation of one of the more interesting women’s rights-related sources I’ve been working with recently. In my last post I wrote about the 1930 municipal elections in Urla, and today we’ll come back to Istanbul to look at the platform of Sabiha Sertel, who ran unsuccessfully as an independent in the elections there. Sabiha, about whom myself and others have written about elsewhere at length, was a progressive journalist with a background in sociology and child welfare who spent the early 1920s at the New York School of Social Work, wrote frequently for Cumhuriyet and her own magazine Resimli Ay, and was instrumental in organizing new kindergartens and campaigning on behalf of the Children’s Protection Society (Himaye-i Etfal Cemiyeti).
Her run for the municipal council is startling to read about for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because she had declined the support of the Liberal Republican Party (SCF), for which her husband’s newspaper Son Posta was an unofficial mouthpiece. From reading Sabiha’s memoir, it is quite clear that despite her support for multiparty democracy, she had little love for the liberals who supported the SCF. As you will see in her platform, she took up issues that even today, at least in an American context, would be considered very progressive if not categorically socialist. This is important because while Sabiha Sertel was indeed an outspoken feminist, she saw the struggle for women’s rights as only a part of a larger struggle for social equality for everyone; she knew it was critical to fight on behalf of children, the infirm, the elderly, and the impoverished in the same breath as demanding equality for women. Given that International Women’s Day is itself a holiday with deep roots in labor and socialist movements, and that as I type this Turkish women are marching towards Taksim Square in protest of an apparent ban on IWD celebrations, this feels like an appropriate piece of Turkish women’s social and political history to share.
Before sharing, it should be noted that I’m only reproducing my translation of the introduction and nine plank platform, which itself was part of a slightly larger pamphlet that went into much further detail on the specific issues facing the citizens of Istanbul in that election. The pamphlet itself is reproduced in Cemil Koçak’s collection, Belgelerle İktidar ve Serbest Cumhuriyet Fırkası (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2006) p. 271-2.
“Why am I announcing my candidacy for city council?”
I am announcing my candidacy neither in the name of the Republican People’s Party, nor the Liberal Republican Party. As an independent, I am announcing my candidacy to be a representative of the people, in the name of the workers who make up the majority of Istanbul’s population, the poor villagers living on the outskirts of the city, the small tradesmen, and the low level bureaucrats. In truth, the thing I will work for is the vote of the poor people in order to defend their authority as well as their economic and social rights.
A Summary of the Program I will Strive For:
- A sociological examination to determine and classify the needs of the city.
- Elections must be held for the positions of bureaucrats in the city council and the municipality.
- The general welfare of the the public is the basic goal. Concessions for necessities like water, milk, public transit, electricity, natural gas, telephone should be canceled and returned to the municipality. We should struggle against the foreign companies.
- Struggle for the social needs and rights of the people. The society’s insurance and organization comes before all else. Homes for working children, unemployment offices, inexpensive soup kitchens, pensions for workers, hospitals for the poor, homes for the villagers, poor people’s residences, homes for the old, homes for orphans, and a bureau for complaints should all be established.
- The press should publish a brochure every year documenting the Municipality’s performance to the people, a brochure on public health should be published, the people should be enlightened through conferences and exhibitions that are both fixed and mobile.
- The people’s economic benefits should be defended.
- Essentials and rent prices should be fixed.
- Municipal cooperatives should be opened.
- Taxes on the poor in the Municipality should be lifted.
- Weights and measures should be inspected and sealed.
- There should be a change to the overtime law coming from the Parliament. An eight hour workday, accident insurance, a paid week’s vacation, accident compensation, maternity leave, the establishment of unemployment offices, the number of children should be limited, the provision of documents to child workers from the municipality, all these provisions should be delivered to children and workers through a new overtime and employment law coming from the parliament and enforced. In homes, gas, water, and electric utilities should not only be provided by private companies, the municipality should also provide these things.
- Health rights should be defended. For every home that uses water works, there should be an examination for bacteria, scientific distribution, food supply, poor person’s hamams, hospitals, clinics, and in the city’s exam offices, and especially in the health stations of the poor neighborhoods, beds for poor sick people in convalescent homes, open air schools, the opening of sanitariums, and house inspections should be assured, it should be mandated that household trash be placed in tin cans, those suffering from epidemics like malaria and tuberculosis should be quarantined under cover every day and night.
- City spending on theaters, horse races and pleasure trips should be prevented.
- The budget should be made according to needs. Public development should not be made only for the places that are growing, it is preferred to also develop the most needy places. Only after the poor areas have been redeveloped should the new neighborhoods be constructed.