Women in the distributional networks of politics and socioeconomics

The questions of “who gets what, where, when, why, and how” in the distributional aspects of social constructions and divisions of power (both political and resultant social and economic powers) shed light on the patriarchal spatial structures and how women deal, cope, and bargain with these structures. In our research, we have found that some women’s cooperatives aspire to create their own spaces in the public realm so as to be more independent from the constraining forces of patriarchal and political structures.

We do not want a political actor or agency above us. The municipality offered us help but we did not want it. We do not want to be one of the propaganda tools of the machine politics. Some of the cooperatives work under the patronage of mayors—the provision of subsidies, workplace, money, etc. Whenever the mayor changes, the cooperatives are affected very badly. They would not have been affected this way if they had been more impartial to politics. Same goes for the cooperatives in the Southeast Anatolia region—they are also dependent on municipalities. They have been closed down after the emergency rule.

(Solmaz, Ankara)

Solmaz’s narrative well exemplifies how women are well aware of the mas- culinist networks that function within local politics. This also marks how women explicitly estimate the cost-benefit of political support and also implicitly cope with antagonistic interactions between “other” cooperatives and the municipality.

Our membership has reached to 150 during our establishment. We all know each other in the neighborhood. We stand together to solve our problems, on our own. We do not work simply for the sake of our members. We do whatever we can for every one of us in our vicinity. (Pinar, istanbul)

We have to be active, we have to be everywhere. You cannot do our stuff with the mindset of a civil servant. We have used our local networks here, we have done everything through cooperation [imece.

(Hiilya, Artvin)

Two quotes by the representatives of women’s cooperatives highlight the significance of women solidarity, especially when the need to create their own spaces within the parameters of local politics is apparent. So as to increase their share in distributional politics, women expand their presence and make strategic use of their networks.

Furthermore, other women’s cooperatives have aspired to create and use networks with national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private firms so as to have a higher say and higher share in distributional issues.

We have prepared cloth carry bags for The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and The Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (KESK). They supported us via these transactions.

(Emek, Ankara)

We have got in touch with the Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work (KEDV). They have offered us seminars and training programs.

(Figen, Adiyaman)

We have got in contact with universities. We have prepared for the United Nations (UN) support programs. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has paid for the establishment costs. We have cooperated with KEDV. Petrol Ofisi—a private gas station company— has given us space for our products.

(Yildiz, Gaziantep)

All three examples, especially the last one, reveal how the widening of scale attributes to the growing of the women’s cooperatives. Their contact and collaboration with other associations, unions, and universities might have helped women to gain salience within their local settings.

Yet, for many women’s cooperatives, the patronage networks with local and national political actors were crucial to continue their operations.

I have talked to the governor and mayor regarding the production of buckwheat [a produce which this cooperative tries to process and sell]. I also know the chair of the Chamber of Commerce—maybe he can help us buy the machinery to process buckwheat. Everything will be figured out once I complete these meetings.

(Nilgiin, Ankara)

This narrative illustrates how some women feel the urge and need to be incorporated into patron-client relationships so as to have a presence in distributional issues. Although the gendered networks of governor, mayor, and chair of Chamber have initially hindered women’s active participation, the way women negotiated with those local actors challenges masculinist constellations of power.

Our mayor took the initiative in our cooperative. She chose me as the president. Thanks to her support, we finished off our debts. We have remained afloat with the help of our mayor.

(Filiz, Konya)

It is very hard to do and continue the business without the support of municipalities. Local politicians already support those who are close to themselves. This is a bitter reality.

(Seval, Trabzon)

I have talked to the mayor. The MP from Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (the Republican People’s Party, the RPP) also came to talk to us. I have got in touch with everyone. We have talked about the importance of women’s cooperatives. Then, thanks to the support of the mayor, we have created our founding committee. It has been a great advantage for us that we have a woman mayor here.

(Nilay, izmir)

The term “support” is very critical at this point, as all three narratives of representatives of cooperatives illustrate. While the financial “aid” may create another level of hierarchy between the cooperative and governing authorities, the emotional “encouragement” may turn into a distributional gain. Hence, the nuance between different forms of supports endanger not the output but the processes that shape women’s presence.

Every women’s cooperative under the patronage of municipalities advance considerably.

(Esin, istanbul)

The mayor always says “Elder-sister [abla], you just say the word”. I know how things work here. The most important things are social networks, dialogues within.

(Iclal, Izmir)

It is important to note that many women’s cooperatives choose to be (or in many cases are obliged to be) under the tutelage and patronage of political actors, especially at the local level. The patron-client networks that they engage with and that they create help them construct and/or build upon the avenues of distributional domains. This is both the case for the localities ruled by the governing Adalet ve Kalkmma Partisi (the Justice and Development Party, the JDP) (as is the case for Filiz in Konya) as well as localities governed by opposition mayors (as is the case for Iclal and Nilay in Izmir). Finding presence in the distributional networks through patron-client relationships help these women get their share in the distribution of power and economic resources. However, one should note that these patronage networks are contingent upon the continuation of the roles of both the “patron” as well as the “client”. The mayor should continue to be present in his/her office to provide his/her clients with these services. The clients should also continue to “support” the standing mayor so as to have access to patronage resources and (for the presidents of women’s cooperatives) to create their own patronage networks within their cooperatives (the presidents of women’s cooperatives in a way also become “patrons” in distributional networks within the cooperatives, extending services and membership to loyal members).

The issue of contingency also points out the fragile nature of these patronage networks. While these patronage networks are the life source for many women’s cooperatives, their fragility leaves the cooperatives open to potential financial stress in the cases of the removal of these clientelistic networks (e.g., due to changes in the electoral office, rifts between politicians and the women, etc.). For instance, in one of our interviews, we have been told that a seemingly very successful women’s cooperative in Nev§ehir in Central Anatolia (who got the backing of the JDP mayor) is faced with the removal of their offices and work stations (all of which were provided by the municipality) when the new mayor from the opposing RPP got into the office and stated that he cannot support a cooperative once under the patronage of his biggest rival political party. As this example presents strikingly, the lack of institutionalization and financial independence and the dependency on patron-client relationships leaves many women’s cooperatives prone to existential crisis. This also shows us the hardships members of women’s cooperatives face in their efforts to partake in distributional networks in the public realm and also “documents patterns and relations of inequality” as the distributional perspective has raised (Brown & Staeheli, 2003, p. 249).

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