'' Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan '' - said Emine Killic calling him a champion for women. '' Thanks to my president, I became the boss of my own company,'' said Ms. Kilic, 38.

She said she had voted for him for years and did so again to help him secure another presidential term last Sunday.

Ten years ago, Emine Kilic was focused on raising her two children at home in Istanbul when she decided to set up her own clothing company to help support her family.

Her business started with an interest-free government-backed loan for female entrepreneurs, now employs 60 people and exports to 15 countries, said Ms. Kilic, who has an elementary school education. She credited a powerful motivator who inspired her to transform her life : President Erdogan.

To beat back the most serious political threat to his two-decade tenure as Turkey's dominant politician, Mr. Erdogan counted on the fervent support of an often underappreciated constituency : conservative religious women.

Across Turkey, devout women, both professional and those who don't work outside the home, not only turned out to vote for Mr. Erdogan in large numbers, but they also coaxed their friends and relatives to do the same.

Women are also active across the country in his governing Justice and Development Party, ranging from activists who spread party messages among their neighbours over tea to the dozens of women who represent the party in Parliament.

Uniting these women and Mr. Erdogan is a shared conservative Muslim view of female roles in Turkish society, first as mothers and wives, second as members of the work force.

In a staunchly secular country where women who covered their hair were long barred from universities and government jobs, many devout women view Mr. Erdogan as their protector because he pushed to loosen those rules.

'' Voting in Turkey, especially for our community, is not only about electing someone. It is making a decision about your life,'' said Ozlem Zengin, a lawmaker and a senior and senior female member of Mr. Erdogan's party.

For many conservative women, the bitterness of having their ambitions limited by public expressions of their faith runs deep, even affecting the children of those who lived through it, she said. 

That resentment also fuels the tremendous gratitude toward Mr. Erdogan.

'' ERDOGAN is loved that much, because he changed people's lives,'' Ms. Zengin said.

The electricity between Mr. Erdogan and his female supporters coursed through an Istanbul conference hall during a women's rally two days before the May 28 runoff.

Thousands of women, some with babies or children in tow, packed the hall, clapping and waving their arms to campaign anthems and holding up their cellphone flashlights to welcome him onstage.

Mr. Erdogan's foes say he has acquired too much power and accuse him of pushing the country toward one-man rule. But has vast control does not bother his loyalists. On the contrary, they say he needs it to do his job.

Mina Murat, 26, said she voted for Mr. Erdogan and his party because they protected her right to cover her hair.

''My teacher used to wear a wig over head scarf in school,'' she recalled. 

'' Women couldn't attend college and couldn't get government jobs because of their head scarves.''

Now, Ms. Murat works in a clothing store geared toward conservative women, with head scarves in a vast array of colours and patterns.

''NOW we can dress fashionably and conservatively,'' she said.

The World Students Society thanks authors Ben Hubbard, Safak Timur and Elif Ince.


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