First Lady Emine Erdoğan is pictured with her husband (R) at a political event. REUTERS Photo
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
appears set to anger women and rights groups in Turkey once again after voicing his strong objection to the equality of women and men, instead recommending what he called “equivalency.”
“When we are able to look at human beings from the point of view of justice, then the elimination of discrimination between women and men would be possible in a much more fair, humane and conscientious way. What do women need?” Erdoğan said Nov. 24, delivering a speech at an international gathering in Istanbul aimed at discussing women’s rights and freedoms.
“Sometimes, here they say ‘men and women equality.’ But ‘equality among women’ and ‘equality among men’ is more correct. However, what is particularly essential is women’s equality before justice,” Erdoğan said at the Women and Justice Summit hosted by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM).
“Equality is turning the victim into an oppressor by force or vice versa. What women need is to be able to be equivalent, rather than equal,” the president said.
He also reiterated an argument he voiced in the past, announcing: “You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different.”
“For example, in work life, you cannot impose the same conditions on a pregnant woman as a man,” Erdoğan said.
The Turkish president has consistently exhorted women to have at least three children, while also terming abortion “murder” and railing against Caesarian sections.
He also used the occasion to stage a strongly-worded attack on “feminism and feminists,” claiming that they “reject the concept of motherhood.”
“Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women [in society]: Motherhood. Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood,” he said.
Erdoğan quoted remarks attributed to Prophet Muhammad, saying “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers,” and also gave a personal anecdote: “I would kiss my mother’s feet because they smelled of paradise. She would glance coyly and cry sometimes. Motherhood is something else.”
The president’s mother, Tenzile Erdoğan, passed away in 2011 at the age of 88.
His speech at the Women and Justice Summit did not mark the first time he publicly praised motherhood. Back in 2008, he declared that designating just one day as Mothers’ Day was an “insult to mothers.” “In our beliefs, one kisses the feet of mothers. Paradise is next to the mother’s feet. That’s how we approach them,” he said at the time
Women rights activists and lawyers constantly criticize the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which was led by then-Prime Minister Erdoğan from 2003 until he was elected to the presidency in August, for the increasingly conservative and authoritarian political culture they say it is fostering.
Turkey ranked 120th of 136 nations in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index, down 15 places since 2006, while a 2011 U.N. report indicated that Turkey’s domestic violence rates are almost twice those in the United States and 10 times higher than in some European countries.