Is Erdoğan really concerned about demography?

Is Erdoğan really concerned about demography?

The accusation of treason is so commonly bandied about in Turkey that it has become banal. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan uses this accusation at every opportunity. He is now claiming that birth control is a form of treason which threatens extinction for a whole generation. It is not clear, however, if his real concern is demographical or ideological.

OECD and World Bank statistics show that Turkey is somewhere in the middle in terms of distribution by countries according to by birth rate. This means the Turkish rate is neither high, nor low. Official Turkish statistics indicate that it stood at around 2.07 percent in 2013.

Experts obviously have a much better take on the subject, but it does not appear to the layman that Turkey is faced with the “threat of extinction for a whole generation.” To the contrary, efforts have been made by previous governments, and various NGOs, over the past three decades to bring the birth rate to rational levels in tune with being a developed country.

Europe of course appears to have overshot the mark in this respect and has serious concerns about the implications of its declining birth rate for the future, but this is not a concern for today’s Turkey, where family life is still important. It is clear, on the other hand, that a lower birthrate in Turkey will have a positive effect in terms of employment and social welfare benefits.

Turkey also has one of the youngest populations in the world. The Turkish youth of today is fully tuned into the modern world in the age of globalism and advanced technology. Ironically even those who are rushing to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), armed with their IPhones, are a product of this world, even if they represent a total aberration in this regard.

Meanwhile, higher levels of health awareness and better health services have already ensured greater longevity in this country. Someone who is 50 years old today is at least a generation younger in mind and orientation than his or her parents of only a generation ago.

One cannot help but wonder, given this overall picture, if this is what is really worrying Erdoğan, rather than the risk of extinction for a generation. Today’s youth is more likely to want to be active outside the house than inside it. Young girls are much more likely to want to BE educated, in order establish professional careers for themselves.

A society in the throes of such trends clearly moves away from conservative values, especially where issues such as sexuality and control over one’s body are concerned.  This inevitably brings new ways of approaching marriage and family life.

We already have Islamist ideologues close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) who are saying that women should stay at home because working outside the home spoils them morally. There are also those who say pregnant women should not be seen on the street. We have senior AKP ministers who say women should not be seen laughing publically.

Erdoğan himself went on record recently saying it is unnatural to consider men and women as equals. He is clearly close to those Islamist ideologues who are saying the things that cause uproar among modern and secular Turks.  

It therefore does not take much imagination to understand what his real problem is when he exhorts women to have at least three children, and preferably much more, when he says that women should not consider themselves to be the equals of men, or when he says that contraception is treason.

Fortunately today’s Turkey is too far gone for even many devout men and women to accept Erdoğan’s outlook on life. Many young girls who wear the Islamic headscarf, for example, have been fighting for years for the right to go to university and get educated. It would be odd to think that they did this just so they can end up at home rearing children as their real function in life.