When Turkey’s Erdogan says women are not equal to men, he’s talking to his base

Talk to the hand if you believe in equality.
Talk to the hand if you believe in equality.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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On the face of it, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently argued that Muslims discovered America, appears to have put his foot into his mouth again.

“You cannot make women equal to men,” he said at the Women and Justice summit in Istanbul. “This is against her nature.” Erdogan’s own daughter was in the audience.

But while Erdogan is bound to attract international opprobrium for those comments, as well as criticism from rights groups at home, his views will likely be endorsed by many who support his Islamist political party, best known by its Turkish acronym AK.

As Turkish media have pointed out, the country’s record on women’s rights—and on violence against women—is appalling. Only 28% of Turkish women participate in the workforce, less than half the average in the European Union.

But, as critics point out, the AK Party has pushed back against advances in women’s rights, with party leaders—and not just Erdogan—routinely taking misogynistic positions. (One senior figure recently argued that women should not laugh in public.)

In his speech on Monday, Erdogan repeated his refrain that women and men should not be expected to do the same things. “You cannot make women do everything men do like the communist regimes did,” he said. “This is against her delicate nature.”

He’s made similar statements in the past and has argued that women should not undergo caesarean sections because they are “unnatural.” He’s also said that abortions are “secret plots” to stall economic growth.