Has Erdogan lost his golden touch?
For a politician whose deft perception of Turkish public opinion gave him a decade of commanding political success, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent utterances have been more likely to cause raised eyebrows than nodding heads. A case in point is the president’s declaration this week that women are not equal to men.
One might suspect that he is merely playing to his base, made up of conservative Turks located outside the metropolitan areas. But these remarks run counter to Turkey’s secular history, with women having had the right to vote since the 1930s – earlier than in countries like France, Greece and Belgium.
Compare that to now, when the World Economic Forum put Turkey 120th of 136 countries surveyed in the global gender gap index last year. This was the lowest of any country in Europe and central Asia. In that context, how ought one to assess Mr Erdogan’s comments that women are not equal? His own daughter, Sumeyye, was in the audience as he said that motherhood was the primary role of women – he has called upon every woman in Turkey to have three children – and has described women’s “delicate natures” as precluding them from doing tough agricultural jobs. This is social manipulation and justification of inequality in its most blatant form.
One of the best refutations of the suggestion that women are not equal can be found in the UAE, which is rich in examples of women achieving alongside men, even in traditionally male roles. These include cabinet minister Sheikha Lubna, rated the 55th most powerful woman in the world, and Major Mariam Al Mansouri, who led the UAE’s air strikes against ISIL militants.
Mr Erdogan’s claims on gender inequality contrast to his first 10 years as prime minister, when his instincts were so in tune with the electorate that Turkey was presented as the apogee for secular Muslim democracies.
Ataturk gave Turkey a forward-thinking approach in which success was based on ability rather than gender. Mr Erdogan’s comments seem to be sending the country in the opposite direction.
Updated: November 25, 2014 04:00 AM