Erdogan’s women’s day message lampooned: women struggling despite govt

Women's march, Diyarbakir, Turkey (Duygu Yildiz/Kom News)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s message for International Women’s Day and use of questionable statistics has caused widespread debate on social media.

According to Erdogan, The Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s 14 year tenure in government has meant “remarkable improvements” for women in Turkey.

“The statistics between 2002 and 2016 show the explicit progress of women’s rights in our country. In education, the rate of literacy for girls increased to 97% while it was 87% in 2002. Similarly, the rate of women’s employment is 33% while it was about 24% in 2003. The number of female parliamentarians have risen threefold since 2002.”

The president also shared his gratitude for the women who came out onto the streets to “defend democracy” on the night of the coup attempt. “We’ve always supported the struggle of women to protect their rights as a sign of our gratitude,” he said.

Referring to the high incidences of violence against women, the Islamist leader said it was “due to a few psychopaths” and not institutionalised, adding, “we need to do more to combat this violence.”

Speaking to Kom News, Huda Kaya, the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP, said that the government had not done anything for women, neither legally nor in terms of women’s representation.

“Despite the obstacles put up by the AKP, women’s representation has increased thanks to the HDP’s women policies. We have a co-chair system and 50% quota. Conversely the government has never encouraged women to become involved in politics. Moreover, this government imprisoned the only female co-leader in the country, Figen Yuksekdag and stripped her of MP status.”

“This so-called ‘conservative’ government jailed the only female co-mayor who wears a head scarf, dismissed hundreds of female co-mayors and politicians and imprisoned them and assigned male trustees to their positions.”

Rejecting President Erdogan’s statements, Kaya said, “They really don’t care about women’s lives; they formed ‘family commissions’ to prevent divorce in cases where the women demanded separation due to violence. Their policies have condemned women to ‘domestic imprisonment'”.

Kaya said there had been an unprecedented rise in violence against women since the government came to power and gave as an example the recent detainment of 23 female activists in Sanliurfa who were preparing to celebrate women’s day.

According to Safak Pavey, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) PM and human rights activist, violence against women has increased 1400% in the last 7 years in Turkey. A figure confirmed by human rights associations.

Women on social media lampooned the president’s message calling it insincere and hypocritical. Others said gains in women’s rights had occurred despite the government.

Social media users posted previous quotes by Erdogan and other AKP politicians as examples of sexist and discriminatory comments.

Here are some of the quotes shared on Twitter:

“I do not believe the equality of men and women anyways.” – President Erdogan

“Violence against women is overrated.” – President Erdogan

“Turkish women are ornaments to their homes.” – Minister of Defence Vecdi Gönül

“A non-covered woman is like a house without curtains. A house without curtains is either for sale or for rent.” – Suleyman Demirci, AKP politician

“Women should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times.” – Bulent Arinc, AKP politician

“The rate of unemployment is increasing because women are looking for jobs.” – Mehmet Simsek

“Violence against women is just selective perception.” – Fatma Sahin, ex-minister for family affairs.

“Why should the baby die if its mother gets raped, the mother should kill herself instead.” – Melih Gokcek, AKP politician and Mayor of Ankara

“I consider abortion as ‘murder’, I am also against C-section.” – President Erdogan

“Raped women should give birth to the child, the state takes care of the baby.” – Recep Akdag, Minister of Health.

“The victim is more innocent than the victim who has an abortion.” – Ayhan Sefer Ustun, AKP PM and also the head of the human rights committee.

“When girls get educated, boys are not able to find someone to marry.” – Erhan Ekmekci, AKP politician.

Women’s rights associations in Turkey have reported that 86% of women experience physical or psychological violence from a partner or family member and over 300 women died of domestic violence in 2015 alone, 328 in 2016.

The ruling party’s policies and legal loopholes regarding the trialling of rapists and child abusers has also been criticised on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Child abusers and rapists are given lighter sentences in Turkey if the victim is wearing a skirt during the attack. While in some cases it has been reported that the rapists were given less prison time because the victims were ‘not virgins’.

Turkey is ranked 125th amongst 142 countries for gender equality, the World Economic Forum reported in 2016.