Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off a new controversy on Monday, declaring that women are not equal to men and accusing feminists of not understanding the special status that Islam attributes to mothers.
Addressing a meeting in Istanbul on women and justice, Erdogan said men and women are created differently, that women cannot be expected to undertake the same work as men, and that mothers enjoy a high position that only they can reach.
“You cannot bring women and men into an equal position; this is against nature,” Erdoğan said according to Today's Zaman. “You cannot subject a pregnant woman to the same working conditions as a man. You cannot make a mother who has to breastfeed her child equal to a man. You cannot make women do everything men do like the communist regimes did… This is against her delicate nature.”
"They talk about equality between men and women. The correct thing is equality among women and equality among men. But what is particularly essential is women's equality before the justice [system]," he said. "What women need is to be equivalent, rather than equal; that is, justice."
"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," Erdogan said, reported The Associated Press. "It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different."
Erdogan added: "Motherhood is the highest position ... You cannot explain this to feminists. They don't accept motherhood. They have no such concern."
Lawyer and women's rights activist Hulya Gulbahar said Erdogan's comments were in violation of Turkey's constitution, Turkish laws and international conventions on gender equality and didn't help efforts to stem high incidences of violence against women in Turkey.
"Such comments by state officials which disregard equality between men and women play an important role in the rise of violence against women," Gulbahar said. "Such comments aim to make women's presence in public life — from politics to arts, from science to sports — debatable."
Erdogan, a devout Muslim, often courts controversy with divisive public comments. He has previously angered women's groups by stating that women should bear at least three children and by attempting to outlaw abortion and adultery.
He raised eyebrows this month by declaring that Muslims had discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus.
Speaking at a gathering of Muslim leaders from Latin America, Erdogan said contact between Islam and Latin America dated back to the 12th century.
“It is alleged that the American continent was discovered by Columbus in 1492,” Erdogan said according to The Guardian. “In fact, Muslim sailors reached the American continent 314 years before Columbus, in 1178.”
Most scholars disagree with Erdogan.