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As Turkish Women Struggle for Freedom from Violence, Their President Tells Them: Give up on Equality

8 March Night Walk, Istanbul

Photo from 8 March, International Women's Day, Night Walk in Istanbul. Photo taken from 3.bp.blogspot.com.

On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan created international headlines with another of his trademark boorish statements.

Addressing  a meeting held by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM) and the Ministry of Family and Social Policy,  Erdoğan said that it was impossible to speak of equality between men and women since the sexes differ in physical structure and nature.   

Bizim dinimiz kadına bir makam vermiş, annelik makamı. Anneye bir makam daha vermiş. Cenneti ayakları altına sermiş. Babanın değil annenin ayakları altına koymuş. Ama bunu anlayanlar olur anlamayanlar olur. Bunu feministlere anlatamazsın mesela, onlar anneliği kabul etmiyor.

Our religion gave women a place – motherhood. It gave a mother another place. It laid the heaven beneath their feet. Not beneath a father's, but a mother's feet. However, this might not be understood by everyone. You cannot explain this issue to feminists. They do not accept motherhood.

According to Erdoğan, the struggle for women's rights has been tied for too long to rigid concepts, one of those being the concept of equality. Instead of talking about equality, he suggested, women should focus on “equivalence”. 

Kadınların ihtiyacı olan şey nedir? Burada bazen erkek kadın eşitliği diyorlar. Kadın kadına eşitlik doğru olandır. Erkek erkeğe eşitlik doğru olandır. Ancak kadının özellikle adalet karşısındaki eşitliği asıl olandır. Kadınların ihtiyacı olan eşitlikten ziyade eşdeğer olabilmektir. Yani adalettir. Buna ihtiyacımız var.

What do women need? Sometimes they argue that what is needed is equality between man and woman. What is right is equality between woman and woman. Equality between man and man is correct. However, what is essential is the equality of all women before the law. Women need equivalence more than equality. This means justice. This is what we need.

Erdoğan's comments sparked instant controversy. Some argued that the head of state's position was the precise reason for ongoing inequality and gender violence.

Equality is birthright, equivalence is to favor the powerful. Discussions of “equivalence” are for the continuation of inequality. #Womenandmenareequal.

Sun rises in the east. Water boils at 100 degrees. Two times two is four. #Womenandmenareequal

In Turkey, violence againts women is a major issue. According to the women's branch of the Republican People's Party, 255 women were killed within the first ten months of 2014, while other forms of abuse against women — verbal, psychological and economic — are also common. For this reason, the United Nations-endorsed International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women had taken on a special significance in the country.

Many were unhappy that Erdoğan's comments could appear to undermine that significance and lead to a further deterioration in women's plight.

Saying that women and men are not equal is an invitation where everyday a women is killed, and thousands of women face violence. #Endviolenceagainstwomen #Massacreofwomen

On November 25, different women's rights organizations gathered across Turkey for events and protests, publicising their efforts on social media with hash tags such as #KadınaSiddeteHayır (#Endviolenceagainstwomen) and #KadınKatliamıVar (#Massacreofwomen). As women in Turkey suffer more and more deaths related to gender violence, their demands are for better and more efficient government legislation and regulations, and proper state protection for women. 

Erdoğan's personal hostility towards gender equality is unlikely to deter them. 

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