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Erdogan’s massive mistake over equality comments

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Murat Kaynak | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments on gender equality – that it is 'against nature' to 'put men and women on an equal footing' - may be ill-timed and asinine, but they're hardly new ideas for him. In fact, the only surprising thing about the speech seems to be the amount of press it's received.

Erdogan is a conservative man with conservative Islamic values. He has made no secret of this as Prime Minister. His wife wears a headscarf and one of his biggest priorities has been to put an end to a decades-old ban on women wearing the hijab in schools and government buildings.

He was elected president with just over 50 percent of the vote and his main base of popularity was not so much in modern, secular Istanbul but in Anatolia, the conservative heartland.

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We know from his social policies in Turkey that he favours traditional roles for women and a look at the numbers reveals that a decade of AK party politics has done little to advance women in the workplace. According to figures from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, only one in three women have paid jobs in Turkey and just a little over one in four have completed higher education.

In social policies Mr. Erdogan has consistently taken a conservative line. Look at what he has done to the Turkish school system –moving to reverse a decades-old secular policy regarding religious schools, the results of which have raised fears that child marriages may now be easier to attain.

Turkey is now a country where conservative Sunni muslims from the Gulf states feel most comfortable buying second homes. The President's foreign policy consistently supports conservative regimes elsewhere in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

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In fact, what we're seeing in Turkey is more and more conservatives in power and practice. It's a trend that goes far beyond religious values as well; no visitor to Turkey can miss the overt nationalism, the enormous Turkish flags billowing atop almost every available space. And Turks are becoming increasingly militant, as three US sailors found when they were attacked by a gang of Turkish nationalists merely for being American.

So does Erdogan have a problem with women? Well, that depends on your definition, but his election to the Presidency by over half the population seems to indicate that most Turks aren't that bothered over the question.

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