This opinion by Marietje Schaake was posted on EU Observer (27 November 2014).
Turkey needs its women, Mr Erdogan Earlier this week, president Erdogan of Turkey spoke at the Women and Justice Summit in Istanbul. His comments didn't exactly do justice to the name of the event. In general, he said he believes women and men cannot be equal. One of the examples he gave is that women are too fragile to dig holes in the ground. The immediate public outcry included many pictures uploaded to Twitter of women digging. In fact, the stream of photos is still going. Erdogan knew his comments would be provocative - maybe they were targeted at a part of his Turkish constituency. But as president he should address all the people of Turkey. Sadly, his speech was more than simply rhetoric. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014, Turkey ranked 125th out of 142 countries. It shows that Turkey has a fundamental gender problem. If anything, leaders should be trying to solve it. The fact that women in Turkey don't receive equal pay for equal work or that they suffer widespread violence, including so-called 'honour killings', is sometimes justified as a cultural difference. This is not acceptable. At the same time, Turkey is home to many powerful women in business and politics. These women should be celebrated as a model for Turkish society, not restricted in their potential. Women around the world have long-proved they can combine work and motherhood, if they choose to be mothers. Erdogan’s comments are a slap in the face for people who believe that Turkey, as an economy and as a society, would benefit from increasing women’s participation in education, employment, and political leadership. Some people downgrade women’s rights by calling the issue a "social problem". But gender inequality risks holding back Turkey in the broadest sense. Women's rights are not just women's issues. Turkish men, and especially Turkish leaders, should be as vocal as women in demanding their inclusion in public life if they care about their country. Wider context Meanwhile, Turkey’s gender problems should be seen in the wider context of its violations of human rights and rule of law. The violent crackdown on Gezi Park protesters and Erdogan’s restrictive Internet laws have shown that Turkey is not a mature democracy. The Erdogan corruption scandal and his purge of law enforcement also laid bare deep divisions in society. People no longer trust Turkish law to apply equally to all. Turkey must solve these issues if it wants to play a more prominent role on the world stage and if it wants to move closer to the European Union. The EU, in turn, must do better on confronting difficult subjects, such as human rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. But it can only do this if it shows commitment to Turkey’s accession process. The EU needs to use its negotiating position to promote civil liberties in Turkey. But it doesn’t have a position if Turkey doesn’t believe the negotiations are real.