“Those who impose their understandings on this nation are the enemy of both our women and our people. This issue is not a matter of lifestyle” Erdoğan said on March 7, while delivering a speech at an event held by the Confederation of Righteous Trade Unions (Hak-İş) on the occasion of March 8, International Women's Day.
Turkey ranks as one of the countries with the largest gender gaps on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Index, ranking 130th among 145 countries.
“On the contrary, this issue is an issue for our country's and our nation's future. We had that saying, ‘Turkish-style presidential system, Turkish-style constitution.' On this issue [women's rights] too, we are obliged to develop a Turkish-style model and implement it. We don't necessarily have to express, defend and implement women's rights in the format and style that exists in the West” Erdoğan said.
“We can all together take steps to strengthen the presence of women as human beings and as individuals in the light of our history and cultural background, by correcting mistakes and by eliminating shortages. Believe me, this way it will be much more effective. If the defense of women's rights had existed in the West in the literal sense, then they would not have remained silent about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian women along with their children” he said.
Erdoğan, who in August 2014 became Turkey's first president to be elected through a direct vote, has long advocated a switch to a “Turkish-style” presidential system and pressed the government to prioritize this system change.
On several occasions, Erdoğan used a metaphorical explanation in which he likened himself and his comrades to bees. “With the skillfulness of a bee, let's gather our share from flowers and then turn it into honey” he said at the time, suggesting that they would eventually form an “authentic presidential system framed by Turkish customs and traditions.”
Women's rights activists and lawyers have often criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which was led by Erdoğan, then the prime minister, from 2003 until he was elected to the presidency, for the increasingly conservative and authoritarian political culture they said it has been fostering.
“How can you discriminate among women by saying, ‘She has a headscarf, she doesn't have a headscarf?'” Erdoğan asked. “For years, there was discrimination in this country. They didn't let those wearing headscarves into universities, schools and public offices. We changed it” he said.
In 2013, the AKP lifted a decades-old ban on women wearing the headscarf in state institutions as part of a package of reforms the government said were meant to improve democracy. Shortly after the move, four female AKP lawmakers wearing headscarves entered parliament in a historic move for Turkey.