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Erdogan: A Childless Working Woman Is ‘Deficient,’ ‘Half a Person’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is continuing his campaign to promote Muslim procreation, criticizing a woman who has not had children as “half a person,” “deficient,” and “lacking” because she is denying the role Allah has determined for her as a housewife and mother.

The remarks Monday are the latest in an ongoing series meant to promote Muslim procreation throughout Erdogan’s years in the public eye, which also include calling birth control “treason” and condemning Muslim couples who have fewer than three children.

“A woman who abstains from maternity by saying ‘I am working’ means that she is actually denying her femininity,” Erdogan said at a speech before the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM). “This is my sincere thought. A woman who refuses maternity and gives up housekeeping faces the threats of losing her freedom. She is lacking and is a half [a person] no matter how successful she is in the business world.”

“I absolutely do not accept business life as an alternative to motherhood,” he told the crowd.

KADEM is a women’s advocacy group that describes its mission as “supporting women’s active participation in socio-cultural, economic and political arenas” and “developing projects and activities targeting professional development of women,” making it an especially inappropriate venue for Erdogan’s message.

Opposition politicians have rallied against Erdogan’s statements. “Doesn’t it contradict social gender equality, which is central to many projects led by your ministry, to describe women as ‘deficient’ or ‘lacking’ due to their gender or personal choices?” Gülsün Bilgehan, a representative for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in response to Erdogan’s comments.

“A society is deficient so long as its women are not a part of life, not on the streets but locked up in homes. We, as women, have never obeyed Tayyip Erdoğan’s mentality and we never will,” the co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Figen Yüksekdağ said. The HDP is a liberal party with policies friendly to women, Kurds, Christians, and other minorities.

The Turkish Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) also criticized the comments, not only for being “misogynistic,” but for encouraging reproduction as a form of “guarantee[ing] future cheap labor.”

There is no indication that Erdogan will cease his encouragement of Muslim reproduction at the expense of women’s careers, however, given the increased frequency with which he has broached the topic recently. Last week, he warned that those using birth control are attempting to “interfere in God’s work” and, thus, committing a sin. He has previously described all contraception use by Muslims as “treason” and argued that “you cannot put women and men on an equal footing.”

Erdogan has also campaigned against cesarean sections, claiming that women who give birth in that fashion limit the number of children they can have, a dubious medical claim.

Also on his record in opposing women taking on roles in civil society is a particularly vicious criticism of a journalist in 2014. Amberin Zaman found herself on the receiving end of Erdogan’s criticism for asking a politician in a debate if Muslim societies were able to challenge authority. “A militant in the guise of a journalist, a shameless woman. … Know your place!” Erdogan said of her shortly following the debate at a public election rally, alleging that she had insulted Islamic society.

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