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Turkish President Erdogan’s sexist remarks ‘reinforces prejudices against women’

November 26th, 2014
12:24 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sexist remarks serve to reinforce discrimination against women, Turkish parliament member Binnaz Toprak told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

Erdogan triggered a storm of criticism on Monday when he said at a summit hosted by a women’s group in Istanbul that women and men are not equal "because their nature is different."

Toprak, a member of parliament from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, started by saying that “I think … what he means by this, that men and women are not equal, is physical equality.”

But the Turkish MP went on to explain that when one says “gender equality, the principle has to do with legal equality and equal opportunities and legal rights.”

“So I think even if he [President Erdogan] says that it has to do with legality, I think the very statement that men and women are not equal reinforces prejudices against women, reinforces men's ideas that women are not equal and cannot ever be equal and so on in a country where quite a number of people have conservative views on this issue.”

It’s not the first time the Turkish leader makes sexist comments, having previously told Turkish university students that they shouldn’t be “picky” when choosing a husband. He has also called on all Turkish women to have three children.

While he angered many women on Monday, there were a considerable number of females at the Istanbul organization who gave him a standing ovation.

Before participating on the program, Toprak had just come from parliament, which had been debating the formation of a special committee to look into violence against women in Turkey.

“I think it's unfortunate that this statement came a day before the parliament was going to discuss this issue.”

The number of women murdered in Turkey rocketed by 1400 between 2002 and 2009, according to data from the Turkish Justice Ministry.

“It's appalling, this figure. And obviously something has been done; luckily the parliament agreed to form a committee, all four parties endorsed this. So there's going to be a committee that's going to work for three months to look into the picture and to see what the causes of this violence are."

“But obviously, what I did mention in my speech [in parliament] is that one of the causes - obviously not the only one - but one of the causes has to do with discourse like this, such as the one that the president has uttered yesterday.”

While the government has put forward some female-friendly legislation, Toprak said that “implementation is really lacking” and that the idea of women as “mothers” has a negative impact on them.

“Yes, I think this government has done quite a bit as far as legislation is concerned. The penal code has changed so that punishment for violence against women has increased. We accompanied the International Istanbul Agreement as well as past legislation in 2012 that deals with violence against women.”

“Even though the government pays lip service to employment of women, employment is very low, about 29-30 percent of women are in the workforce. I think the idea, the value that he gives to women is that they are mothers because he talked about chronic versus saying that paradise is at - the feet of the mothers.

"So obviously, it's going to affect them, because the ideal … woman in his mind is a mother, a good wife and so on."

“But I think the conservative position of this party and Islamist leaning does not allow it really to tackle the issue at its core.”

Click above to watch the full interview.

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