Erdoğan declares support for women as police stop Women’s Day march

“Even when it brought us into conflict with those closest to us, we have always stood on the side of women,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday, as police in Istanbul intervened heavily on thousands marching for International Women’s Day.

“If we can embrace these lands as our homeland today, it is thanks to the great contribution of women,” Turkish news site T24 quoted Erdoğan as saying on Friday evening.

Police in Istanbul, however, showed little tolerance for the thousands of women who gathered to march along Istiklal Avenue on the same night, blocking the route the march has taken for the past 17 years and intervening on the crowds with rubber bullets and tear gas.

“Women have been unfairly treated in our country as they have in many parts of the world. But we have made efforts to bring women to the place they deserve,” the president said.

As women faced down armed police in Istanbul, Erdoğan trod on familiar ground in his speech, using International Women’s Day as an opportunity to discuss his view on the importance of family life.

“When you take an individual away from their family, it becomes easier to exploit them, reshape them, frighten them, direct them and use them as you please. You could say that those who set down to demolish taboos have torn them from their families by condemning them to even greater taboos,” said Erdoğan.

Erdoğan has drawn widespread condemnation from women’s rights groups in the past for urging women in Turkey to have “at least three” children, but the president rejected criticism that his comments amounted to an intervention into citizens’ private lives.

“With this advice I am trying both to stand up for our greatest strength – our population – and to keep our family structure strong,” he said.

The force at fault for degrading family values, Erdoğan said, was a familiar target in the president’s rhetoric in recent years – the West.

“The Western world has destroyed the family institution and taken away the family’s value. They can’t resist addiction, alcohol or drugs,” said Erdoğan, adding that Turkey’s family structure has been “under attack for a long time”.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has supported initiatives designed at improving women’s rights during its 17 years in power, improving benefits and services for mothers as well as lifting restrictions that prevented women wearing the hijab from attending universities and taking public office.

However, critics have pointed out that the party and Erdoğan openly reject the equality of men and women on religious grounds, and say problems including violence against women have not been addressed under their rule.

"What trickles down of course is that some women are worthy of protection. Other women: it's open season,” said Turkish academic Deniz Kandiyoti, discussing her view of the ill effects of the AKP’s rhetoric on violence against women.

“If you see a woman who's not dressed modestly, or you do not think is sufficiently modestly dressed, then obviously you can be as bold as you like. And you can rape, etc," Kandiyoti said.
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