Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stirred controversy again with a speech Monday disputing gender equality and defining women's role in society as motherhood.
In an address to the Women and Justice Summit in Istanbul, Erdogan laid out his view of a "much more fair, humane and conscientious way" of treating women than as the equal of men.
"You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different," he told the gathering hosted by the Women and Democracy Assn., to rousing applause, according to Turkish media accounts of the speech.
He called motherhood the role that the Islamic religion defines as women's highest priority and repeated his often expressed view that Turkish women should have at least three children.
Erdogan, who was elected president in August after serving as prime minister for the previous 11 years, has been accused of eroding the secular foundation of modern Turkey that has been in place since it emerged in 1923 from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
During his tenure as government chief, his Justice and Development Party imposed new curbs on alcohol sales, removed restrictions on wearing veils in state offices and instituted other labor policies that saw the country fall 15 places to rank 120th among 136 nations in the 2013 World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, a fellow conservative Islamist, provoked a feminist revolt in July when he criticized Turkish women for departing from the religion's ideal of feminine modesty by smiling in public.
Turkey's daily Hurriyet newspaper noted that women's rights groups constantly criticize Erdogan and the party he led until his election to the purportedly nonpartisan presidency for the "increasingly conservative and authoritarian political culture they say it is fostering."
Only about 31% of Turkish women work outside the home, about half the average of the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to which Turkey belongs.
Feminists also blame Erdogan and his party for contributing to the rise in domestic violence in Turkey, where incidents of abuse are twice the level of the United States and 10 times that in other European countries, Hurriyet reported.