On March 8, Women’s Day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke at a celebratory meeting put on by the AKP’s Women’s Branch. His wife Emine Erdogan and State Minister Nimet Cubukcu also were present. Erdogan gave a speech in which he listed the reforms his government had brought about for women, stated his commitment to including women in public administration where they are currently almost invisible (see my previous blog entry on this subject) and acknowledged that women bore the brunt of economic difficulties.
Then the prime minister said something that sent shock waves through Turkey: Every woman should have three children. Erdogan’s reason: As of 1030, the population will begin to age. He warned women not to believe the television propaganda that Turkey’s population is too large. He pointed out that he wasn’t from a wealthy family, but had sold simit [on the street] and water, and had been a worker, but had four children and wished he had more. Every child, he said, is a blessing. Erdogan: “Don’t ruin our unity and togetherness. Let’s not give opportunity to those who want to ruin it.”
This request makes little economic sense. Turkey has a very young population and presently suffers from 10% unemployment (the unofficial figure is undoubtedly higher). But another interesting question can be asked of Erdogan’s speech: Who does Erdogan think is setting out to undercut Turkey’s unity by encouraging women to have fewer children? This is reminiscent of pro-natalist policies in the early republic, when Turkey’s population was much smaller, but with the same nationalist suspicion of outsiders (Europe?) trying to undermine Turkey by reducing its population. Erdogan’s speech can be parsed for far more than his attitude towards women and seeming blindness to the economic danger of an increasingly large army of unemployed youths.