ISTANBUL — Women shouldn’t laugh in public. Or at least that’s what Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc seems to think.
“Where are our girls, who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity?” he asked at a meeting on Monday held by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
“She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness,” he added, lamenting what he says has been a steady decline in morality for men and women in Turkey.
AKP has long been criticized by secular Turks for its conservative and religious agenda. Last summer, mass protests against the government broke out in Gezi Park, a widely treasured green space threatened by state-planned urban development. Many Turks who took to the streets in protest said that state policies were repressive and encroached on secularism.
Following the AKP’s landslide win in local elections this spring — a blow to the opposition and AKP critics — activists told The WorldPost that Turkey was regressing on women’s rights.
“No other [Turkish] government has been so radical against women,” Ilke Gokdemir, who works at Mor Cati, an organization to combat violence against women, said in April.
Turkey has some of the worst rates of violence against women in all of Europe. And in the last decade, nearly 7,000 girls were married between the ages of 13 and 17, according to a survey by a women’s rights group. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken out against using contraceptives and has publicly advocated for women to have three — or better yet, five — children. Women here say it has become increasingly difficult to get an abortion.
Yet despite the criticism against AKP and its policies, many Turkish men and women stand by Erdogan, saying he is a devout leader who has fueled economic development. He is widely expected to win the presidential election in August, the first time Turks will elect a president by popular vote.