Ever since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took office, Turkey’s secular democratic tradition has been weakened. The status of women in particular has been adversely affected. As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan once stated, “Democracy for us is never a goal. It can only be a vessel.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, would be rolling over in his grave if he saw the political situation in Turkey today.   He sought for Turkey to be a secular democratic state, where religion was a private matter and equality between the sexes was a fact of life.  However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan once stated, “Democracy for us is never a goal.   It can only be a vessel.”   This statement made by Turkey’s Prime Minister perhaps highlights how Turkey’s secular democratic tradition has gradually been eroding ever since the Islamist AKP came to power.  

 It has recently been reported that Turkey’s Prime Minister intends to prevent male and female students from living with one another.   “No one knows what is happening in these living spaces – all manner of dubious activities could be taking place,” Erdogan said at an AKP party meeting. “And then the parents complain and ask where the state was. As a conservative and democratic party, we have to intervene.”   Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler furthermore suggested that many mixed-student houses harbored “terrorist and illegal” activities, such as prostitution.

 Soon afterwards, the Turkish publication Radikal reported that six police officers searched the apartment of three female students in Manisa after they had male visiters.  Each woman was fined 32 Euros for disturbing the peace.   The main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) responded in Hurriyet Daily News that most students’ housing is already separated between the genders in Turkey and that Erdogan’s recent attack was mainly directed at co-education. 

 “Violence against women increased 1400 percent over the past 10 years. Who is responsible for this? If we ask the dictator, it’s the responsibility of the CHP. But the CHP wholeheartedly believes in the equality of women and men,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.  The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) aims to “decrease women’s participation in social life,” according to the CHP head. “They have revoked women’s rights step by step. Women should liberate themselves from a mentality that aims to lock them in the house,” he said. 

 Aside from the mixed gender dorms issue, last month, it was reported that a female TV music show presenter, Gozde Kansu, was fired for showing too much cleavage after Huseyin Celik, spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), attacked her for what she was wearing while on the air.   While the AKP prides itself on enabling religious Muslim women to become civil servants while wearing their headscarves, a privilege previously denied to them, it appears that the enhancement in freedoms given to religious Turkish women in regards to clothing has been accompanied by a decline in the level of freedom given to secular Turkish women and the state of women’s rights generally speaking within the country. 

 Furthermore, earlier this year, Omer Tugrul Inancer, an Islamist lawyer and commentator on religion in Turkey, stated on a Ramadan talk show, “Declaring your pregnancy with drums is against our understanding of decency. You cannot walk on the streets with such bellies. To get a bit of fresh air, a woman in the seventh or eighth month of her pregnancy can go around a little in her husband’s car in the late afternoon.”  He furthermore added for pregnant women to be on television was “shameful” and “vulgar.” 

 Al Monitor reported that the Turkish public was outraged.  Turkish pregnant women went with their husbands out into the streets to protest his statements.  Even though Erdogan was not the person who made this particular statement, most of the Turkish demonstrators felt that Inancer’s comments were reflective of the creeping Islamism that has been taking place within the country ever since Erdogan rose to power.

 These recent events are mere examples in the deterioration of the status of the Turkish woman under Erdogan’s rule.  According to the International Strategic Research Agency (USAK), Turkey has the second highest rate of early marriages among European countries.  In Turkey, one out of every three girls was married off as a child.  A World Economic Forum (WEF) report also indicated that Turkey ranked 129th out of 134 countries in terms of dividing its resources and opportunities equally among men and women.

 According to the organization Social Watch, Turkey has regressed sharply since 2004 in terms of gender equality.  In other words, gender equality in Turkey significantly worsened ever since Erdogan came to power.   A society that doesn’t promote equality between the sexes and is diametrically opposed to having a secular government by its very nature undermines democratic governance.   As a result, even though Turkey still holds democratic elections, Turkey’s secular democratic tradition has been drastically undermined under AKP rule.