Erdoğan's claims on 'moderate' Islam, women and Europe

THE HAGUE - Turkey's President Erdoğan criticised Saudi Arabia's plans for “moderate Islam” and some European countries' "burka bans" in his speech at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Women’s Advisory Council on Friday.

Without naming him directly, Erdoğan cited Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who had recently announced that he would establish “moderate” Islam in the kingdom. Otherwise ruled by Islamic Sharia law, the kingdom will allow women to drive and attend sporting events from next year.

Erdoğan said the concept of moderate Islam was a trap:

The term ‘moderate Islam’ is being lathered up again. The patent to moderate Islam belongs to the West. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam; Islam is one. The aim of using such terms is to weaken Islam.

(Erdoğan's original remarks on Saudi Arabia were first published in the government mouthpiece Daily Sabah, but later removed from the news report.)

In his speech, Erdoğan also criticised the "burka bans" that some European countries were now enforcing.

Beginning in France in 2011, the full face covering has now also been banned in public space in Belgium, and its outlawing is also being discussed in Germany.

Turkey's president equated the burka and the headscarf, saying:

Headscarves are gradually being banned in EU states with the public–personal space trick, attempting to bar Muslim women from entering social life. Attempts to incarcerate Muslim women in their homes are spreading like a virus.

Erdoğan also claimed that women were being denied access to education and the labour market on the basis of their religion in Europe:

Today, most EU countries actively restrict Muslim women from working and getting access to education. Those who are teaching us lessons on human rights are unfortunately applauding as the most basic human rights are being trampled in their countries.

The most recent OECD statistics do not support Erdoğan's claims on gender and Islam, and especially in relation to women's education and employment.

According to the OECD publication Education at a Glance 2017, Turkey has the 4th lowest level of educational participation for women between 15 and 29 among OECD countries, and the lowest in Europe.

Young women in the 22 European OECD countries have an average of 7.6 years of education, while their peers in Turkey today will participate in an average of two years less in education, and spend more time economically inactive. Even among the European countries who are closest to Turkey's levels of women participation in education, the average woman spends more than double the number of years in employment than her Turkish counterpart.

In terms of the participation of women in the labour force, Turkey is at the bottom of all OECD countries by a large margin. In Europe, there is 11 percent difference between the ratio of employed men and women in the population, but that difference is 39 percent among Turkish men and women.

Only 31 percent of the women population are employed in Turkey. This is in striking contrast to the EU-28 average, where the ratio of employed women in the society is more than double that, at 67 percent.

Contrary to Erdoğan's claims, it is conditions in Turkey that are restricting women from working and getting access to education, to a greater extent than those in Europe.