Istanbul - Women and men are not suited for the same types of jobs because it contradicts the laws of nature, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, sparking an outpouring of anger on social media.
"The religion of Islam gave women the priority of motherhood," Erdogan said in Istanbul at a conference on women and justice. "You cannot explain any of this to feminists because they reject the idea of motherhood, they do not care about this."
The Turkish leader went on to insist that equality at the workplace should not be an objective.
"You cannot put a mother who is breastfeeding in an equal position with the same expectations as a man who does not have these responsibilities," he told the mostly-female audience that included his wife.
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"You cannot make women work in the same jobs as men do, as past Communist regimes have. Give her a shovel and make her work? You cannot do that. This goes against her delicate structure," Erdogan added.
The president, who said gender equality in the labour force goes "against the laws of nature", had previously been criticised for saying that each Turkish family should have at least three children, part of his push for more conservative values.
Erdogan, 60, was a member of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), but resigned in August to become president, a nominally non-partisan post. He served as prime minister under the AKP for 11 years and now keeps close links with the party.
Turkey's female labour force participation rate is relatively low, at just 29%, according to the World Bank, compared to 54% for Germany and 57% in the United States.
Feminist groups called for protests in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities in light of Erdogan's remarks and concerns over domestic violence.
Internet users took to social media sites including Twitter using the hashtag #kadinerkekesittir, or women and men are equal, to express their discontent.
In 2013, 214 women were killed by their partners in Turkey, according to independent news portal Bianet. Rights groups are concerned the authorities are not doing enough to protect vulnerable women.