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'Give her a seat': Anger as European Commission president sidelined in Turkey meeting

Many criticised the 'sexist' seating arrangement during the meeting between Ursula von der Leyen and the Turkish president
The incident has been widely criticised online (Screengrab/Twitter)

People have taken to social media to criticise Turkey’s treatment of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, after she was left to sit on a distant couch during a meeting in Ankara.

The meeting, which took place on Tuesday, was focused on mending relations between the EU and Turkey, which have been strained in recent years.

Matters such as strengthening economic ties, European funding towards supporting refugee communities and modernising their customs union framework were discussed. 

During the meeting, European Council President Charles Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat at the front of the room, with the Turkish and EU flags behind them.

Meanwhile, von der Leyen was left awkwardly standing, and appeared to look around for somewhere to sit. She was then left to find a spot on a sofa, several feet away, opposite the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

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In typical diplomatic protocol, the foreign minister is considered to be of a lower status, hence was seated on the sofa. Von der Leyen and Michel, the former Belgian prime minister, are typically seen as equivalents in ranking. 

The video sparked sharp criticism online, with many both inside and outside Turkey claiming it was reflective of a wider problem of sexist attitudes in the country.

Online, the hashtag #giveheraseat has gained traction, with hundreds of people using it to highlight discrimination against women. Some have even demanded a public apology to be made to Von der Leyen.

Some social media users questioned whether the omission of a third chair for the Commission president was a sexist or political move, or if it was an honest mistake.

One social media user tweeted, “just wondering how many female leaders out there say ‘this never happened to me”.

Another wrote “'ehm' is the new term for 'that’s not how the EU-Turkey relationship should be'" referring to the noise that came out of Von der Leyen's mouth after the lack of chairs became apparent.

Social media users took the incident to raise concerns about how women are treated in Turkey, citing Ankara’s recent withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

Last month, Erdogan caused shockwaves after he pulled Turkey out of the international treaty.

On the same day as Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, media reported the killing of four women across the country, allegedly by their romantic partners.

Last year, thousands of demonstrators called on the government not to withdraw from the landmark treaty on combating domestic violence.

Femicide, the intentional killing of women because they are women, is a persistent and deepening issue in Turkey.

The Istanbul Convention was signed by members of the Council of Europe, including Turkey, in 2011 with a mission to implement preventive, protective and legal measures in cases involving gender-based discrimination and violence against women.

In 2019, at least 328 women were murdered in Turkey, according to Bianet's Male Violence Monitoring Report.

Nearly 60 percent of the women were murdered by their husbands, and 59 percent of the women were killed at home, the report says.

Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide.

World Health Organisation data has shown that 38 percent of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime, compared to about 25 percent in the rest of Europe.

In Germany, 147 women were murdered in 2018.

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