ISTANBUL - Turkey's Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu on Friday faced a barrage of criticism on social media after suggesting that women should prioritise the "career" of motherhood before anything else.
"Women of the world have the career of motherhood that no one else can experience," Turkish media quoted Muezzinoglu as saying on Thursday at a hospital where he welcomed the first baby born in Istanbul on New Year's Day.
"Mothers should not prioritise another career other than the career of motherhood. They should focus on the raising of good generations." The comments caused a furore on social media, with many women venting their anger at what they saw as the latest in a string of sexist comments by the Islamic-rooted Turkish leadership.
The criticism was led by best-selling Turkish author Elif Safak who tweeted: "Motherhood is not a 'career' anyway.
"Turkish women should decide their own paths in life (not male politicians from above)." Aylin Nazliaka, an MP of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and prominent champion of women's rights, said the government's "glorification of motherhood" was insincere.
"They want to position women as second class citizens," she wrote on Twitter.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has infuriated secular Turkish women by recently claiming that women were not equal to men and describing birth control as "treason".
Erdogan has urged Turkish women to have at least three children, saying: "One (child) means loneliness, two means rivalry, three means balance and four means abundance." Visiting the newborn at the hospital in the Istanbul district of Zeytinburnu, Muezzinoglu expressed satisfaction that the boy was the couple's third baby.
"You are among the people who listen to advice," Turkish media quoted him as saying.
He also urged women to breastfeed and to avoid Cesarian sections, reaffirming advice repeatedly given by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Pressed again on the controversy Friday, Muezzinoglu reiterated his stance.
"Motherhood is not a career that everyone can have. It's not a career that men can have. It's an undisputable and divine career," he added according to the official Anatolia news agency.
Critics accuse Erdogan and the AKP of interfering in women's private lives and imposing a creeping Islamisation of Turkey's officially secular society.