A video shared on Twitter by Turkey’s top religious authority to warn against mobile phone addiction has triggered accusations of sexism and stirred debate about gender equality.
The Presidency of Religious Affairs’ (Diyanet) video, released on 6 November, shows a woman serving tea to her husband, who is seen staring at his mobile phone without paying attention to her.
She also brings him two pieces of cake and a fork as he drinks his tea and seems unaware of her presence.
After sitting on a sofa next to her husband, she texts him: “If only you paid more attention to your wife!”
The husband then sits next to her and shares his cake. A caption reads: “Don’t look at your phone. Look at your wife’s face instead!”
‘Not domestic slaves’
The video prompted anger on social media about its portrayal of the role of women in Turkey, which ranked 130 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report.
“The woman brings tea. The woman brings cake. When will we completely destroy these stereotypical role models? Especially in this day and age… The year is 2019,” journalist Menekse Tokyay tweeted on 6 November.
“In my opinion, the ugliness here is not just that the man is constantly looking at his phone. It is also that he is having the the woman constantly serve him. I hope this critical message from the Diyanet is against this male-dominated culture too,” wrote commentator Mustafa Akyol.
Booker Prize-nominated Turkish author Elif Shafak has also joined the debate, appealing to Turkish women to reject the message.
Turkish feminist group Mor Dayanisma shared an altered screen shot of the video on its Instagram account on 7 November, quoting the wife as saying: “Don’t look at your phone, get up and pour your own tea.”
‘Open to criticism’
Hours after the video was released, Diyanet head Ali Erbas said the authority “was open to criticism”.
“But it is upsetting when the criticism turns into insults and attacks,” he tweeted. It was not clear if he was referring to the criticism over the video.
Other commentators praised the video, which was released as part of a series of family-themed clips. Turkey’s ultra-conservative Yeni Akit newspaper hailed the video as “meaningful” on its website.
“I really liked it. We must be attentive. Women and men [should] nurture each other in all kinds of ways. This is the only way for marriage to endure,” said one Twitter user.
Pro-government columnist Hilal Kaplan took aim at critics of the video, suggesting that feminism should not look down on women who chose to be housewives.
Some pointed to divorce rates in Turkey, which have risen in recent years according to the country’s official statistics agency.
“[People ask] why divorce rates are going up. This is one of the reasons. There is no conversation with your spouse, no attention,” another Twitter user said.
Turkey founded the Diyanet in 1924, a year after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, to manage all mosques and oversee religious education.
The religious affairs authority often comes under fire from government critics due to its expanding budget under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President Erdogan has often said he aims to “raise religious generations”.
The Diyanet triggered controversy in 2018 when it said girls as young as nine could marry.
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