The 6 April meeting in Ankara was arranged to mend the strained relationship between Turkey and the EU. It involved talks between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mrs von der Leyen and European Union council president Charles Michel.
But when they came to sit down, there were only two chairs. The two men took the chairs leaving the president of the commission standing and ultimately she had to sit on a sofa well away from the Turkish President and opposite the Turkish foreign minister, reported BBC News.
Mr Michel later apologised for his role in the incident and Turkey blamed the EU for the incident.
On Monday, in a speech to the European Parliament, the 62-year-old leader said sexism was at the root of the seating blunder.
“I am the first woman to be President of the European Commission. I am the President of the European Commission. And this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey two weeks ago, like a Commission President, but I was not,” Mrs von der Leyen told EU lawmakers while emphasising that she see no reason on why she should have been treated differently to Mr Michel.
She said that she “cannot find any justification for the way” she was treated.
“So, I have to conclude, it happened because I am a woman. Would this have happened if I had worn a suit and a tie? In the pictures of previous meetings, I did not see any shortage of chairs. But then again, I did not see any woman in these pictures, either,” she said.
In a series of tweets, she said her visit showed “how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals. Always. Everywhere.”
“My story made headlines. But there are so many stories of women, most of them far more serious, that go unobserved. We have to make sure these stories are also told!” she tweeted on Monday.
“We’ll table legislation to prevent and combat violence against women and children, online and offline. Because we have to make sure that women and girls are adequately protected in Europe. As US [Vice President] Kamala Harris said at the UN: the status of women is the status of democracy,” she said.
In her speech to the EU lawmakers, she said that this is not about seating arrangements or protocol but goes to the core of who we are.
“This goes to the values our Union stands for. And this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals,” she said.
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