Ursula von der Leyen, the first-ever female president of the European Commission, said she “felt hurt” and “alone as a woman and as a European” after she was left without a chair during a meeting with Turkey’s President in early April.
Footage of the incident dubbed “Sofagate” shows von der Leyen visibly surprised when Turkish President Erdogan and the European Council President Charles Michel sat on the only two chairs in the meeting room, forcing her to sit on an adjacent sofa.
“I am the president of the European Commission, and this is how I expected to be treated when visiting Turkey, but I was not,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament yesterday evening, warning the incident only happened because she was 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,” she continued in her impassioned speech.
“This shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals – always and everywhere.”
The EU chief pledged to keep fighting sexism.
“…We all know thousands of similar incidents, most of them far more serious, go unobserved, nobody ever sees them, or hears about them, because there is no camera because there is nobody paying attention. We have to make sure that these stories are told too,” she added.
After footage of the Sofagate incident went viral, European Council President Charles Michel said he regretted not speaking out at the time.
The meeting in Ankara was set up to repair relations between the EU and Turkey, which have been strained for years over issues like the arrival of migrants.
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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