Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with the European Union’s two presidents raised eyebrows after von der Leyen was left standing while her male counterparts settled into two gilded chairs at the focal point of the room.
Von der Leyen told the European Parliament on Monday that she could not find “any justification” for the way she was treated, adding: “So, I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman.”
“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,” she said.
“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 women in these pictures neither,” von der Leyen added.
In a video of the awkward moment in Ankara, von der Leyen seems unsure of where to sit, gestures with her right hand and says “ehm” as Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel take their seats.
Von der Leyen was eventually offered a seat on a nearby sofa, opposite Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who occupies a lower-status rank in diplomatic protocol.
In previous meetings the three presidents have all sat together.
“Honorable members, many of you will have made quite similar experiences in the past, especially the female members of this house. I’m sure you know exactly how I felt. I felt hurt, and I felt alone as a woman and as a European,” she said.
Turkey strongly rejected accusations that von der Leyen was treated unfairly due to her gender.
“We would not want to come up with a statement but there are unfair accusations towards Turkey about the importance that we give to women and about other issues. Turkey is a rooted state,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara on April 8.