Nikita Richardson
June 08, 2015 9:59 am

You’d think that world leaders would have figured out how to avoid sexist foot-in-mouth situations, but that’s, apparently, easier said than done. Last week, just ahead of parliamentary elections, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got himself in serious trouble with the country’s women after making a lewd joke to a group of female protesters. The results? A global hashtag and social media movement against him and his party. Oh yeah, and his Justice and Development Party lost the majority in parliament during yesterday’s vote.

Still, even that highly-publicized experience didn’t stop Erdoğan’s political counterparts from making similar mistakes. Just this morning news broke that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is now the latest politician to make short-sighted, sexist statements about women on a global stage. According to reports out of the subcontinent, Modi managed to enrage a lot of people after attempting to compliment Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. While lecturing at Dhaka University, the Indian PM said, “It is heartening that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, despite the fact that she is a woman, is openly saying that she has zero tolerance for terrorism. I would like to congratulate Sheikh Hasina for her firmness to deal with the menace.”

The statement — which suggested that PM Hasina was doing pretty well despite her gender — set off a firestorm, with many lobbing accusations of sexism at Modi. Before long, the Twitterverse picked up on it, ramping up the outrage with the hashtag #DespiteBeingAWoman.

Here are just a few choice tweets:

While Modi has yet to issue a statement on the hashtag or the very statement that inspired it, it may very well be a blip on the record of a man who has made improving the lives of Indian women a priority. According to the Washington Post, Modi recently spoke out against the country’s rape epidemic, blaming parents for not teaching their sons better, and he continues to champion programs fighting against the abortion of female fetuses and the mistreatment of female children.

So, here’s hoping he takes this backlash to heart and chooses his words more carefully in the future. Maybe these hashtags and blunders will lead to important IRL change.

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