Last month, Hungary and Poland successfully got the term “gender equality” removed from a European Union social summit in Portugal. In March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pulled Turkey out of the Istanbul Convention, a legally binding Council of Europe treaty to tackle violence against women and hold perpetrators to account. In Azerbaijan, authorities have used a smear campaign to target women’s rights activists.

Such stories abound, yet commentators rarely connect them to broader trends. Experts rightly anguish over rising authoritarianism. Yet they have spent relatively little time looking at one of the authoritarians’ favorite wedge issues: gender.

This strategy is as old as authoritarianism itself. Dictators are adept at using fear — focused on foreigners, cultural change or minorities — to divide and distract. They are happy to exploit traditional hierarchies to this end. Gender differences come in especially handy.

The Washington Post

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