Turkey's prime minster claimed that social equality between men and women can lead to high suicide rates, in the latest of a series of attacks on secular values by officials in Ankara's conservative government.

PM Ahmet Davutoğlu named Scandinavian countries as an example of societies that - he claimed - pay a high toll in lives lost to embrace full gender equality.

"Why is the Gross National Product in most developed countries – I don't want to name it but in Scandinavian countries and in many other countries – at the highest level on one side [GDP], but the suicide rate is also at the highest level there. Why?" Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by Hurriyet Daily News.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the women's branch of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the PM said that the implementation of "mechanical equality" was detrimental to society as it destroys "the complementary relationship in life".

Davutoğlu reiterated a concept recently expressed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that women's most important task is motherhood and hailed his government as a "champion" for the female gender.

"Since our women are fulfilling that divine mission of keeping humanity alive, then they have the right to rest before and after becoming a mother and spare time for their children," the PM said.

"Granting this is not a favour, it is just paying a debt," he said, in comments that are likely to enrage feminists.

Davutoğlu also spoke out against violence against women and pledged to raise the number of female lawmakers amid AKP ranks.

His remarks came a week after Erdogan similarly claimed that men and women are not equal and cannot perform the same duties.

"Their characters, habits and physiques are different," he said. "You cannot get women to do every kind of work men can do, as in Communist regimes.

"You cannot tell them to go out and dig the soil. This is against their delicate nature."

Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are no strangers to controversial comments regarding women.

The president once claimed that every Turkish woman should have three children and in July, one of his ministers even went as far as saying that women should not laugh in public.

During Erdogan's 11-year rule, Turkey has seen the implementation of stricter laws on abortion and proposals to limit the use of the morning-after pill.