Protests Spark As Turkey Withdraws From European Treaty

Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention, which was signed ten years ago to protect women from abuse. The decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to revoke Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a setback for women’s rights activists, who believe the agreement is critical to countering domestic violence. Hundreds of women protested the move at protests across Turkey on Saturday.

The Istanbul Convention declares that men and women have equal rights and mandates state authorities to take measures to eliminate gender-based violence against women, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators. Some officials from Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning group have called for the agreement to be reconsidered, claiming that it contradicts Turkey’s conservative ideals by promoting divorce and undermining the traditional family unit.

Critics also argue that the treaty encourages homosexuality by using definitions such as gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. This is perceived as a challenge to Turkish families. In Turkey, hate speech is on the rise, and the country’s interior minister referred to LGBT people as “perverts” in a tweet. Erdogan has flatly denied their presence.

Women’s organizations and their supporters, who have been campaigning to keep the convention intact, immediately called for national protests under the banner “Withdraw the decision, enforce the treaty.” They said that their years-long struggle would not be forgotten in a single night. According to rights groups, abuse against and killing of women is on the rise in Turkey, a claim the interior minister dismissed on Saturday as a “total lie.”

According to the We Will Avoid Femicide Website, 77 women have been killed since the beginning of the year. According to the community, approximately 400 women were killed in 2020, with hundreds discovered dead under suspicious circumstances. More than a thousand women and supporters gathered in Istanbul, wearing masks and carrying banners. There was a strong police presence in the city, and the protest ended peacefully.

Several women’s rights organizations slammed the ruling, arguing that laws protecting women are not properly implemented. The withdrawal from a human rights deal was a first in Turkey, according to the advocacy group Women’s Alliance Turkey. “It is clear that this decision would promote more women’s killers, harassers, and rapists,” they said in a statement. Many women are subjected to physical or sexual assault by their husbands or partners, but current official figures are unavailable. The Istanbul Convention demands that states collect data.

Some lawyers argued on Saturday that the treaty is still in force, arguing that the president cannot withdraw from it without the consent of parliament, which ratified the Istanbul Convention unanimously in 2012. However, with his re-election in 2018, Erdogan acquired sweeping authority, triggering Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary to an executive presidency.

Mia Heaphy