On Thursday, July 1st, Turkey officially withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty created to protect women from violence. Following the announcement, thousands of individuals across multiple cities in Turkey protested the country’s exit. More than 1,000 people, most of whom were women, gathered to march and spoke out against the divisive decision within Istanbul. Their presence was met with Turkish police who blockaded the protesters and fired tear gas into the crowd. The government’s concerns over the treaty’s contents had fueled its abandonment; both protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and the perception that the accord threatened traditional familial structures led to its retraction. President Erdoğan of Turkey denied that women would be further endangered by the change and announced that local laws, reviews, and data collection would replace the international commitment.
Many organizations and governments have condemned the departure as a step backwards in the protection of women. Agnès Callamard, the Secretary-General for Amnesty International, issued a statement: “The withdrawal sends a reckless and dangerous message to perpetrators who abuse, maim and kill: that they can carry on doing so with impunity.” There is a high risk that the government’s reversal will lead to deadly consequences for those it says it desires to protect.
Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention demonstrates a perilous shift in the nation’s progress towards protecting those who suffer disproportionately in the current environment. Even with the internal action promised by President Erdoğan, a lack of accountability from the international community threatens the safety of women in the region. According to the UN Global Database on Violence Against Women, 38% of women in Turkey have experienced physical violence at least once in their life. The alternative measures offered by the government do not provide adequate support or protection for these women and instead pave a path conducive to further violence. Combining superficial restrictions and the societal implication of leaving the treaty can encourage brutality, leading the country further away from social peace.
The Istanbul Convention, promoted by the Council of Europe and signed in 2011, attempted to offer women protection from the normative violence they face regularly. Participating governments were required to prosecute crimes targeted towards gender, including forced marriages and domestic violence. According to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, so far in 2021, 189 women have been murdered in Turkey; in 2020, that number was 409. Additionally, data from Turkey’s National Research on Violence against Women shows that 3 out of 10 Turkish women are married before turning 18, and about 50% of those women are subjected to physical violence. These numbers exemplify the lack of regulatory protections needed for women’s well-being in the region.
To provide safety and security for women in Turkey, the Turkish government must be firm in its support for laws and actions that offer effective, lasting protection. The women that have protested and demonstrated their anger over the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention indicate how serious and dangerous nonaction is. Establishing a constructive solution requires policies that promote peace and nonviolence. The treaty itself provided legal and emotional protection; without it, the aggression that threatens Turkish women can flourish farther than it already has. Furthermore, confronting these women activists with more violence, police and impunity, only exasperates the issue. For the security of these members of society, laws of the same magnitude as the Istanbul Convention are necessary and demonstrate a clear commitment to solving the problem. The government of Turkey must make meaningful steps towards women’s safety in their country, and that involves legislation of both accountability and recognition.
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