Turkey’s Withdrawal From The Istanbul Convention, Treaty Protecting Women

Turkey has officially withdrawn from the 2011 Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that protects women from violence. This is the first time a European Council member has pulled out of an international human rights convention. Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General said “[T]urkey has set the clock back ten years on women’s rights and set a terrifying precedent.” She observed that “[T]his deplorable decision has already become a rallying point for women’s rights activists all over the world,” and implored that “we must come together to resist further assaults on our rights.” 

In a startling decree last March, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention. The formal departure occurred after a court upheld Erdoğan’s declaration. Following his announcement, the Turkish Presidency’s Directorate of Communications issued a statement saying the Istanbul Convention was “attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.”

Erdoğan’s conservative Justice and Development (AK) Party believes that the convention’s standard of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation undermines traditional family structure. He stated that despite Turkey’s withdrawal, it will continue to combat violence against women. Protests erupted nationwide following his decree. Protestors, which include women, LGBTQ+ groups, and others, say the convention is critical to protecting women in Turkey. The Istanbul Convention’s four pillars of prevention, protection, criminal prosecution, and policy coordination were designed to comprehensively combat gender-based violence. 

Femicide, defined as a sex-based hate crime, has been on the rise in Turkey. CNN reported a monitoring group that logged at least one crime per day for the past five years. Additionally, just this year 189 women have been murdered in Turkey, according to the We Will Stop Femicide group. The economic struggles caused by COVID-19 have led to a striking uptick in violence against women, making the timing of Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul Convention particularly troubling for Turkish women. 

While the international community has been united in condemning Turkey’s exit from the convention,  more action needs to be taken to protect women from the escalating violence they face in Turkey. According to Agnes Callamrd, Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul treaty “is the tip of a dangerous anti-rights iceberg, adding it has “galvanized activists around the world to stand up for women’s and LGBTI rights.” She also observed that since President Erdoğan made this declaration, “women in Turkey and beyond” are discussing the Convention “more than ever and taking to the streets to defend what it stands for.” This “fight to uphold the human rights of all those impacted by the scourge of gender-based violence continues,” Callamard concluded.