President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday withdrew Turkey from an iconic international treaty combating violence against women, despite an increase in attacks. This decision sparked anger.
This withdrawal is “devastating news” and “compromises the protection of women” in this country, deplored the Council of Europe, a pan-European organization of which Ankara is a member and under the auspices of which the Turkish government had signed this treaty in 2011.
Turkey’s abandonment of the so-called Istanbul Convention, the first supranational tool to set legally binding standards in around thirty countries to prevent gender-based violence, was announced by a presidential decree published overnight from Friday to Saturday.
The decision, taken as feminicides have been on the rise for a decade, has aroused the anger of women’s rights organizations who called for demonstrations in Istanbul on Saturday.
With this measure, Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives in to pressure from conservative and Islamist groups, who have been calling for several months to quit this text. According to them, the latter undermined “traditional” family values by defending gender equality and “favored” the LGBT community by calling not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Turkish president first spoke of abandoning the treaty last year, in an attempt to rally his conservative electorate in the face of growing economic difficulties. Since then, women have taken to the streets of Istanbul and other cities on several occasions, calling on the government to stick to the Convention.
The withdrawal from the treaty on Saturday was strongly condemned by opponents of the Turkish president. “Announcing the withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention in the middle of the night, while we learn every day that new violence is committed against women, is bitter,” said Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, one of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main rivals. “It amounts to trampling on the struggle that women have been waging for years,” he added.
A vice-president of the main opposition CHP (social democratic) party, Gökçe Gökçen, considered that abandoning this Convention meant “letting women be killed”. “Despite you and your malfeasance, we are going to stay alive and resurrect the Convention,” she wrote on Twitter.
Faced with this avalanche of criticism, the government tried to reaffirm its commitment to the fight against violence against women. “We will continue our fight against violence with the principle of ‘zero tolerance'”, thus assured the Minister of the Family Zehra Zumrut Selcuk, quoted by the state press agency Anadolu.
300 feminicides in 2020
Feminicides and domestic violence are endemic in Turkey. In 2020, 300 women were killed by their spouse or ex-spouse, according to the association “We will put an end to feminicides”.
In early March, the country was shaken by the publication of a video showing a man hitting his ex-wife on the ground in the middle of the street, in front of their daughter. The attacker was arrested and President Erdogan announced the creation of a parliamentary commission to take stock of the legislation in order to better fight against violence.
Despite these statements, women’s rights groups accuse the government of not enforcing the laws firmly enough, they say encouraging a feeling of impunity.
Several associations called for protest on Saturday afternoon on the Asian side of Istanbul to lead a “collective fight against those who abandoned the Istanbul Convention”. “Give up this decision, implement the Convention”, urged in a tweet the secretary general of the organization “We will put an end to feminicides”, Fidan Ataselim.