Turkey has formally withdrawn from the Instanbul Convention by way of a presidential decree.
The Convention is an international treaty, designed to prevent women from gender-based violence. Drafted by the Council of Europe and officially known as the Convention of Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, it was signed in Istanbul on 11 May 2011.
As of 2019, it was signed by 24 countries and the European Union. Turkey was the first country to ratify the Convention into national law in 2012.
It characterizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. It also provides a definition of gender, referring to it as “the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”
It also includes the criminalization of several offenses including psychological violence, rape, non-consensual sexual activity, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion, and forced sterilization. It also stipulates that sexual harassment should be subject to a criminal or legal sanction.
Turkey has a high rate of domestic violence with around 40% of Turkish women experiencing it at least once in their lives. The real figure could e higher as the government doesn’t publish statistics or data on the issue. There are existing domestic violence laws but it’s reported that they are rarely enforced.
It’s estimated that at least one woman a day dies from domestic violence in Turkey.
In July 2020, a Deputy from the country’s ruling party said that signing the convention in the first place was wrong.
Numan Kurtuldir said that “the signing of the Istanbul Convention was really wrong…There are two important points in this text that we need to draw attention to and which do not match with us. One of them is a gender issue and the other is a sexual orientation preference.”
He added that many other party members support his stance and that “equal opportunity between men and women is one of the main issues of our customs in the Turkish legal system”. He also said that domestic violence will not increase if the Convention is abolished.
In November 2018, the CoE released a statement countering criticism of the convention. They said that “despite its clearly stated aims, several religious and ultra-conservative groups have been spreading false narratives about the Istanbul Convention.” It went on to explain how it does not seek to impose a certain lifestyle on anyone but instead only skees to prevent violence against women and domestic violence.
“The Convention is certainly not about ending sexual differences between men and women. Nowhere does the convention ever imply that women and men are or should be “the same”, nor does it seek to regulate family life or structures, it neither contains a definition of the family nor does it promote a particular type of family setting.”
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, called Turkey’s decision “destructive” given the violence faced by women and girls in the country.
“This move is a major obstacle to these efforts and even more miserable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, throughout Europe, and beyond,” she said.
Opposition politicians said Erdogan could not legally act without the consent of parliament.
Following the news of the decree, thousands of women gathered across Turkey to protest against it.
Protestors chanted “Annul the decision, apply the treaty” while holding up pictures of the victims of femicide.
One woman told AFP “I’m fed up with this patriarchal state. I’m fed up with not feeling safe. Enough!”