Turkey’s exit from Istanbul Convention, treaty protecting women, draws flak from activists, Western allies

Turkey's formal exit from the Istanbul Convention, a landmark international treaty negotiated in 2011 to prevent and prosecute violence ...

Turkey's formal exit from the Istanbul Convention, a landmark international treaty negotiated in 2011 to prevent and prosecute violence against women, has received severe criticism from various quarters, though President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted it won't be a "step backward" to end gender-based violence.

This comes after Erdogan ended the country's participation in the convention with a surprise overnight decree in 21 March this year, prompting condemnation from women's rights groups and Western countries.

A court appeal to stop the withdrawal was rejected this week.

"We will not be silenced, we will not fear, we will not bow down," chanted women among a crowd of several hundred who gathered in the capital Ankara. "We are not giving up on the Istanbul Convention," read a banner.

Similar protests were held in other Turkish cities as an appeal against the withdrawal from Opposition parties was rejected by the Council of State on Tuesday. Demonstrators clashed with police who fired tear gas in Istanbul.

What is the Istanbul Convention? The Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty established by the the Council of Europe, with the aim to prevent and prosecute all forms of violence against women, promote gender equality and ensure protection and rehabilitation of women who are victims of violence.

  • The legislation was signed by 45 countries and the European Union in May 2011. From the European Union, 34 countries signed this treaty.
  • Turkey was the first country to sign the Council of Europe treaty during a summit held in Istanbul, and it is the first to pull out 10 years later.
  • On March 2012, it had incorporated the Istanbul Convention into domestic law.

Why has Turkey withdrawn from treaty protecting women? Erdogan announced his "Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women" on Thursday, which includes goals such as reviewing judicial processes, improving protection services and gathering data on violence.

"Some groups are trying to present our official withdrawal from the Istanbul convention on 1 July as going backwards," he said. "Just like our fight against violence towards women did not start with the Istanbul Convention, it won't end with our withdrawal."

Even though the official gazette did not include the reason for Turkey's withdrawal, some officials of Erdogan's nationalist party claimed that the convention demeans traditional family structure, promotes divorces and encourages acceptance of LGBTQ in the society.

  • In March, the Turkish Presidency's Directorate of Communications issued a statement saying the Istanbul Convention was "hijacked" by those "attempting to normalise homosexuality – which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values".
  • Erdogan emphasised traditional family and gender values Thursday, saying combating violence against women was also a fight to "protect the rights and the honour of our mothers, wives, daughters".

How big of a problem is gender-based violence in Turkey? Turkey's retreat has drawn blanket condemnation from around the world and sparked nationwide protests in a country where domestic violence is prevalent, with at least 300 femicides and 189 suspicious female deaths recorded so far this year by rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.

  • Turkey ranks 133 out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap report 2021. According to UN women data, 38 percent of women in Turkey face violence from a partner in their lifetime.

"The withdrawal sends a reckless and dangerous message to perpetrators who abuse, maim and kill: that they can carry on doing so with impunity," said Amnesty International's secretary general, Agnes Callamard.

Before the withdrawal, women's organisations urged Ankara to apply the treaty to protect women.

"We fought for the convention to be implemented. They believe they can exit from the convention with the word from one man. But women won't give up," Ipek Deniz, 35, told AFP in Istanbul.

Critics say the bans on the Pride march and the treaty withdrawal demonstrate a "creeping Islamisation" under Erdogan, who first came to power as prime minister in 2003.

Response of international community, other organisations

Women, LGBT groups and others have been protesting the decision. They say the convention's pillars of prevention, protection, criminal prosecution and policy coordination, as well as its identification of gender-based violence, are crucial to protecting women in Turkey.

  • United Nations, in a joint statement, said, "Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention would undermine the significant efforts invested so far to prevent and combat violence against women and may hinder progress towards further strengthening of national legislative, policy and institutional frameworks."
  • The Istanbul governorate banned a Pride march last weekend, which saw police use force while detaining dozens of protesters. Amnesty International's Turkey campaigner Milena Buyum tweeted from the protest after police re-closed the avenue with barricades: "The irony of hundreds of women and LGBTI+ rights defenders being blocked by a huge number of predominantly male police officers is not lost."
  • Three Opposition parties also pulled out of a parliamentary commission on Thursday to protest against the decision. "We will continue our struggle," Canan Gullu, president of the Federation of Turkish Women's Associations, said on Wednesday. "Turkey is shooting itself in the foot with this decision."
  • She said that since March, women and other vulnerable groups had been more reluctant to ask for help and less likely to receive it, with COVID-19-fuelled economic difficulties causing a dramatic increase in violence against them.
  • US President Biden had described the move as "disappointing" and a "disheartening" step backward in the fight to end violence against women. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that Turkey’s withdrawal was "deeply disappointing and a step backward for the international effort to end violence against women."
  • Whereas, the German foreign ministry said, "Neither cultural nor religious nor other national traditions can serve as an excuse for ignoring violence against women."

With inputs from agencies

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Turkey’s exit from Istanbul Convention, treaty protecting women, draws flak from activists, Western allies
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