In recent days, world leaders have come forward to condemn Turkey’s decision to pull out of an international accord created to protect women from violence.
US President Joe Biden has been among the various heads of nations to publicly urge President Tayyip Erdogan to reconsider re-signing the convention that pledges to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality.
Erdogan’s government first signed the Istanbul Convention in 2011, becoming the first country to adopt the Council of Europe convention on gender-based violence and domestic violence, which was at that time, a groundbreaking legal framework enacted to protect victims and effectively prosecute offenders.
On Saturday, Erdogan’s government withdrew from it, ten years after signing up. His government is claiming that Turkey believes domestic laws – not outside legislations, would protect women’s rights.
In recent years, Turkey, a country of almost 85 million, has seen a marked increase of violence against women and femicides, where so-called “honour” killings continue to be prevalent. According to a study from 2009 on prevention strategies, 42 percent of women in Turkey between 15–60 had suffered some physical or sexual violence by their husbands or partners.
In 2019, a total of 474 women were reported as murdered by their partners and relatives – a record ten-year high for the country whose dominate religion is Islam.
Over the weekend, thousands of women protested against the government’s redaction in the nation’s largest city of Istanbul.
“People woke up to this news of this presidential decree on Saturday that has really sent shockwaves across the country,” CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh reported. “There is so much anger here. They have been reading the names of the women who have been killed.”
The backlash seen to Erdogan’s decision is yet another public criticism of the 67-year old president — last week, he was criticised when a Turkish prosecutor tried to shut a pro-Kurdish political party.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday that Turkey’s withdrawal from the treaty was “deeply disappointing” and a huge step backward in global efforts to end violence against women.
“Around the world, we are seeing increases in the number of domestic violence incidents, including reports of rising femicide in Turkey,” he wrote.
“Countries should be working to strengthen and renew their commitments to ending violence against women, not rejecting international treaties designed to protect women and hold abusers accountable.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said the decision was incomprehensible and “risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey (and) sends a dangerous message across the world”.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, who met with Erdogan just 24 hours before Turkey left the convention, took to Twitter to convey her dismay, saying, “Women deserve a strong legal framework to protect them”.
Turkey’s presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said in a statement: “The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalise homosexuality – which is incompatible Turkey’s social and family values. Hence the decision to withdraw.”
Last July, Fidan Ataselim, the general secretary of We Will Stop Femicide, a campaign group that tracks the murders of women told The Guardian, “Violence against women is a problem everywhere. In Turkey we have a strong women’s rights movement but we also face a lot of opposition.”
“In the last 20 years society has changed a lot: more women are demanding their right to work and go to university. The more choices we have, the more intense the backlash gets.”
Photo Credit: Murad Sezer (Reuters)