Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday (21) to demand that Turkey remain in the Istanbul Convention, a treaty to protect women from gender-based violence, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew the country from international pact on Saturday (20).
Created by the European Council in 2011, the treaty displeases the Turkish conservatives, who see it as a risk for the traditional family structure. In addition, the convention considers gender equality and the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation as fundamental principles, which the conservative wing sees as a strategy to promote homosexuality.
“Every day we wake up to news of femicide,” Hatice Yolcu, a student participating in the Istanbul protest, told Reuters news agency. “Death never ends. Women die. Nothing happens to men.”
Turkey, which hosted the meetings at which the convention was created and was one of the first countries to sign it, is now the first to abandon it. The government did not explain the reasons for the decision, but senior members of the Erdogan government provided evidence of the justifications.
In a message on Twitter, Vice President Fuat Oktay said that “the preservation of the traditional social fabric” will protect the dignity of Turkish women. “For this sublime goal, it is not necessary to seek drugs abroad or to imitate others.”
One of Erdogan’s ministers, Zehra Zumrut (Family, Work and Social Programs) also said that Turkey’s constitution and existing laws in the country already guarantee women’s rights.
Turkey does not have official statistics on femicide. Non-governmental organizations that monitor violence against women say that in 2021 at least 78 women were murdered or killed in suspicious circumstances.
Data from the World Health Organization shows that 38% of women in Turkey have experienced violence from a partner at some point in their lives. In Europe, the average is 25%.
The decision also drew international criticism. Joe Biden, President of the United States, published a note on Sunday (21) declaring that Turkey’s withdrawal from the treaty is “deeply disappointing”.
The Secretary General of the Council of the European Union, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, called the Turkish decision “devastating”. “This movement is a huge setback, and even more unfortunate because it jeopardizes the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond.”
Germany has said withdrawal from the agreement “sends the wrong signal”. “Neither cultural, religious, nor other national traditions can be used as an excuse to ignore violence against women,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Before Turkey, Poland left the Istanbul Convention. At the time, the Polish Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, saw in the treaty “elements of an ideological nature”, which the right-wing government considered “harmful”. Later, however, President Andrzej Duda rejected the proposal.