By Katya Mavrelli,
On the 20th of March 2021, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again performed a daring, puzzling, provocative and risky action. The Turkish President has pulled out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.
The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, declares that governments must adopt legislation so as to prosecute domestic violence and similar abuse such as marital rape and female genital mutilation. This decision comes amid increasing demand in Turkey for the combating of domestic violence due to the increase in femicide rates. The murder of student Pinar Gületkin sparked outrage in Turkey, with women’s rights activities calling for the government to tackle the widespread and ever more important problem of femicide.
Violence against women isn’t uncommon in Turkey, with 2014 seeing a significant increase in the victims of domestic violence. The recent killing of the 27-year-old student sent shock waves across the country, with protests in Izmir and government crackdown against the protesters.
The Istanbul Convention aims to tackle violence against women and domestic abuse, by promoting greater gender equality and dissolving gender barriers. Turkey was the first country to ratify the treaty a year after the initiative was launched by the Council of Europe in 2011 and has since adopted legislation reflecting the treaty. And while women’s right activists regard the Istanbul Convention as a powerful tool to fight violence against women, many criticize the government for not properly implementing the provisions and enforcing the enshrined principles. In July 2020 women’s rights activists called for the proper implementation of the treaty and the redefinition of the role of women in society, according to the treaty’s principles.
Despite the existence of this legislative framework, women’s rights groups said that Turkish authorities weren’t applying the legal norms of the Convention nor providing the intended assistance and protection to victims of domestic abuse. For a long time, both the government and the Turkish justice system have swept the problem under the carpet and the issue of femicides is by no means a matter that politicians give any serious consideration to. The internet community have put the government and judiciary under increasing pressure, by organizing protests which have grasped international attention and have finally brought the matter on the table.
Members of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) have claimed that the Convention threatens traditional family structures, encourages homosexuality, and erodes the essence of Turkish society. Pulling out of the Istanbul Convention is yet another one of Erdogan’s feeble attempts to maintain his hold on power, solidify the regime and battle against wavering support.
Yet, despite the claims of Erdogan’s regime, the departure from the Istanbul Convention sparked a wave of dissatisfaction, skepticism and evident disagreement with the way the current government responds to the issue of violence against women. Even Istanbul’s Mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu expressed his deep concern towards the government’s move, arguing that “in a country where violence against women is reported every day, it is very painful to announce a departure from the Istanbul Convention”. Prominent Turkish authors, like Elif Shafak, support women’s rights groups. In fact, the latter claimed that “in a county where 3 women are killed daily and femicide is a huge crisis”, pulling out of a convention which seeks to protect and safeguard women’s rights is far from acceptable.
Women’s rights have been gravely affected by the pandemic, which led to many countries imposing lockdowns and restrictive measures. With them, the number of reported domestic abuse cases increased and so did the number of reported crimes against women.
In a world where much is being questioned, where everything changes, and where the predefined notions of acceptable and “correct” are changing every day, the time has come for governments to finally address the issue of violence against women.
- Turkey pulls out of international treaty on violence against women, The Independent, Available here
- Turkey withdraws from Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women, CNN World News, Available here