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Turkey: Concerns for Women's Safety

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Mary Jane Amato reflects on the concerning developments as Turkey withdraws from the Istanbul Convention

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Photo by Mohsen Ameri

On 19 March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the arbitrary decision, without any preliminary parliamentary debate, to sign a decree to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul Convention. 

This ruling came at a time of generalised nationalism for the Turkish state, with more and more political choices veering towards an increasingly conservative approach, threatening human rights and freedom. 

The Istanbul Convention is an international human rights treaty of the Council of Europe, which pledges to prevent violence against women, and combat domestic violence in general. The treaty was laid down on 11 May  2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, and was signed by 45 states, along with the European Union.

The convention condemns and aims to combat sexual, psychological and physical violence, as well as stalking, forced marriage, abortion, sterilisation and genital mutilation. It was put in place to promote gender equality through the protection and support of all women, and the prompt prosecution of men enacting violence against them. Men are not excluded from the picture, and violence against men and boys is treated to the same extent of violence against women.

The convention promotes a coordinated approach across organisations and agencies to support women in need, and guarantees adequate information on where to find that support. It also regulates the training of specific authorities to raise awareness of gender-based violence in society, educating towards a culture of zero tolerance to violence. 

Turkey’s Withdrawal  

Regardless of the backlash the decision has prompted, President Erdogan has proceeded to withdraw Turkey from the convention under the pretext of it supposedly triggering the deterioration of social and family values, encouraging divorce. 

Erdogan is sensitive to the concerns of the country's conservative parties, such as the Justice and Development Party and the Islamist opposition Felicity Party, which believe being part of the convention will lead to the normalisation of homosexuality and the installation of gay marriage in Turkey, solely because the signatory states have a duty to protect victims from discrimination regardless of their sexual orientation.

The fact that the Istanbul Convention clearly states that the signatory countries are not obliged to change their national concepts of family has not made any difference in this crucial decision. The Convention explicitly says that: “traditions, culture or religion cannot be used as a justification for acts of violence against women”, and makes no other comment on how the countries should act regarding their personal views on family and marriage.

Popular Backlash

The response to Erdogan’s decision has not been a quiet one. From the CHP appeals to Turkish women protesting against the withdrawal on the streets, the aftermath of this presidential act has been both vocal and clear. 

Turkey’s main opposition party - the Republican People’s Party (CHP) - appealed the presidential decree in hopes that the Council of State would conclude that the most important thing here is the safety of women, and nullify the decree. 

Did you know? According to women’s rights groups, at least 300 women were murdered in Turkey in 2020.

The deputy parliamentary group leader, Özgür Özel, has underlined that the convention had been originally approved by all parties in Turkish parliament, and also that the presidential decree is in breach of the constitution and therefore inapplicable.  Özgür stated back in April:

“If you had asked what is the only good thing the AKP has done over the past 19 years in power, we would say it was the adoption of the Istanbul Convention. Now they’ve moved away from the only good thing they’ve done.” 

Furthermore, women took to the streets in March to protest against the government’s sudden and unexpected decision, displaying their disappointment and anger. Protesters actively voiced their concerns all the way through to July, asking for women’s rights to be better protected. Ironically, the Women and Democracy Association, which vehemently supports the whole movement in aid of women, is chaired by Erdogan’s own daughter.        

What is Going on Now?

The CHP has still not given up trying to reverse the President’s decision, doubling down on campaigning to make sure the right information, rather than misguided propaganda, is being circulated. They have been informing the public on the true contents of the convention, highlighting that it does not contain any imposition on immigration laws nor on allowing same sex marriage.

Their intention is to re-ratify the convention and until that happens, their prime concern has been to make sure additional support is put in place for both women and vulnerable groups by offering psychological support as well as legal and medical aid through a call centre which works 24/7 within the party’s headquarters.

The withdrawal has been seen as a sign that the Muslim nation is embracing a more extremist conservatism that appears to contrast with neighbouring countries. This trend might also impact Turkey’s economy in a negative way, as women’s freedom to work might also be at stake in some circumstances.  

The idea that we are now four months into the effective withdrawal of a country that has too often been the centre of attention for honour killings and violence against women and the LGBTQ+ community is a concerning situation that calls for immediate action. 


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