Turkey exits treaty combatting violence against women

Turkey on Thursday formally exited a treaty combatting femicide and domestic abuse, in a controversial move defended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but condemned by the West and rights groups.

Erdogan sparked outrage in March by pulling out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women, known as the Istanbul Convention.

There were protests on Thursday evening across Turkey including the capital Ankara and Istanbul as people rallied in support of the convention.

The 2011 pact, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation linked to the prosecution of crimes including marital rape and female genital mutilation.

Erdogan’s move came as he clings on to support from conservative and nationalist groups to maintain his 18-year rule.

Rights organisations say Erdogan’s decision will put women at greater risk of violence when femicide is already prevalent in Turkey.

“We’re very frustrated. Every day a woman who we know or don’t know is murdered. There’s no guarantee that we will not be subject to the same treatment tomorrow,” Nevin Tatar, 35, said during the demonstration in Istanbul.

Several hundred people attended the protest, some with rainbow flags, chanting: “We’re not going to be silent, we’re not scared, we won’t obey!”

– President’s promise – 

The president on Thursday insisted Turkey’s commitment to end violence against women would not suffer because of his decision.

“As the fight against violence against women did not begin with this treaty, so will our commitment not end because we are withdrawing,” he said.

He was speaking at an event at the presidential palace in Ankara for a national action plan to combat violence against women. 

But in comments likely to anger Turkish women Erdogan said “the fight was about protecting the honour of… our mothers and daughters”.

Erdogan in 2016 recommended women have three children and suggested a woman was “incomplete” if she did not have any. 

– Appeasing conservatives –

Justifying the withdrawal in March, Erdogan’s top press aide Fahrettin Altun said the treaty’s references to gender-based abuses had been “hijacked by people attempting to normalise homosexuality”.

The LGBTQ movement is “incompatible” with Turkey’s social and family values, he said.

Major Turkish cities were convulsed earlier this year by student-led protests supporting broader rights.

Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since the Ottoman Empire.

But women’s rights groups accuse Ankara of withdrawing from the treaty to appease conservatives at a time when Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-rooted party is recording lower levels of support.

The withdrawal was condemned by the European Union and the United States.

Turkey’s highest administrative court on Tuesday rejected an attempt to annul the withdrawal, saying that Erdogan had the “authority” to make the decision.

– Increased danger –

Last year, 300 women were murdered in the country, according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform, while 189 have been killed so far this year.

“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.

The Istanbul governorate banned a Pride march last weekend, which saw police use force while detaining dozens of protesters and pin an AFP photographer to the ground, prompting a formal complaint.

The parade was held annually in Istanbul until 2015, an event which had been attended by thousands of people.

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.

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