Turkey pulls out of treaty protecting women from violence

Some politicians have attacked the charter saying it damages family unity, encourages divorce and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

The opposition CHP party criticised the move, and one party official said that abandoning the treaty meant 'keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed' [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Turkey has pulled out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women, a presidential decree said Friday, in the latest victory for conservatives in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party.


The 2011 Istanbul Convention requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse, as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.


No reason was provided for the withdrawal, but officials in Erdogan’s governing AK Party had said last year the government was considering pulling out amid a dispute about how to curb growing violence against women.


“The guarantee of women’s rights are the current regulations in our bylaws, primarily our Constitution. Our judicial system is dynamic and strong enough to implement new regulations as needed,” Family, Labour, and Social Policies Minister Zehra Zumrut said on Twitter, without providing a reason for the move.


Conservatives had claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce, and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBTQ community to gain broader acceptance in society.


The opposition CHP party criticized the move.


Al Jazeera's video recent rise in femicide in Turkey

Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairman of the CHP responsible for human rights, tweeted that abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed.”


Turkey had been debating a possible departure after an official in Erdogan’s party raised dropping the treaty in 2020.


Since then, women have taken to streets in Istanbul and other cities calling on the government to stick to the convention.


Increasing femicide

Turkey is not the first country to move towards ditching the accord. Poland’s highest court scrutinized the pact after a cabinet member said Warsaw should quit the treaty, which the nationalist government considers too liberal.


The decision reads: ''The Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Fight Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence within Family which has been signed on behalf of Republic of Turkey on 11/5/2011 and approved on 10/2/2012 by the cabinet decision 2012/2816 has been dismissed on behalf of the Republic of Turkey pursuant to Article 3 of Presidential Decree No. 9'' Signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Domestic violence and femicide remain a serious problem in Turkey.


Erdogan has condemned violence against women, including saying this month that his government would work to eradicate violence against women. But critics have said his government has not done enough to prevent femicides and domestic violence.


Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide. World Health Organization data has shown 38 percent of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime, compared with about 25 percent in Europe.


Last year, 300 women were murdered in Turkey according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.

In 2020, an estimated 300 women were murdered in Turkey according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform [File: Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Ankara has taken measures such as tagging individuals known to resort to violence and creating a smartphone app for women to alert police, which has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.


Erdogan’s decision came after he unveiled judicial reforms this month that he said would improve rights and freedoms, and help meet EU standards.


Turkey has been a candidate to join the bloc since 2005, but access talks have been halted over policy differences and Ankara’s record on human rights.


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Anger, condemnation after Turkey exits treaty to protect women


Since last year, women have taken to the streets across the country calling on the government to stick to the convention.

No reason was provided for the withdrawal, but officials in Erdogan’s AK Party said last year that the government was considering pulling out amid a dispute about how to curb growing violence against women [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Turkey has sparked local and international outrage after it withdrew from 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, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.


On Friday, Turkey pulled out of the treaty by a presidential decree in a shocking move for human rights activists in the country.


No reason was provided for the withdrawal, but officials in Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development (AK) Party had said last year that the government was considering pulling out amid a dispute about how to curb growing violence against women.


Europe’s top rights body, the Council of Europe, denounced Turkey’s withdrawal from a treaty it sponsored and expressed concern about global efforts to protect women and girls.


The body’s secretary-general, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, said the treaty was a “gold standard” in international efforts to protect women.


“This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe, and beyond,” said Buric in a statement.


“The Istanbul Convention … is widely regarded as the gold standard in international efforts to protect women and girls from the violence that they face every day in our societies.”


Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey continues to work to make women participate more in social, economic, political, and cultural life.


“We will always say strong women, strong Turkey,” he said on Twitter.


“The guarantee of women’s rights are the current regulations in our bylaws, primarily our Constitution. Our judicial system is dynamic and strong enough to implement new regulations as needed,” Family, Labour, and Social Policies Minister Zehra Zumrut said on Twitter, without providing a reason for the move.


Making women’s life ‘hell’

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) slammed the government’s move.


In a video published on Twitter, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said that the government had taken away the rights of 42 million women through a fait accompli.


“I call on all women to protect their rights,” he said, adding that the government sought to make the lives of Turkish women “hell”.


Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairman of the CHP responsible for human rights, tweeted that abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed”.


The 2011 Istanbul Convention requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse [File: AFP]

Since last year, women have taken to the streets in cities across the country calling on the government to stick to the convention.


Ipek Bozkurt of We Will Stop Femicide Platform said women were shocked by the government’s move.

“There was a great campaign against the Istanbul Convention in Turkey last summer. All women’s NGOs, including the ones close to the government, said then it is not possible to discuss anything against the convention,” Bozkurt told Al Jazeera from Istanbul.


“It basically lays down the legal grounds for all the national laws to combat violence against women. So it seems like it is a decision that is not inspired by the women and women’s movements in the country,” she said, adding that last year alone, 300 women were killed by men in Turkey.


Pride march banned

The 2011 Istanbul Convention requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse, as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.


Rights groups accuse Erdogan of taking mostly Muslim but officially secular Turkey on an increasingly socially conservative course during his 18 years in power.


Turkish conservatives claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBTQ community to gain broader acceptance in society.


After a huge Pride March in Istanbul drew 100,000 people in 2014, the government responded by banning future events in the city, citing security concerns.


In January this year, Turkish police detained four people after artwork depicting Islam’s holiest site viewed as offensive by Ankara was hung at an Istanbul university at the center of recent protests.


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