A setback for women in Turkey

On March 19th, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. On the next day, the streets were  filled with demonstrators all over the country. This news caused – in addition to worry amongst Turkish women – a tsunami in the international political sphere.

What is the Istanbul Convention about ?

Also known as “the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, the Istanbul Convention was devised  by the Council of Europe and opened for signature on May 11th 2011. Turkey was the first to sign this convention a year later. It is part of the measures put in place since the 1900s by the Council of Europe to legislate against domestic violence and violence against women. It was implemented  in 2014. 

This treaty qualified and specified violence against women as “one of the most serious forms of gender-based violations of human rights” according to the introduction of the “Explanatory Report to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.” It is structured by 81 articles – covering physical and psychological violence, stalking, harassment, sexual violence, marital rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, etc – and is based on four cornerstones : prevention, protection and support of victims, prosecution of perpetrator and efficient policies.

Why leave this convention ?

A number of countries criticized the Istanbul Convention and judged it  unconstitutional before the Turkish government did. Moreover, the country is not the first to withdraw from the convention : Burglary, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland already did for different reasons, such as refusing to teach the notion of gender in an ideological prism.

The government accused the convention of damaging the Turkish nuclear family and point it out as an encouragement to homosexuality and divorce. The vice-president, Fuat Oktay, explained: “There is no need to look for the remedy outside our own country, to imitate others. The solution lies in our traditions and customs, in our essence.” In Turkey, 38% of women had experienced partner violence in their lifetime and 474 women had been killed by their partner or ex-partner in 2019. This decade was particularly deadly for women in Turkey. 


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