Turkey withdrew from a European treaty protecting women from violence that it was the first country to sign 10 years ago and that bears the name of its largest city.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s overnight decree annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a blow to women’s rights advocates, who say the agreement is crucial to combating domestic violence. Hundreds of women gathered in Istanbul to protest against the move on Saturday.
The Council of Europe’s Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, called the decision “devastating.”
“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,” she said.
The Istanbul Convention states that men and women have equal rights and obliges state authorities to take steps to prevent gender-based violence against women, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.
Some officials from Erdogan’s Islam-oriented party had advocated for a review of the agreement, arguing it is inconsistent with Turkey’s conservative values by encouraging divorce and undermining the traditional family unit.
Critics also claim the treaty promotes homosexuality through the use of categories like gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. They see that as a threat to Turkish families. Hate speech has been on the rise in Turkey, including the interior minister who described LGBT people as “perverts” in a tweet. Erdogan has rejected their existence altogether.
Women’s groups and their allies who have been protesting to keep the convention intact immediately called for demonstrations across the country Saturday under the slogan “Withdraw the decision, implement the treaty.” They said their years-long struggle would not be erased in one night.
Rights groups say violence against and killing of women is on the rise in Turkey but the interior minister called that a “complete lie” on Saturday.
At least 77 women have been killed since the start of the year, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. Some 409 women were killed in 2020, with dozens found dead under suspicious circumstances, according to the group.