Demonstrations in Turkey against the exit of the international treaty against sexist violence

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Ten years ago Turkey became the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, better known as Istanbul Convention, since this city was the one that received his signature. This July 1, Turkey has become the first country to abandon the international treaty, by decision of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and despite the criticism that the decision has raised both inside and outside the country. Feminist organizations, however, promise to continue fighting to return the country to the Istanbul Convention. The main Turkish cities experienced massive demonstrations on Thursday to underline that objective.

On March 20, the Turks woke up to the news that, at midnight, President Erdogan had erased by decree Turkey’s membership of this European treaty, a measure that entered into force this Thursday. Several opposition parties and civil organizations went to court to try to paralyze the decision on the grounds that a simple decree of the president could not invalidate membership in an international treaty approved by Parliament. On Wednesday, the Council of State ruled in favor of the president in a tight vote between magistrates that was settled with a vote of 3 to 2 and which shows that, despite the influence of the Executive in the judiciary, this type of decision by Erdogan faces great opposition even in his own field.

“What will happen now? Will the president also be able to eliminate any other rule or law that protects women at the stroke of a pen? ”, Denounced this Thursday Fidan Ataselim, secretary general of the platform Stop Feminicides. The importance of the Istanbul Convention lies in the fact that it is an international treaty – therefore, compulsory incorporation into the legal system of each signatory country – and the first exclusively dedicated to promoting gender equality and preventing violence against women. It includes measures to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators and has served to update the legislation of various European States.

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In Turkey, several laws have been improved, but women’s organizations believe that the lack of application of the provisions of the convention has contributed to the continued increase in sexist murders. More than 400 Turkish women have been killed by their boyfriends, husbands or relatives every year since 2017, and 189 so far in 2021, according to the count of the Stop Feminicide Platform.

Ataselim considers that the exit from the agreement is not only “illegal and unconstitutional”, but also “contrary to Turkish society”, since the vast majority of citizens are in favor of continuing to be part of the convention. “Only a tiny minority, perhaps 7% of the population, was in favor of exiting the Istanbul Convention. And Erdogan has turned his back on the social majority to pay attention to a tiny minority, represented by some brotherhoods and religious congregations that are against equality between men and women, against women’s rights and against that women can have an independent life ”, affirms the Turkish activist.

The withdrawal of the agreement, as well as the increasingly harsh rhetoric against the LGTBI community, is interpreted as a nod by Erdogan to the ultra-conservative sectors of Turkish society. An attempt to fuel culture wars to prevent the more conservative electorate from turning to the opposition, at a time when the bad economic situation is eroding support for the AKP, Erdogan’s Islamist party.

In fact, the Turkish Government has justified the withdrawal of the agreement in which he had been “kidnapped by a group of people who are trying to normalize homosexuality”, when the only reference in the entire text is in Article 4.3, which specifies that the provisions of the treaty “must ensure without any discrimination”, be it based on race, color, language, religion, “sexual orientation, gender identity” and a dozen other possible grounds for exclusion. Asked recently a senior AKP official about the reason for leaving, he pointed out that the problem “is not only the text, but how it is interpreted”, and pointed out that Turkey is not the only country with reluctance. Indeed, the ultra-conservative governments of Poland and Hungary have also shown rejection of the text.

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Erdogan promised on Thursday that women’s rights will not be affected. “Our fight against violence against women did not begin with this treaty nor will it end with the withdrawal of the treaty. Fighting violence against women is part of our priorities, ”she said in a speech.

Ataselim recognizes that the withdrawal of the convention “will not have a direct effect” on the laws already approved, but “indirectly the effect will be very strong and negative”, especially in the way of applying the rules. “Violent men will feel supported in their behavior and women will feel more alone in the face of violence,” he laments.

The activist affirms that the Turkish feminist organizations will continue to “fight to annul this illegal decision”. On the afternoon of this Thursday, demonstrations took place in the main cities of Turkey to demand the return to the treaty. Despite strong police security measures, several thousand women gathered on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, where they chanted slogans such as “You will never walk alone”, “We do not obey, we do not shut up, we are not afraid” or “The Istanbul Convention it is ours ”. In the city of Izmir, the police fired tear gas to try to disperse the protesters.

“Turkey has turned the clock back ten years for women’s rights and sets a terrible precedent,” criticized Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard. But he also stressed that “this deplorable decision” has led activists from around the world to join forces. In Turkey itself, where before the debate began up to half the population did not know what the Istanbul Convention was, now there are few who do not know what it is about. And the majority, including some women’s organizations close to the AKP, are against exiting the treaty.

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