Women protest Erdogan’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence

Women in Istanbul took to the streets on Saturday to protest Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, effective July 1. Established by the Council of Europe in 2011, the convention targets violence against women and domestic violence.

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Protesters gathered on the streets of Istanbul on Saturday to voice their anger at the government’s decision to withdraw from the measure, which is aimed at protecting women from gender-based violence. Turkey was the convention’s first signatory in 2011, lending it the name of its commercial capital. Since then the convention has been signed by 45 countries, along with the European Union.

Erdogan issued a decree annulling Turkey’s ratification of the convention on March 20. Turkey will officially renounce its membership on July 1.

“People are really afraid that their rights, which are already at a very fragile point today in Turkey, will be further deteriorated [and that] the state will protect them even less,” said FRANCE 24’s Shona Bhattacharyya, reporting from Istanbul.

She says protesters are determined to keep fighting through July 1, and are asking for a law to be passed in parliament ensuring that women’s rights are further protected.

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The convention requires signatory states to investigate allegations of violence and prosecute those responsible. Additionally, signatories agree to promoting gender equality through legislation and education. 

Critics fear that the withdrawal will add to an already increasing number of femicides in Turkey. In May alone, 17 cases of confirmed femicides were reported and another 20 suspected cases were reported, according to a study published by women’s rights group Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu (We Will Stop Femicide Platform). Turkey does not log official figures on femicides.

“These murders often go unpunished,” said Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar from Carnegie Europe. This is why the Istanbul Convention was such a “crucial reassurance” for Turkish women, he said.

At the time the convention was ratified, the Turkish parliament agreed to act on eradicating violence against women. The Women and Democracy Association (Kadem), whose vice-chair is Erdogan’s daughter, also fully supported the move.

But views on the convention have since shifted. Conservatives in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) now claim the convention actually encourages violence by undermining Turkey’s traditional family structures.

Erdogan further justified his withdrawal in March by accusing the convention of “normalising homosexuality”.