Turkey withdraws from the Istanbul Convention on violence against women

President Erdoğan has pulled Turkey out of the Istanbul Convention, key in the fight against gender violence, claiming that it favours the LGBT community rather than family values.

Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention, the first-ever binding treaty aimed at preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Approved by the Council of Europe in 2011 and signed by 45 countries, by the European Union, and, firstly, by Turkey itself, the Convention demands that governments adopt legislation to prosecute domestic violence and abuse against women, as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation (FGM).

However, according to President Erdoğan’s questionably-named Justice and Development Party (AKP), the treaty is damaging to the family unit and encourages divorce. The AKP has also been critical of the agreement because it has supposedly enabled the LGBT community to use its references to equality to gain wider societal acceptance.

Turkey’s Family, Labour, and Social Services Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk attempted to placate public opinion by tweeting that “combating violence against women is a human rights issue” and that, therefore, “we will continue our fight against violence […] today as we did yesterday”. Nevertheless, the publication of the decree in the official government Gazette on the morning of 20th March sparked enraged reactions among human rights activists in Istanbul and other Turkish cities.

Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk tweet
Family, Labour, and Social Services Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk’s tweet

While Turkey is the first country to withdraw from the treaty, several other countries – in Eastern Europe particularly – have expressed a similar intention.

Reactions in the international community

Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Council of Europe’s Secretary-General, stated that “Turkey‘s announced withdrawal from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women is a huge setback, compromising the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond”.

The news also caused dismayed reactions across Europe. In Italy, Valeria Valente – the President of the Investigative Committee on Femicide and Gender-Based Violence – said that “the news of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on domestic and gender-based violence is one of those things we never wanted to hear. In 2011, the treaty represented a symbol of hope and a message aimed at those countries that, due to religion and tradition, still lag behind in terms of recognising women’s rights. It became a pillar of international rights legislation against gender-based violence. Now, Erdoğan’s decree represents a dramatic turnaround”.

According to Laura Boldrini – coordinator of a cross-parliamentary group for women, rights, and equal opportunities, former UNHCR spokesperson, and former President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies – Turkey’s decision is “an attack on women’s rights. It’s the umpteenth fracture between Europe and Erdoğan’s government on principles and values that should be universal. Let’s make our voices heard”. This exhortation is aimed at everyone because this news affects women everywhere, not only in Turkey.

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