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Turkey Withdraws From Istanbul Convention

Post Graduate (Master of Arts) in English Literature and Philosophy

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The Istanbul Convention

On 20th March 2021, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Turkey's withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. The charter was signed on 11th May 2011 in Istanbul and it came to force from 1st August 2014.

The charter of the convention is legally binding and covers domestic violence, seeking to end legal impunity for perpetrators. The treaty was signed by 45 countries and the European Union. However, it was only ratified by 34 countries (including Turkey).

Women's rights activists, several prominent lawyers and opposition politicians have denounced Erdogan's decision. Many of them insisted that Erdogan cannot unilaterally and legally take Turkey out of a convention that was ratified by the country's parliament.

Why Repealed

Erdogan's withdrawal has enraged women Turkish women (including Erdogan's daughter) and resulted in several women's protest across Turkey. Conservatives within Erdogan's parliament argue that the concept and principles of gender equality encourage divorce and promote homosexuality. Erdogan himself went on record to proclaim that he does not believe in the concept of gender equality.

Opponents of the convention find it problematic that signatories have to protect victims from discrimination regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are apprehensive that this specific clause within the charter may lead to same-sex marriages getting legalized in Turkey.

President Erdogan's spokesperson Fahrettin Altun declared that the Convention's original intention was to promote women's rights but it has been "hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality" and that it was incompatible with Turkey's social and family values.

Support for the Convention

On a peculiar note, Turkey was the first country to ratify the charter by a unanimous vote in the parliament. It was actively supported by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM) whose vice-chair is President Erdogan's daughter. Erdogan himself praised the convention at one point claiming Turkey to be a world leader in gender equality. Hence, his change of stance has been attributed to Turkey's eroding secular character and the promotion of social and religious conservatism and dogma.

Immediate effects and Criticism of the Decision

A couple of days after the announcement of Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul convention, six women were murdered in the country within twelve hours, four of whom were murdered because they wanted to end relationships. Sevtap Şahin filed a complaint 60 times to the authorities before she was murdered. Likewise, Ayşe Tuba Arslan brought charges against her ex-husband 23 times.

Turkey's withdrawal from the convention was heavily criticized by its European allies and the US. President Biden said that Turkey's move was "disappointing" and a "disheartening step backward" for efforts to end attacks on women. EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that Turkey was "sending a dangerous message across the world" about the rights of women. "We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision" - Borrell said.

But the strongest opposition Turkey is facing for this decision is from within. Women activists and protestors stand in defiance against the president's decision and they are resolved to continue the protests until the parliament reverses its decision. KADEM said in a statement last year "if murders of women have really increased here, there are many sociological and psychological variables that should be looked at. Making a convention a target like this means ignoring the real cause". KADEM's perceived support for the convention has made them targets of hardliners and conservatives, despite Sumeyye Erdogan (the president's daughter) being its vice-chair. Sumeyye Erdogan is unlikely to speak publicly against her father, but her case illustrates the divisiveness of the issue, within the president's own family and the Turkish society at large.


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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Abhijit Chatterjee

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Abhijit Chatterjee (author) from India on April 03, 2021:

Do check the opinion poll after reading the article and please vote

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