On March 20, Turkey announced it will withdraw from the Istanbul Convention over what it calls the treaty's “normalization of homosexuality.”
The Istanbul Convention is a legally-binding human rights treaty of the Council of Europe pledging to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote gender equality. It was open to signature in 2011 and has been signed by 45 states.
Erdogan first expressed interest in leaving the convention in 2020. The final decision came after the president unveiled a human rights plan he says would “improve rights and freedoms in Turkey and help the country meet EU standards.”
Ankara said in a statement:
The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Türkiye’s social and family values. Hence the decision to withdraw.
The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention by no means denotes that Turkey “compromises the protection of women.” The Turkish State has continuously stressed that the country will not give up on its fight against domestic violence by quitting the Convention.
In a separate statement, the presidency's head of communications Fahrettin Altun stressed that Turkey's existing legislation is sufficient to prevent violence against women.
With these regulations that we made in our domestic law, we strengthened our legal infrastructure in terms of ‘combating violence against women’. From now on, we will implement new regulations to consolidate further the rights that our women have gained with a much more dynamic perspective. Our government will work with all its strength to end violence against women and to further empower women's place in social life.
But is it really sufficient?
According to the local campaign group We Will Stop Femicide, at least 28 women were killed in Turkey in February 2021.
The day Turkey withdrew from the convention, six women were killed in the space of just 12 hours, according to a collective Social Gender Equality.
In July 2020, protests swept several Turkish cities following the murder of Pınar Gültekin by her partner Cemal Metin Avci.
The Istanbul Convention binds member states to ensure victims of violence have access to shelters, 24/7 helplines, and other support services. Currently, Turkey only has one phone helpline (Alo 183) for women affected by violence. As of 2020, there were only 145 shelters for women victims of violence in the entire country. In total, they have a capacity to house 3,482 women.
On March 20, women across Turkey took to the streets in protest against the withdrawal:
#IstanbulConvention protects women,children & minorities from violence. In a country where 3 women are killed every day, it was our only hope. By withdrawing from it now the Turkish government defies rule of law, human rights, gender equality and wages war against women #femicide pic.twitter.com/o9GLGQW79X
— Elif Shafak (@Elif_Safak) March 20, 2021
A day later, people were invited to bang pots and pans at 9 p.m. Istanbul time.
The most comprehensive virtual protest ever for the women's rights in Turkey on #March21 Thousands will join to this unique protest. Join us. #Fight4WomenTurkey #IstanbulConvention
Youtube Link 👇👇👇https://t.co/hfMwPflT5j pic.twitter.com/n07mvr420X
— Advocates of Silenced Turkey (@silencedturkey) March 20, 2021
“Make Noise for the #IstanbulConvention” – Expect banging on pots & pans tonight at 9pm as women's groups call for continued action from balconies and windows to protest #Turkey’s withdrawal from international agreement to prevent violence against women #İstanbulSözleşmesiYaşatır https://t.co/DslTIsqXsX
— Jennifer Hattam (@TheTurkishLife) March 21, 2021
Turkey's decision also drew criticism from leaders and international institutions:
The #IstanbulConvention aims at ensuring essential legal protection to women & girls across the world.
We cannot but regret deeply and express incomprehension towards the decision of the Turkish government to withdraw from this convention. We urge Turkey to reverse its decision. https://t.co/wnXcJ1pXAU
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 20, 2021
Surprised Turkey has withdrawn from #IstanbulConvention on combating violence against women. We must not weaken efforts to protect the safety of women & girls in Turkey. I expect our government to urge #Turkey to reconsider.
— Daniel Kawczynski (@DKShrewsbury) March 21, 2021
The decision by #Turkey to withdraw from the @coe “#IstanbulConvention” is alarming and deeply regrettable. Yet another example of the backsliding of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Turkey, this time for #women + #girls. #WomensHumanRights @MarijaPBuric, @JosepBorrellF
— NikosChristodoulides (@Christodulides) March 21, 2021
Council of Europe leaders react to #Turkey‘s announced withdrawal from #IstanbulConvention – https://t.co/SU2l6MJIEX Germany chairs @coe Council of Europe‘s Committee of Ministers until May 21, 2021 pic.twitter.com/Gq3VZIwVSO
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) March 21, 2021
— Rik Daems (@PACE_President) March 21, 2021