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Turkey withdraws from Istanbul Convention, citing ‘normalization of homosexuality’

Photo by European Parliament, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

And added:

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?

Last year alone, around 300 femicides were reported in Turkey. Considering domestic violence often goes unreported, the numbers are probably higher.

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.

Reactions

On March 20, women across Turkey took to the streets in protest against the withdrawal:

A day later, people were invited to bang pots and pans at 9 p.m. Istanbul time.

Turkey's decision also drew criticism from leaders and international institutions:

 

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