There has been widespread criticism of Turkey’s decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and children in March 2021. According to the BBC, one of the main reasons that Turkey pulled out of the Istanbul Convention in March 2021 was because it encouraged divorce and could lead to an increase in gay marriage. This decision led to an outbreak of protests in Turkey by various groups that campaign for gender equality.
The Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and children has been described in the European Parliament as 'the first instrument in Europe to set legally binding standards specifically to prevent gender-based violence, protect victims of violence and punish perpetrators’. The first state which passed this convention was Turkey, by a unanimous vote in the parliament in 2012. Even Erdogan and his ruling AKP supported the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in 2012 to ensure that Turkey became one of the world leaders in the fight for gender equality and combating gender-based violence.
The EU and many human rights groups such as Amnesty International have condemned Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. The senior Europe Adviser for Amnesty International, Esther Major, criticised the decision of the Turkish government to pull out of the Istanbul Convention, saying that ‘the Istanbul Treaty is now more important than ever with COVID-19 measures, such as lockdowns, leading to a spike in reports of violence against women and girls… Rather than attacking LGBTI people and withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, the government should instead re-double efforts to ensure LGBTI people, women and children are protected from violence and abuse’.
After a meeting between the EU and Turkey, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, also criticised Turkey’s move to pull out of the Istanbul Convention. Von der Leyen stated that she is ‘deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention… This is about protecting women, and protecting children against violence, and this is clearly the wrong signal now’.
According to the “We Will Stop Femicide Platform”, ‘at least 300 women were murdered in Turkey in 2020, mostly by their partners, and 171 more women were found dead under suspicious circumstances’. As an alternative, ‘senior AKP members announced they would deal with domestic violence through judicial reform and an Ankara Convention that would claim its power from ‘traditions and customs’. In summary, the move by Turkey to pull out of a legally binding agreement which it supported, is a move that will be detrimental for protecting women, LGBTI communities and children from violence.
The reasons cited by the Turkish government for pulling out of the Istanbul Convention are inexcusable. Why is it such a problem if there is an increase in gay marriages or LGBTI people in Turkey due to this Convention? As stated by Esther Major, the Turkish government should be further enshrining protection against violence of women, LGBTI people and children, as opposed to reversing these protections.
This is sadly not the first example of undemocratic acts by the Turkish government in the last few years as Erdogan has tightened his grip on power to the detriment of the free press, women and so on. It is crucial that the EU and human rights groups continue to promote the Istanbul Convention which is vital in the fight against increasing rates of femicide and gender-based violence.
Despite this, the EU itself has many questions to answer with regards to how it has handled this situation. It had no problem with meeting with an autocratic Turkish government to enhance EU – Turkey ties, despite the fact that the same Turkish government pulled out of a legally binding international convention that protected women and LGBTI people just a couple of weeks earlier.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown across the world, there is a worldwide pandemic of domestic violence predominantly against women and protections must be enshrined to protect women against domestic violence. That is why the Istanbul Convention must continue to be upheld by all countries if they are serious about combating gender-based violence and femicides. The Turkish government has shown it is not serious about combating gender-based violence as it has continued to ignore this growing issue. In years to come, history will look back on the far-right AKP – MHP coalition government with severe distaste.