Turkish women rally in defense of Istanbul Convention

Women hold placards and shout slogans during a rally against Turkey's withdrawal from Istanbul Convention in Istanbul, Turkey, 19 June 2021. [EPA-EFE/ERDEM SAHIN]

Hundreds of women rally in Istanbul on Saturday (19 June), urging President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reverse his decision to withdraw from a Council of Europe anti-violence treaty ahead of a formal exit on1 July.

Erdoğan sparked outrage in March by pulling out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women, known as the Istanbul Convention.

US, Europe press Turkey to rethink ditching of Istanbul Convention

US and European leaders denounced what they called Turkey’s baffling and concerning decision to pull out of an international accord designed to protect women from violence, and urged President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reconsider.

The anger has not subsided with women’s groups organising two big protests in Istanbul, one on Saturday and another on 1 July to pressure the government to roll back the decision before the official withdrawal. Smaller protests are planned until 1 July.

Over 1,000 women from across Turkey took part in the demonstration on the Asian side of Istanbul surrounded by a heavy police presence, an AFP correspondent said.

Some held rainbow flags while others held placards saying: “Istanbul Convention is ours.”

“Our hope is always rooted in our struggles, in our organisations,” Melek Ondas, of the Women’s Council association, said, adding that women came from 70 provinces to Istanbul.

“We believe in the strength of our organisations. And whether the decision is overturned or not, we will continue our struggle in every way possible,” she told AFP.

The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation linked to the prosecution of domestic violence including marital rape and female genital mutilation.

Women’s rights organisations accuse the government of withdrawing from the treaty to appease conservatives who claimed the treaty damaged family unity.

Conservatives also suggested references to equality in the treaty were used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in Turkish society.

But critics of Erdoğan’s decision say the withdrawal puts women in Turkey at greater risk in a country where violence against women is prevalent.

Last year, 300 women were murdered according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform, while 177 have been killed so far this year.

It is necessary to note that all EU members have not ratified the Istanbul Convention and some said they never will.

According to the Council of Europe website Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have not ratified the convention. The Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled in 2018 that the Istanbul Convention was unconstitutional. Poland has ratified the Convention, but the conservative government has second thoughts. Critics say the Istanbul Convention is a plot to introduce “gender ideology” in traditionally conservative societies.

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