Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, popularly known as the Istanbul Convention, by a presidential decree announced in the official gazette early Saturday.
The Istanbul Convention seeks to “protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.” It is the first legally binding instrument in Europe to combat violence against women. Turkey was the first country to sign the convention the day it was launched in the city of Istanbul in 2011.
Femicides and domestic violence cases are on the rise in Turkey. While the country does not maintain official records of the number of violent crimes against women, according to We Will End Femicide Platform’s 2020 report, 300 femicides were committed and 171 women were found dead in suspicious circumstances during the year.
Responding to the announcement of the withdrawal, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić stated, “This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond.”
The Women’s Coalition-Turkey, a women’s rights organization in Turkey, said in a press release, “By its decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention Turkey’s state government announces that it is giving up to protect women from all forms of violence. It is clear that this decision will further encourage the murderers of women, harassers, rapers.”
Members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Parti and other conservatives lobbied against the convention last year, arguing that it encourages divorces and undermines family structures. Those in favor of withdrawal also argued that its principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on grounds of gender identity or sexual orientation encourage homosexuality, which has been legal in the country since 1858.
Vice President Fuat Oktay tweeted, “We are determined to carry our sincere struggle to raise the dignity of Turkish women in society to the levels they deserve, by preserving our traditional social fabric. For this sublime purpose, there is no need to look outside or imitate others. The solution is in our traditions and customs, in our essence.” Minister of Family, Labor and Social Services Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk issued a similar statement. She tweeted, “The guarantee of women’s rights is the current regulations in our domestic legislation, especially in our Constitution. Our legal system is dynamic and strong enough to implement new regulations according to need.”
Opposition leaders and some lawyers said Erdoğan cannot withdraw from a convention without parliamentary approval. Upon his reelection in 2018, Erdoğan acquired new executive powers. Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül tweeted, “The procedure for the approval and enforcement of international conventions is clear in our law. Parliament approves the participation, and the executive enforces it with a decision. The suspension and termination of the execution in the same way is under the authority of the executive.”
Thousands of individuals took to the streets in protest of the decision on Saturday, calling on Erdoğan to reverse his decision. Earlier this month he proposed a “human rights action plan.”
Poland, which announced its decision to withdraw from the convention in July of last year, is also set to do so in the coming months.