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Turkey Withdraws From Istanbul Convention

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Turkey’s annulment of the Istanbul Convention ratification on Friday, March 19. The decision sparked a protest on Saturday in the capital Ankara, the Kadıköy neighborhood, and the city of İzmir.

The president’s office released a statement to explain the decision.

“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 Turkey’s social and family values. Hence the decision to withdraw,” the statement said.

The Secretary General of the Istanbul Convention, Marija Pejčinović Burić, responded to the decision on March 20, saying the move was a “huge setback.”

“The Istanbul Convention covers 34 European countries and is widely regarded as the gold standard in international efforts to protect women and girls from the violence they face every day in our societies,” Burić said. “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.”

One protestor, 43-year-old Cigdem Karadag, said she hopes the future will improve.

“The convention was not implemented properly, but cancelling it is another level. I came here with my daughters because I want to raise them in an educated society so they will not be murdered, they will live freely and have equal rights,” Karadag said.

The Family, Labor and Social Policies Minister, Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, tweeted about the decision, saying Turkey already has sufficient laws in place.

“The guarantee of women’s rights are the current regulations in our bylaws, primarily our constitution,” Selçuk wrote. “Our judicial system is dynamic and strong enough to implement new regulations as needed.”

 Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu also said he supported the current Turkish laws.

“Our institutions and our security forces will continue to fight against domestic violence and violence against women,” Soylu said.

Other countries have questioned the treaty and its effectiveness. A dozen Council of Europe Members failed to ratify it, while Russia and Azerbaijan never signed. 

Turkey signed the treaty on May 11, 2011, but femicide numbers have increased in recent years. According to World Health Organization, 38% of Turkish women experience partner violence at least once in their lifetime. According to Turkey’s We Will Stop Femicide platform, at least 300 women were murdered in the country in 2020.

The convention, fully named the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, seeks to prevent and cease domestic violence and violence against all women.

According to the Convention’s Constitution, “all parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to adopt and implement State-wide effective, comprehensive and co-ordinated policies encompassing all relevant measures to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention and offer a holistic response to violence against women.”

The Council proposed the treaty to other countries in 2011, and by December 2015, 39 countries had signed the treaty. Country leaders are now criticizing Turkey’s decision to leave the Convention

The French foreign ministry said France felt sympathy for Turkish women.

“This decision will primarily affect Turkish women, to whom France expresses all its solidarity,” the French Foreign Ministers said in a statement.

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement on Sunday, March 21 to address the decision.

“Countries should be working to strengthen and renew their commitments to ending violence against women, not rejecting international treaties designed to protect women and hold abusers accountable,” Biden said. “We all must do more to create societies where women are able to go about their lives free from violence.”

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took to Twitter to express her opinion.

“Violence against women is not tolerable. Women deserve a strong legal framework to protect them,” von der Leyen tweeted. “I support the #Istanbul Convention and call on all signatories to ratify it.”

Other protestors have expressed their outrage over the decision, but there is no further word on if Turkey will rejoin the Convention.

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