Though the Erdogan government had been threatening to leave the Istanbul Convention for months, the dead of night announcement on Friday still came as a shock to millions of Turkish women. The Istanbul Convention, which was ratified by the Turkish Parliament in 2011 while Erdogan was Prime Minister, requires a signatory country to take steps to prevent and prosecute violence against women, as well as protect victims. Women across Turkey took to the streets on Saturday, decrying the withdrawal as a sign that the government does not care about the life, health, and safety of Turkish women.
“From the protests that you see today, it is clear that women don’t see this as a cultural battle, they see this is about fundamental human rights and they are united in their fight against gender based violence,” AIUSA Turkey Advocacy Specialist Deniz Yuksel said in an interview in Al-Jazeera English on Saturday.
In response to the argument made by the Turkish government that current laws are strong enough to protect women and girls from gender based violence, Yuksel said that “of course signing the Convention is not enough. The [Turkish] parliament has passed a series of domestic laws under the convention, but the Turkish government has largely failed to implement those. As you heard in the testimonies of women, Turkish police rarely listen to women when they come with complaints of violence from partners.”
It is clear that Turkey’s current laws and justice system are adequet to protect women as there as been a steady rise in incidents of violence against women over the past decade, according to Yuksel, and these incidents have become even more frequent since the onset of the pandemic.
Yuksel warned that “in just the first 78 days of this year, 77 women have been killed, and many more will be unless the government acts to protect women and girls.
The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is just the most recent in a series of strikes against human rights in Turkey. In the last week, the Turkish government has stripped the parliamentary immunity of a legitimately elected Kurdish MP from the HDP, expelled him from parliament, detained him for protesting his expulsion, and started the process to legally close the HDP.
This is all happening against background of the systematic replacement of elected mayors from the HDP in Kurdish majority cities and provinces, the banning LGBTI pride activities, and the arrest, prosecution, and ongoing detention of activists, philanthropists, journalists, and lawyers. Independent or autonomous Turkish state institutions like Constitutional Court, High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, Turkish Court of Accounts, Council of State, and even opposition parties are either systemically, structurally, or politically restricted to prevent any from speaking out against these ongoing human rights violations.
Millions of Turkish girls and women desperately need to be supported by international community right now. The current pattern of human rights violations in Turkey demonstrates that the country is heading toward irreversible damage to human rights and human dignity.