Turkish women protest against the exit from the European pact against sexist violence.

source: ca.news.yahoo
  • Erdogan's government removes the country from the Istanbul Convention, which Turkey pioneered in 2011
  • Many experts believe that conservative Islamist groups have lobbied for withdrawal.

Thousands of women have manifested  Saturday in  Turkey against the Islamist government's decision to pull the country of the Istanbul Convention, a  European treaty against gender violence that the Turkish government was one of the first to sign ten years ago.

The largest demonstration in Istanbul, the city wherein May 2011, fourteen member countries of the Council of Europe, including Turkey, were the first to sign the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

At least  284 women were murdered in Turkey in 2020  and 78 so far this year in sexist crimes, according to calculations by Bianet, an NGO that has been collecting these types of matters for a decade in the absence of government statistics.

The feminist platform "Stop the murders of women" raises that number to 300 and adds another 171 cases of women killed in suspicious circumstances. 

Thousands of women and many young men gathered in  Kadiköy, in the Asian part of the city, surrounded by a strong security device, including policemen in riot gear. Slogans such as "Women want justice" and "Long live the Istanbul Convention" were chanted by the protesters, who also recited the names of women victims of femicides. "Live," the protesters chanted after each name.

It is women who are leading to face a crisis. But we will not give up, and we will continue fighting for our rights," one of the protesters, who preferred not to identify herself, told Efe.

Islamist pressure

The decision to remove Turkey from the Convention was taken in a decree signed by the country's President, the Islamist  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and published this Saturday in the Official Gazette. Fahrettin Altun said, spokesman for the Turkish Presidency after the announcement, Under the administration of our President, we continue our struggle with the resolve of women to greater participation in social, economic, political, and cultural life.

With Erdogan as prime minister, Turkey was the first country to ratify the pact in March 2012. However, several women's groups denounce that it has never been applied in practice.

"We do not recognize the decision of a single man," "Women, life, freedom" or "Femicides are political" were other messages chanted in the protest in Istanbul, in which there were also members of the LGBTI community, who consider that this measure is also an attack on other sexual orientations.

Erdogan had already threatened in August 2020 to withdraw the country from the agreement "if the people want it." Many experts consider that  conservative Islamist groups have pressured  Erdogan's party, the AKP, for this withdrawal, considering that some articles negatively impact "the family structure" and go against "national values."

They allege that using the word sexual orientation promotes homosexuality and describes family values without specifying whether they are married or not. However, last year some members of the AKP were against leaving the agreement, including some female deputies and  KADEM, a women's organization close to the party and whose deputy director is  Sümeyye Erdogan, Erdogan's daughter.

Other party sectors argue that  Turkey has its laws and "traditions"  to protect women from sexist violence. "The solution is in our customs and traditions. It is in our essence," said the Turkish vice president,  Fuat Oktay, on the social network Twitter.

"Devastating" decision

Some experts in constitutional law and the main opposition party, the social democrat CHP, have raised the doubt that a presidential decree has the legal power to remove the country from an international agreement. The CHP has announced that it will refer the case to the Supreme Administrative Court.

The Secretary-General of the Council of Europe,  Marija Pejcinovic, considered this Saturday "devastating" Turkey's abandonment of the agreement. The  Istanbul Convention, which applies in 34 countries of the 47 Council of Europe partners, is "a precious tool in international efforts to protect women and girls from the violence they face daily in our societies," Pejcinovic said in a statement.

Russia and Azerbaijan are the only countries in that group that have not signed or ratified the pact.