When the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence came into being in 2011, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proudly declared that his country was the first member of the Council of Europe to sign it. But it has proved to be an empty boast. Violence against women is not only rife in Turkey but the government now is talking about abandoning the international treaty and removing the protection it offers women.
The principles of the convention are to prevent violence against women, protect the victims of such violence and remove the impunity of the perpetrators of violence. But since signing the convention in 2012, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have done very little to uphold those principles. Indeed, the president appears bent on reversing them.
Only two years after signing the treaty, Erdogan declared that women were “not equal to men due to their delicate natures.” He added, “Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood.”
To add insult to insensitivity, the president uttered those statements when opening a new building for Kadem, the Turkish Women and Democracy Association. At a gathering of non-governmental organizations in June 2019, Erdogan said the Istanbul Convention “is not on a par with the values of Turkish society” and therefore, he did not consider it to be binding.
In an interview broadcast on July 2 this year, Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy chairman of the AKP, said that “as a person who has read the Istanbul Convention several times,” he believes Turkey had been “wrong” to sign it and should consider withdrawing from the treaty because it advocates improper gender roles and family values.
The government admits it does not keep records on how many women are killed by domestic violence. The We Will Stop Femicide Platform does, however. In 2019, 474 women were murdered. In 2013, the year after Turkey signed the Istanbul Convention, the figure was 237. In the first half of 2020, 211 women were murdered in Turkey, according to Monument Counter, a website that documents domestic-violence killings.
One of them was Fatma Altinmakas. In early July, Fatma went to the police in Mus, her home city in eastern Turkey, to report that she had been raped repeatedly by her brother-in-law. The case went to trial but the court acquitted him for lack of evidence. Fatma was given no police protection after the verdict, and on July 14 her husband shot her dead to “restore his honor.”
Organizations such as Turkey’s Platform for Families, which has more than 3,000 members, regard the Istanbul Convention as a threat to Islam. Its president, Adem Cevik, has openly asserted that to prohibit early marriage is to defy God and described the Istanbul Convention as “a project to rid society of families.”
He also wants Turkey to withdraw from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international bill of rights for women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and ratified by 189 states. So far, public support for that idea appears to be limited, with fewer than 4,500 people signing a petition.
The Turkish media have increasingly given a platform to opponents of the Istanbul Convention. One of them is Ali Erkan, a columnist on the conservative daily newspaper Yeni Akit, who calls the convention “an imported law” – apparently unaware that it came into being in Turkey or of the active role played by Turkish women in its formulation.
Differences over the convention exist within Erdogan’s AKP and even within his own family. His daughter Sumeyye is vice-president of Kadem, which is opposed to leaving the Istanbul Convention.
At a cabinet meeting in July, Erdogan ordered an opinion poll to gauge the public’s views on the Istanbul Convention, saying, “If the public wants it to be removed, it shall be so.”
However, the public doesn’t seem to know what it wants. The most recent survey, published on June 27 by the polling company Istanbul Economics Research, revealed that 51% did not know what the Istanbul Convention was about. Of those who did, only 9% supported Turkey’s withdrawal from it. It turns out that most respondents confused the Istanbul Convention with the Montreux Convention, a 1936 agreement concerning control of the Dardanelles strait.
As the managing director of the polling company rightly said, not everyone can be expected to know about the Istanbul Convention, but if the matter of whether to withdraw from it or not is to be decided by public opinion, then the public should understand what it is voting on.
Violence against women in Turkey is unconscionably high. The rate of femicide is one of the country’s most pressing problems, yet the government not only refuses to address it but is seriously considering the jettisoning of an internationally agreed layer of protection for women.
It seems the women of Turkey cannot rely on their own government to respect their rights.
This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.