On Mar. 19, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he took the country out of the Istanbul Convention, a 2011 Council of Europe treaty meant to prevent violence and domestic abuse against women.
Many conservatives in Erdogan’s party claimed the treaty undermined family structures. They believed that the Convention’s principle of gender equality promoted homosexuality and other cultural taboos. Even Vice President Fuat Oktay stated, “Preserving our traditional social fabric will protect the dignity of Turkish women.”
In 2019 alone, 474 women were murdered, mostly by partners and relatives. The exact numbers are unknown; Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide. Most murders are filed as suicides. Since the start of 2021, 77 women were killed in 78 days.
Consequently, the Turkish opposition CHP party condemned the move. Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairman of the CHP for human rights, said that leaving the treaty meant “keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed.” They also added that the decision would also disproportionately harm other marginalized groups such as LBGTQ+ communities.
Protestors, too, took to the streets to express their outrage. On Saturday, hundreds of women demonstrated. Hatice Yolcu, a student in Istanbul, said, “Every day we wake up to news of femicide. The death never ends. Women die. Nothing happens to men.”
Turkey remains a potential candidate for the European Union. However, critics said the withdrawal would damage the country’s chances of a merger. Germany’s foreign ministry made a statement: “Neither cultural nor religious nor other national traditions can serve as an excuse for ignoring violence against women.
The United States also joined a list of countries that criticized the decision. President Joe Biden said, “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.”
The link between authoritarian regimes and repressed rights
In recent years, right-wing-leaning politicians have taken power across the globe. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro didn’t replenish funds for projects to protect women. In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin partially decriminalized domestic violence. Even in the United States, former President Donald Trump cut international funding for women’s rights and reproductive health. He also blocked laws that promote equal play in the workplace. Under these regimes, women’s rights took a major hit.
Erdogan’s recent announcement is a troubling sign for women in Turkey. Since coming to power nationally in 2003, Erdogan has always remained an authoritarian character. He has a history of silencing critics, and also thwarted a coup that resulted in the arrests of more than 50,000 soldiers, journalists, lawyers, and academics alike. In 2018, he secured a new five-year term as president thanks to a controversial referendum that increased his presidential powers.
These trends hint at a troubling future. During a 2018 U.N. Human Rights Council, the report said, “The corrosion of women’s rights is a litmus test for the human rights standards of the whole society.”
Despite differences in nationality or culture, women across the world share nearly universal experiences when it comes to the threat of harassment, fear, and violence. The recent change in Turkey is a reminder of the vigilance required of activists and allies. As Audre Lorde once wrote, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”