The Istanbul Convention is crucial to protect the rights of women and the LGTBQ+ community and fight against gender-based violence. But today, despite popular opposition, Turkey is officially leaving the Convention – also known by its official term as the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
10 years ago, Turkey was the first country to sign the convention. But the continuing ban on Pride Month since 2015 and subsequent public threats have caused growing violence against the LGBTQ+ community. And violence against women and children continues to be a growing problem.
Despite conservative reactionary groups arguing against the convention, only a slim 17% of citizens approved the move while almost 64% opposed it according to a July 2020 poll. Another poll taken in August 2020 showed that only 7% approved. Many citizens have been protesting the withdrawal from this treaty in the last few months. Public figures have also made statements on the issue, such as a famous footballer recently sharing a photo of him wearing a shirt that reads 'Powered by Pride'.
In particular, Turkish women have been protesting due to concerns over a further deterioration of their rights and a lack of protection from acts of violence. Feminicide is one of the main issues that women face in Turkey. Just since January 2021, 189 women have been murdered.
It's also clear that pulling out from the convention is linked to rising anti-gay sentiment in the country. What was once considered a safe haven for LGBTQ+ refugees in the region has become hostile to their rights and community 20 years later. Some of the most violent repression against Pride protestors has occurred this year. Homophobic rhetoric in Turkey is now coming from the highest levels of power; such as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a senior public health official.
One of the key aspects of the Istanbul Convention is that of children's rights and most importantly their protection from abuse. Although the convention contains a range of measures to prevent gender-based violence against girls, it is also written to prevent boys experiencing similar acts of violence – acknowledging that many children experience domestic violence. A recent verdict in a child abuse case caused outrage in Turkey and illustrates the lack of protection that children have.
Stop the Withdrawal!
Women from civil society, women's organizations, bar associations, political parties and various sectors have all taken action to stop the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. They have filed annulment lawsuits against the President's decision, which was published on March 20, 2021. They have also submitted a petition calling for a 'stay of execution' which would block the withdrawal. Only a few days ago on 28 June 2021, as the Women for Equality Platform in Turkey states, "the 10th Chamber of the Council of State decided to reject the request for a stay of execution by a three-to-two majority."
The Green Left Party of Turkey have supported these moves as well as worked to shed light on feminicides, supported women coming forward about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and been allies to the LGBTQ+ movement in Turkey. They have strongly stated that 'no one has the right to interfere with the Istanbul Convention, which guarantees women and children against violence and abuse':
"The Istanbul Convention, which determines that gender inequality is the basis of violence against women and criminalizes acts such as forced marriage and forced abortion, clearly sets out the responsibilities of the state: To prevent any person, especially women and children, from being exposed to violence and abuse on the basis of their gender and protect victims and punish perpetrators as necessary. (...) As the Green Left Party, we emphasize once and for all that we consider the Istanbul Convention an indispensable part of fundamental human rights regulations, and that we will stand today and always in the face of attempts to sacrifice it to the political manoeuvres of the government."
Rising Hate and Authoritarianism: A Terrifying Trend
Turkey pulling out of the Istanbul Convention as well as its increasing attacks on women and LGBTQ+ rights points to a terrifying trend that is making its way across Europe. It is not the only country that has grown more brazen in its infringement of human rights and democratic principles in the hopes of garnering more power and/or votes.
Pulling out of the Istanbul Convention is another signal of the increasing undermining of women's and LGBTQ+ rights. The way in which protestors were treated in Turkey and other countries during Pride indicates the unfortunate impact that not ratifying the convention will have on the continued rise of homophobic sentiment in Europe. Unfortunately, the argument that LGBTQ+ people are threat to traditional values, has been rehashed and emulated by politicians in the EU such as in Hungary and Poland where symbols of LGBTQ+ pride are increasingly subject to political weaponisation. Recently, rainbow flags were restricted by security guards at a football match in Budapest.
Turkey’s withdrawal from the #IstanbulConvention won’t stop us. We will take our rights back.⚡️— Greens/EFA in the EU Parliament 🌍 (@GreensEFA) July 1, 2021
Tell the @EU_Commission to end gender-based violence online and offline.💥
Sign the petition ➜ https://t.co/CWb8lWYURV#NoMoreEmptyWords 🔥 pic.twitter.com/oqIegaKEVo
How strong we are depends on how we defend human rights and democratic principles across Europe. "Now is the time for courage," says the Women for Equality Platform in Turkey. Green MEP Terry Reintke, along with the European Greens including the Green Left party of Turkey, has been vocal on the need to prioritise the "full accession, ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention all over Europe."
Autocrats like Erdoğan and his look-alikes in the EU are attacking the Istanbul Convention because they are afraid of free and independent women.— Terry Reintke (@TerryReintke) March 25, 2021
Solidarity to the women’s and LGBTI* movements in Turkey.
We have to resist - everywhere in Europe.#istanbulsoezlesmesiYASATIR pic.twitter.com/OpbBZcGbrl
In the EU, Poland has expressed a desire to withdraw from the Convention. Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have yet to ratify it. Nevertheless, Georgia has just announced that it will implement the Istanbul Convention, and we hope to see further action on this issue soon to protect women and girls everywhere!
The Green Left Party of Turkey are amplifying calls from civil society and asking people to join the protest taking place tonight at 19:00 local time in Taksim Tunel, Turkey. They are continuing to demand that the state council stop the execution of the decision. United 4 Istanbul Convention is also hosting a map of online protests across Europe on this issue. Add your name to the map to show your solidarity!
Çekilme kararını tanımadığımızı ve İstanbul Sözleşmesinden vazgeçmeyeceğimizi haykırmak için 1 Temmuz’da her yerde “İstanbul Sözleşmesi Bizim” diyerek hayatı durduracağız.#DanıştayYürütmeyiDurdur#İstanbulSözleşmesindenVazgeçmiyoruz#YeşilPazartesiler pic.twitter.com/r61GPgYJ3z— Yeşil Sol Parti (@YesillerSol) June 28, 2021