Turkey pulls out of international treaty to protect women from violence

The 2011 Istanbul Convention requires governments to outlaw marital rape, female genital mutilation and other breaches of women's rights

Demonstrators march during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Istanbul, Turkey March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Cansu Alkaya
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Turkey pulled out of the world's first binding treaty to prevent and tackle violence against women, in the latest victory for conservatives in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party.

The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the EU, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse, marital rape and female genital mutilation.

Conservatives in Turkey claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society.

The publication of the presidential decree withdrawing Turkey from the treaty in the official gazette early on Saturday sparked anger among opposition politicians and rights groups and led to calls for protests in Istanbul.

Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairwoman of the main opposition CHP party said abandoning the treaty meant "keeping women second-class citizens and letting them be killed.

"Despite you and your evil, we will stay alive and bring back the convention," she posted on Twitter.

Turkey had been debating a possible departure after an official in Mr Erdogan's party raised the possibility of leaving the treaty last year.

Since then, women have taken to the streets in cities across the country calling on the government to stick to the convention.

Labour and Social Services Minister Zehra Zumrut Selcuk told the official Anadolu news agency that Turkey's constitution and domestic regulations would instead be the "guarantee of the women's rights".

"We will continue our fight against violence with the principle of zero tolerance," she said.

Domestic violence and femicide remain a serious problem in Turkey.

A man was arrested last Sunday in the north of the country after a video on social media purportedly showing him beating his former wife on a street sparked outrage.

Last year, 300 women were murdered, according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.

The platform called on Twitter for a "collective fight against those who dropped the Istanbul convention".

"The Istanbul Convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives on your command," its secretary general Fidan Ataselim said.

She called on women to protest in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, on Saturday.

"Withdraw the decision, implement the convention," she tweeted.

Kerem Altiparmak, an academic and lawyer specialising in human rights law, likened the government's withdrawal from the convention to the country's 1980 military coup.

"What's abolished tonight is not only the Istanbul Convention but the parliament's will and legislative power," he said.

Rights groups accuse Mr Erdogan of taking mostly Muslim but officially secular Turkey on an increasingly socially conservative course during his 18 years in power.