A week ago, Turkey nullified a law protecting half its population. The European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) was opened for signatures in May 2011 at the 121st session of the Committee of Ministers, which was held in Istanbul. Turkey was among the first to sign and to ratify the convention, which received unanimous support across all political parties in the Turkish parliament. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was then prime minister. On Friday 19 March, in the middle of the night, now President Erdoğan announced a presidential degree annulling Turkey’s signature. Explaining his action, which is clearly a sop to conservative voters, he described the convention as contrary to ‘family values’, and his spokesperson claimed that it had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalise homosexuality”. The announcement came at the end of a week that had seen massive attacks on human rights and democracy by Erdoğan and the AKP as they attempt to cling to power in the face of dwindling support.
Under Erdoğan’s government, misogynist attitudes have been boosted by government rhetoric and by both action and inaction by the police and other authorities. Violence against women is endemic and growing, and the only problem with the Convention was that the laws weren’t being enforced. However, it did provide a legal backbone for campaigning, and its removal – which is anyway not legal without parliamentary approval – is being widely resisted. Even some religious and conservative women’s organisations have objected to the withdrawal, and a recent poll suggests that only a ¼ of supporters of Erdoğan’s AKP are in favour of withdrawal, while half are against, so it may not be quite the vote-winner he is looking for. Meanwhile the protests are drawing attention to the violence and mistreatment facing so many women in Turkey.
They have also drawn my attention to the fact that the UK has not even ratified the convention!