Turkey has pulled out of a landmark international convention aimed at preventing violence against women in a move rights groups say will put them at greater risk in a country that suffers high rates of domestic abuse and femicide.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree early on Saturday dissolving Turkey’s obligations under the Council of Europe treaty, dubbed the Istanbul Convention after it was opened for signatures in the country’s largest city in 2011. The pact provides legal and social guidelines for governments to curb violence against women and has been signed by 45 nations and the EU.
Erdogan once touted the Istanbul Convention as evidence Turkey was a leader in gender equality. But senior members of his ruling party last year said Turkey should leave the pact, arguing it did not suit conservative Islamic mores and encouraged divorce and homosexuality. Their calls were met by large protests from women who said Turkey was already failing to meet its commitments under the treaty and should enforce the agreement rather than abrogate it.
At least 300 women were killed for their gender in Turkey last year, and 171 women were found dead under suspicious circumstances, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. Almost 40 per cent of women in Turkey suffer violence at their partners’ hands, compared with about 25 per cent in Europe, according to the World Health Organization.
Opinion polls last year showed the overwhelming majority of Turks wanted to remain in the Istanbul Convention. The decision to abandon it shows the influence hardliners have gained in Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted party as it seeks to energise its base amid voter discontent during a long-running economic downturn.
Erdogan has recently promised political and economic measures to rebuild credibility with investors and repair strained relations with western partners. Just this month, he announced a “human rights action plan” to meet EU criteria for membership that included pledges to bolster protection of women and adherence to international rights treaties.
“We believe that a world in which women are strong, families and society are strong. Work on solving women’s problems continues to be a main issue for our government,” Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s director of communications, said in a tweet after the presidential decree was published in the official gazette.
Gokce Gokcen, vice-chair of the secularist opposition Republican People’s party, said in a tweet that the decree illegally bypassed parliament’s authority and “translates as ‘women should remain second-class citizens and should even be murdered’”.