Turkey has never had a “normal” day to talk about daily, routine problems, such as the economy or even the situation around COVID-19. Thanks to the AKP-MHP alliance’s agenda, almost each day, a major debate or huge change is on the table.
The past week, it was the forceful change of the structure of the bar associations and the Hagia Sophia decision, combined with Turkey’s adventurous affairs overseas. Meanwhile, President Erdoğan gave instructions to work on how to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, which is known as the most serious, effective commitment for states to combat domestic violence and gender-based crime.
But why now?
The convention was introduced here, in Istanbul, back in 2011, and ratified in the parliament a year later. Actually, the AKP was proud to take such a progressive step for women’s rights. But as with many other commitments, even legal agreements, the Convention stayed on paper.
Throughout the years, the government was heavily criticized for not implementing the law to protect women. Even if women applied to the police or prosecutors with domestic violence complaints, most were ignored. Many got killed because they were simply sent back home.
In fact, in the past nine years, the number of women killed and suspicious female deaths increased fourfold, according to the women’s rights platform KCDP. In 2011, 121 women were killed in Turkey but each year, the death toll rose. In 2019, there were at least 474 female deaths. The ruling party didn’t publish data on suspicious female deaths.
What changed in the last eight years that the AKP came to the point of withdrawing from the Convention? The answer lies in the drastic change in the political agenda, the growing oppression, and the undermining of basic human rights. CHP MP Lale Karabıyık believes that some religious sects have become more powerful and they are pushing for a more Islamic, conservative agenda. While only 5 percent of women really know what the Convention is about, it’s been presented as the enemy of the family, as enabling women to desert their homes and even encouraging homosexuality. “The disinformation campaigns on the Convention are unbelievable,” she says.
Feminist lawyer Selin Nakıpoğlu says that it is not surprising that the AKP came to the point of withdrawing from the Convention: “For years, there has been a constant attack on women’s rights. They attack women’s rights to alimony, change the law to enable children to get married, plan on how to pardon sexual predators, they try to prevent divorces even if there is domestic violence… The law and regulations stated in the Convention and the law are simply not applied.”
Just as the debate on Istanbul Convention was heating up, two more horrendous femicides shook the country: a woman was killed by her son with a pump rifle, and a young woman’s burned body was found in the woods. Women’s rights groups as well as celebrities raised their voices on the streets and social media.
Technically, Turkey can withdraw from the Convention, which will be a disaster for everyone. There are still other binding agreements, laws and legislation protecting women. More importantly, the public, especially young people, are more aware about women's rights. It’s known that some AKP members are also objecting to the withdrawal.
They might send a letter of intention to amend the Convention, which will not be enough for fanatics, but will result in frivolity when it comes in dealing with domestic violence.
This means that more women and children will be subjected to violence, and more will probably die at the hands of their spouses or family members.