Istanbul Convention's 10th anniversary marked with protests against Turkey's withdrawal

The 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention's signature was marked with protests against President Erdoğan's withdrawal of Turkey from the international document protecting women's rights in signatory states. Turkish women have taken over social media with protest messages, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted an iconic case of impunity.

A group of women hold a banner that reads "Revoke the decree, enforce the convention!" in this file photo.

Duvar English

The tenth anniversary of the Istanbul Convention's signature on May 11, 2011 was marked with protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's withdrawal of Turkey from the international document, a move widely interpreted as a reluctance against protecting women from violence.

Turkey had been the first signatory state on the Istanbul Convention, officially the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which mandates that all signatory states create legislation to protect women from violence.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) started seriously debating a withdrawal from the convention in the summer of 2020 after conservative opinion leaders slammed the text for including protection for all genders, which they said encouraged homosexuality. 

The initial debate about the withdrawal prompted nationwide protests by women's organizations and stirred controversy within the ranks of the AKP, as well as the national political scene. 

Months later, President Erdoğan released a presidential decree on March 20 that withdrew Turkey from the document, prompting international condemnation and nationwide outrage from women's organizations in Turkey.

Women had maintained from the start of the debate that the "Istanbul Convention saves lives," as the document holds the state accountable for implementing preventative measures to protect women, such as issuing protective orders and following up on women's grievances.

'You might know the story of Jale Soydan'

The Turkish judiciary has a notorious track record of effectively preventing violence against women, often failing to even prosecute known perpetrators: We Will Stop Femicides Platform reported 16 women were killed by men in April in Turkey, while another 14 died under suspicious conditions. 

An iconic case of impunity was that of attorney Jale Soydan, who was shot 13 times from close range by her ex-husband in 2015, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted in a message marking the anniversary. 

Soydan was among countless women who suffered male violence despite having taken measures to protect herself, as she had already obtained a restrictive order against her ex-husband. 

"The #IstanbulConvention is the cornerstone of the protection of women & girls, worldwide. An important basis on which we must build further," von der Leyen said in a tweet on May 11. 

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard also said that Istanbul Convention had been "a crucial instrument that has helped protect women from violence."

"The threat of violence is something faced by women and girls around the world on a daily basis," Callamard noted. "This is why the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is so significant and it is why international solidarity to protect it is so vital."

Protests online and in person

Meanwhile, women's organizations in both Turkey and around the world organized protests online and in person, with Amnesty International groups in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Belgium protesting outside Turkish embassies. 

Social media users around the world also took to the Internet to show solidarity with the Turkish women's cause, posting messages of solidarity with the hashtag "Istanbul Convention Saves Lives."

Turkish-speaking social media users opted for the Turkish hashtag meaning "Istanbul Convention is 10 years old" to broadcast their messages of protest against the president's withdrawal. 

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) voiced their support for the women's movement on May 11 with a video starring their Women's Director, Aylin Nazlıaka, and other party officials. 

"Our directors are calling out from 81 provinces: We won't give up on Istanbul Convention," the CHP tweeted. 

"The illegal withdrawal is so insignificant to us, that we hope Istanbul Convention many more years to come on its 10th anniversary," tweeted the Turkish Medical Association. 

"We insist on our lives, rights, equality and freedom. We don't recognize one man's withdrawal. Istanbul Convention is ours, we are not giving it up," tweeted the Turkish Workers' Party (TİP).

Legal action questioning the withdrawal

In an unexpectedly proactive move, Turkey's Court of Cassations asked for an official statement to be given in the case of the appeals to President Erdoğan's decree withdrawing the country from the Istanbul Convention, news website Ankara Gazetecisi reported on May 11.

The court is now reportedly awaiting a statement from the Office of the Presidency to rule on whether to uphold the withdrawal or not.

The particular circuit of the supreme appeals court who asked for a statement had previously been protested for approving the president's wish to reverse legislation that appointed Hagia Sophia as a museum and allowing for Muslim worship in the structure once more.