Turkey's Erdoğan quits Istanbul Convention with a midnight presidential decree

Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention with a midnight decree despite the country's violence against women and femicide plague. The withdrawal from the European treaty was long sought by Islamists.

Demonstrators scuffle with riot police during a rally to mark the March 8 International Women's Day in Istanbul.

Duvar English - Reuters

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pulled Turkey out of an international accord designed to protect women, the country's official gazette said on March 20, despite calls from campaigners who see the pact as key to combating rising domestic violence.

The Council of Europe accord, forged in Istanbul, pledged to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality. Turkey, which signed the accord in 2011, has been seeing a rise in femicides in recent years.

No reason was provided for the withdrawal that took place with a presidential decree at midnight, but officials in Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had said last year the government was considering pulling out amid a row over how to curb growing violence against women.

The fact that the withdrawal took place with a midnight presidential decree was slammed on social media since the treaty was approved in parliament and not Erdoğan himself. 

"The guarantee of women's rights are the current regulations in our bylaws, primarily our Constitution. Our judicial system is dynamic and strong enough to implement new regulations as needed," Family, Labor and Social Policies Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk said on Twitter at 2:50 a.m. on March 20, without providing a reason for the move.

Selçuk was slammed for apparently denying the fact that over 70 women were killed since the beginning of 2021 alone. The Turkish judiciary protects men in femicide and violence against women cases - although it's swift in acting to sentence critics of Erdoğan and the AKP.  

Women have been calling on the government to fully implement the Istanbul Convention, while also pointing to the lack of measures to protect women from violent men since the repeated complaints about violence or restraining orders fall short of convincing authorities that the woman in question is in danger.

Critics of the withdrawal from the pact have said it would put Turkey further out of step with the values of the European Union, which it remains a candidate to join. They argue the deal, and legislation approved in its wake, need to be implemented more stringently.

Many conservatives in Turkey say the Istanbul Convention undermines family structures, encouraging violence. They are also hostile to the principle of gender equality in the pact and see it as promoting homosexuality, given its principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Turkey is not the first country to move towards ditching the accord. Poland's highest court scrutinized the pact after a cabinet member said Warsaw should quit the treaty which the nationalist government considers too liberal.

Erdoğan has condemned violence against women, including saying this month that his government would work to eradicate violence against women.  

Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide. World Health Organization data has shown 38% of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime, compared to about 25% in Europe.

Ankara has taken measures such as tagging individuals known to resort to violence and creating a smartphone app for women to alert police, which has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. The app is not available in Kurdish.

Erdoğan's decision comes after he unveiled judicial reforms this month that he said would improve rights and freedoms, and help meet EU standards. Turkey has been a candidate to join the bloc since 2005, but access talks have been halted over policy differences and Ankara's record on human rights.