Turkey has officially withdrawn from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence - known as the Istanbul Convention.
Turkey’s withdrawal comes ten years after the treaty was opened for signature on 11 May 2011, in its capital, Istanbul.
MEPs roundly condemned the move, calling it a massive setback in women’s rights in Turkey, which has seen a spike in femicides and gender-based violence against the backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic.
German Renew Europe deputy Nicola Beer called the move “an absolutely unacceptable step, with devastating consequences for Turkish women and girls, that [Turkish President] Erdoğan is taking in front of everyone today.”
Renew Europe colleague Charles Goerens pointed out, “First in, first out. Turkey was the first country to sign the Istanbul Convention. Ten years later, it will be the first country to withdraw from it.”
He added, “What a shame. We need this strong framework to ensure that women’s and human rights are guaranteed, now more than ever.”
“Today Turkey withdraws officially from the Istanbul Convention, leaving Turkish women more exposed and vulnerable to violence. Women are being attacked, every day, in every country around the world. We must do more: End Violence Against Women” Frances Fitzgerald, EPP
In April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel used a speech to the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe (CoE) to pile pressure on Recep Erdoğan to reconsider his decision.
Erdoğan’s decree in late March, annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, triggered demonstrations by women across the country, who poured on to the streets of Turkish cities in protest.
“It is a matter of deep regret for me that Turkey has decided to withdraw from this Convention,” Merkel said in her CoE speech, joining other world leaders and MEPs who lambasted the decree.
Back in March, the United Nations in Turkey expressed its “deep concern” about the decree, citing statistics from national research on violence against women in Turkey, showing that 38 percent of married women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, adding, “In its most extreme form, and often as the final act on a continuum of violence, hundreds of women are murdered every year.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a further escalation of violence against women and girls around the world, due to restrictions of movement, social isolation, and economic insecurity,” the UN added.
Many had hoped that Erdoğan would not go ahead with the withdrawal from the treaty following the international condemnation, but Thursday’s official withdrawal dealt yet another heavy blow for the women’s rights movement.
“Today is a dark day. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention becomes reality, which will mean less protection for victims of gender-based violence” Terry Reintke, Greens/EFA
The Left deputy Özlem Demirel said, “The political signal is clear: violence against women and children is not viewed as fundamentally wrong.”
German Greens/EFA member Terry Reintke said, “Today is a dark day. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention becomes reality, which will mean less protection for victims of gender-based violence and a setback for the fight for a free and equal world. But we will not give up.”
Fellow Greens/EFA members, Sergey Lagodinsky and Katrin Langensiepen, joined the chorus of condemnation, with Lagodinsky calling it “a sad day for women, minorities and the LGBTI community”, while Langensiepen described the withdrawal as “highly critical for all women in Turkey.”
Langensiepen, who is Parliament’s only female MEP with a visible disability, also pointed out that Turkish women with disabilities should not be forgotten, adding, “we stand in solidarity with you and urge Turkey to immediately revise this decision.”
Her sentiments were echoed by the EU Disability Forum, which said, “Today Turkey is withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention that was protecting women and girls from domestic and gender-based violence. We stand in solidarity with our sisters in the country, in particular women and girls with disabilities.”
Swedish EPP member Arba Kokalari said she strongly regretted Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention today, adding, “every woman across the world has the universal right to a life free from violence. The EU must continue to put pressure on Turkey on this.”
“First in, first out. Turkey was the first country to sign the Istanbul Convention. Ten years later, it will be the first country to withdraw from it. What a shame” Charles Goerens, Renew Europe
Irish EPP colleague Frances Fitzgerald said, “Today Turkey withdraws officially from the Istanbul Convention, leaving Turkish women more exposed and vulnerable to violence.”
“Women are being attacked, every day, in every country around the world. We must do more: End Violence Against Women.”
The European Women's Lobby said that its staff and members “stand in solidarity with our membership in Turkey and all women and girls there whose lives will be negatively impacted by the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.”
Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said that Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention had “set the clock back ten years on women’s rights.”
She said, "This is the tip of the iceberg: an organised campaign globally against women's rights, SRR [sexual and reproductive rights], equality, gender and LGBTIQ rights. We must come together to resist further assaults.”
The Istanbul Convention has been signed by all EU Member States, and ratified by 21 (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden).
In July of last year, Poland said it intended to withdraw from the treaty, citing “ideological provisions in the Convention that we do not accept and consider harmful.” The withdrawal is still pending.