The scourge of male violence divides polarized Turkish society

Erdogan has threatened to abandon the Istanbul Convention, a treaty to prevent violence against women
Women wearing masks that read "Implement the Istanbul Convention" participate in a protest against gender-based violence in Istanbul, Turkey August 5, 2020

REUTERS/MURAD SEZER  -   Women wearing masks that read "Implement the Istanbul Convention" participate in a protest against gender-based violence in Istanbul, Turkey August 5, 2020

The scourge of macho violence divides Turkey. Thousands of people took to the streets on Wednesday to demand their rights, after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) threatened to abandon the Istanbul Convention, a pan-European treaty to tackle violence against women. The party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan will decide next week whether or not to withdraw from this agreement, as the country on the Bosphorus struggles to end this phenomenon, which has killed 32 women at the hands of their husbands in June alone, according to data collected by the digital Duvar. 

The paradox is that Turkey, which is currently considering the possibility of renouncing this treaty, was one of the first countries to sign this convention in Istanbul in 2011, and not only that, but it was the first nation to ratify it in March 2012.  Under this agreement, Ankara committed itself to prosecuting and eliminating domestic violence and promoting equality. However, 474 women died last year from male violence, twice as many as those who lost their lives in 2011, according to a research group consulted by Reuters news agency. 

The convention has opened a rift in the country, dividing it between those who believe the pact encourages violence by undermining family structures and those who advocate that this legislation should be strictly implemented.  Pressure from various Islamist groups who believe that this document may contribute to the "erosion of traditional family values and gender roles" has reached the sphere of the AKP. "There are two issues in this convention that we do not approve of. First is the issue of gender and the other is the issue of sexual orientation," said AKP Vice President Numan Kurtulmuş in a televised interview, according to CNN. The same argument was used two years ago by Bulgaria not to ratify this treaty, and now it has faithful supporters in Poland. 

The polarization has moved to the streets this Wednesday. Thousands of women took to the streets, chanting "the choice is ours, the decision is ours, the night is ours, the street is ours". In this protest, some of the protesters carried banners that read "we will not allow feminicide" or "the convention is born of women's blood. "Because they cannot openly say they want women as domestic slaves and the freedom to beat women at will, they are clinging to LGBTI+ rights as a more 'socially acceptable' pretext for attacking the convention, in the hope that rampant homophobia will suffice," denounced activist Feride Eralp, a member of the Women are Stronger Together platform.

Amnesty International believes that the Eurasian nation's authorities should implement this treaty "in full", rather than withdraw from it. In addition, they have reported that some measures taken to prevent the impact of the coronavirus, such as confinement, have led to a large increase in reports of violence against women and girls. This document was signed by 45 of the member states of the Council of Europe and ratified by 34 of them.  "It is sadly ironic that the Turkish authorities are considering withdrawing from a Convention named after their most emblematic city," criticized Anna Blus, Amnesty International's researcher on women's rights.

In an official statement, Blus warned that Turkey's withdrawal from the Convention could have "disastrous consequences for millions of women and girls in the country", as well as for the organizations that support them. "The mere discussion of possible withdrawal is having a huge negative impact on the security of women and girls," she said. She urged Ankara to "ensure that the treaty is fully implemented and take immediate action to better protect and promote the rights of women and girls, rather than becoming the first Council of Europe member state to withdraw from the Convention. 

The association "Stop the killing of women" has reported that at least 204 women have died in Turkey so far this year. The debate has also intensified within the AKP, where there are several people who are strongly opposed to abandoning the pact, such as some female MPs and even the president's own daughter, the deputy director of KADEM, an organisation close to the party.