Turkish Women Rise Up Against Exiting Istanbul Convention

Erdogan’s Decision Invalid - Head of Women Associations’ Union tells Majalla

Following Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, angry protests have erupted as thousands of Turkish women have taken to the streets and public areas since early July. The protestors are condemning Ankara’s exit from the Convention it had signed in 2011 and pledged thereby to prevent domestic violence, prosecute its perpetrators and guarantee gender equality.

Turkey’s official withdrawal of the international treaty has angered its western allies in Europe and US, as well as Turkish women’s associations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has justified its move saying that this convention contributes to the breakup of family ties and promotes homosexuality, and thus it decided to exit it and became no more obligated to apply its provisions.

The President of the Federation of Women's Associations Turkey, Canan Güllü, said that Ankara’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention on March 20 with the signature of the President is “legally invalid.”

“According to the 90th article of our country's constitution, international agreements are ratified after they are approved by the Parliament and are abandoned with the decision taken there. The convention cannot be terminated with the signature of a single person. In addition, the Istanbul Convention is a human rights document. In Turkey, the President has no authority to sign human rights documents. In other words, the President has taken an action that is not legally authorized,” Güllü told Majalla.

She also added, “As a Federation, we filed a lawsuit in the administrative court…The hearing has not taken place yet. In addition, the Council of Europe took the issue to the Venice Commission for countries whose decision to withdraw from the convention was unlawful. (We have had) No response from there yet. That's why we've already started working with local governments to implement the policy outlined in the Convention.”

Güllü described the exit as “a political decision”, pointing out that “the issue emerged in the negotiations in which the AKP sought support for itself in order to stay in power.”

“Congregations put forward the condition of withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, which empowers women, destroys the culture of allegiance, and jeopardizes their future, in order to cooperate with the AKP, which is already in a tight spot,” she explained.

She said that the issue was raised by Oğuzhan Asiltürk, the head of the discipline committee of the Saadet Party, and was accepted by the AKP.

However, she reveals, “Certain people within the AKP do not hesitate to express that they find this decision unlawful which was made without consulting them.”

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the AK Party's Extended Meeting of Provincial Heads in Ankara, Turkey on July 08, 2021. (Getty)

“In our opinion, Mr. Erdogan shot himself in the foot,” Güllü noted.

She confirmed that “There is absolutely no alternative. Because the convention was made in the field of international human rights and since we were the first signatory, it enabled us to be strong in the league of democracy. The argument for a national treaty is certainly not reassuring considering that there is a government that has not implemented this convention for 10 years.”

Güllü criticized her government that seemed to take steps on women's human rights since it came to power but did not implement them. “At this point, we have no confidence left in a government that does not go beyond broadcasting a condolence message on femicides,” she added.

Showing the paradoxical situation, she stated that “During the hours of the protests, the President was announcing the 4th Action Plan on violence against women. Ironically, at that time, the police were using violence against women.”

She confirmed that women’s position is getting stronger as “This frivolous stance of the government has enabled women to embrace their struggle even more. The women's movement, which has a history of 150 years in our country, has made its protests for 3 months without giving up its struggle and will continue to do so. There is no stepping back from what has been gained. We are half the population of this country. We demand the implementation of laws that protect us. We will not leave this demand to the wishes of sects and congregations. We will win.”

Since the beginning of this year, more than 130 women were killed in Turkey because of domestic violence attacks, in addition to more than 99 women died in suspicious circumstances, according to We Will Stop Femicide group which advocates for women’s rights in Turkey.

Women demonstrators clash with Turkish police as they protest against Turkey's decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, in Istanbul, on July 1, 2021. (Getty)

Spokesperson for the We Will Stop Femicides Platform, Melek Önder, said that one of the applications made to the Council of State for a suspension of execution regarding the decision to withdraw the signature from the Istanbul Convention was rejected.

“But we know that this decision is a political one and could not have been taken unanimously. Therefore, it has not reached a legal conclusion yet. Our legal struggle continues in every field. At the same time, this is not just a legal issue, it is a very political issue,” she told Majalla.

“On the one hand, the President Erdoğan stated that "We will continue the struggle against femicide, violence against women" but on the other hand, his decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is a great contradiction. If the government’s aim is for women to live free from violence, live equally and freely (then) the Istanbul Convention must be fully implemented,” Önder added

She also went on to say, “Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention means protecting the perpetrators. Moving away from the universal law means depriving us of the most important convention that currently protects us from violence in the world. The Istanbul Convention is the one that will keep women alive. Therefore, nothing can be put in place of the Istanbul Convention.”

“We, the women of Turkey, who have taken the life-giving breath of this convention, will continue to struggle to use our rights arising from Convention. The struggle for the convention has become a symbol for the struggle against all kinds of injustice. We will enforce the constitution, the law, Istanbul Convention,” she reiterated.

The approval of Istanbul Convention took place in 2014, three years after the Turkish government discussed and signed it, after which it was included in a law preventing violence against women and protecting families.

Major Turkish opposition parties rejected the last decision and moved to legally contest its implementation. Two of these parties are Republican People's Party (CHP) and Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).

Advocacy groups and lawyers have accused the Turkish President of surpassing the Parliament and its authorities by taking this decision, which Erdogan was intending to take a year ago, announcing on many occasions that the convention harms family and religious values in his country.


Jiwan Soz is a researcher and journalist who focuses on Turkish affairs and minorities in the Middle East. He is also a member of Syndicat National des Journalistes (National Syndicate of Journalists [SNJ]).