Women’s rights activists demonstrate in front of the State Council for the restoration of the Istanbul Convention

Representatives of women’s rights organizations and opposition politicians gathered outside the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, in Ankara on Tuesday morning for the upcoming hearing on the annulment of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, Turkish media reported.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is an international agreement to protect the rights of women and preventing domestic violence in societies and was opened for signature by Council of Europe member countries in 2011.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked outrage in Turkey and the international community after issuing a decree in March 2021 that withdrew the country from the international treaty, which requires governments to pass legislation prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence and of similar abuses as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.

Amid calls from women’s rights organizations and world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, for the reinstatement of the Istanbul Convention, the Council of State has so far rejected numerous calls for the annulment of Erdoğan’s executive decree withdrawing Turkey from the convention.

However, new appeals have recently been filed with the court requesting the annulment of the presidential decree concerned, and the 10th branch of the court will hold its next hearing today.

Pervin Buldan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the court’s decision was a matter of “life or death”. “We will never accept withdrawal from the treaty by an overnight decision,” she said.

Lawyer Müjde Tozbey from Women and Children First (Önce Çocuklar ve Kadınlar Derneği), said she was attending the hearing with the families of women victims of gender-based violence. “Every case of femicide is the failure of the government, because it is the government’s responsibility to protect women,” she said.

Lawyer Hülya Gülbahar from the same association added that withdrawing from an international treaty with a presidential decree was unconstitutional. “According to Article 90, Parliament can sign or withdraw from an international treaty. The president has no such power,” she said.

Activists have argued that since Turkey withdrew from the treaty, gender-based violence has increased. They also criticized the government for not better tracking the number of femicide cases.

Women’s rights activists try to document cases of femicide based on media reports.

Selin Nakıpoğlu of the Women’s Platform for Equality (EŞİK) said she represented thousands of women who wanted the treaty reinstated. “The fate of millions of Turkish women cannot be in the hands of one person [the president],” she said. “The government is putting more and more pressure on women’s rights organizations and trying to shut them down.

Nakıpoğlu pointed out that only last week Erdogan called the protesters in Gezi Park “sluts”. She said such language clearly indicates the patriarchal mindset of Erdogan and his government.

President Erdoğan and prominent conservative government and media figures have repeatedly stated that they view gender equality as contrary to the nature of men and women.

Femicide and violence against women are serious problems in Turkey, where women are killed, raped or beaten every day. Many critics claim that the main reason for this situation is the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which protects violent and abusive men by granting them impunity.

According to the We Will Stop Femicide platform (Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu), 280 women were murdered in Turkey in 2021.

A investigation conducted by Metropoll revealed last year that 52.3% of Turks were against withdrawing from the convention. While more than a majority of participants oppose it, 26.7% approve and 10.2% have no opinion.

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