Turkey should respect the convention named after Istanbul

Turkey should respect the convention named after Istanbul

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is called the Istanbul Convention. It was signed in Istanbul in 2011. Turkey worked tremendously hard to reach an agreement with member-states and it became the first country to sign it. This was highly significant and symbolic since a majority Muslim country had taken leadership on an issue about women. 

These were the good days. Turkey cared about its image. Actually, it was the last days of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments pretending to be working for a democratic country with the rule of law and respect to fundamental freedoms. By then, the AKP’s ruling elites concluded that they no longer needed the support of Europe and the West in general to legitimize and consolidate their power. So, they stopped posing as if they endorsed and internalized universal values.

July 31 will mark the third year of the Istanbul Convention being put into force in Turkey. If the convention did not carry the name of a Turkish city, the government would probably by now have withdrawn its signature from it, or suspended it, if there was such a clause. Avoiding such a scandalous step, it tries to erode the convention’s requirements.
Divorce cases under spotlight

Women wanting to divorce are most of the time the main reason behind femicides in Turkey. Ironically, as the rising divorce rates have been seen to be at an alarming level by the government, the parliament decided to set up a commission to investigate the rise in divorce figures. The commission’s report, concluded on May 2016, sparked fierce criticism from women’s rights NGOs. The report’s recommendations are seen as an effort to erode the stipulations of the Istanbul Convention.

The government’s move on November 2016 to introduce a bill in parliament, which would have enabled men who married the girls they sexually abused to be released from prison, was another case showing the AKP’s general mentality.

“There is nothing positive to report about the implementation of the Istanbul Convention,” Gülsüm Kav from the “We Will Stop Women Murders Platform” told me. Each signatory country is expected to report to GREVİO, the independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation. Ironically, GREVİO is headed by a Turkish woman, Feride Acar, a very prominent academic with extensive knowledge and experience on women’s rights issues. I can’t imagine her humiliation at Turkey’s lamentable performance in implementing the Istanbul Convention.

But the picture is not all that gloomy. Despite the pressure from the government, which has increased especially with the state of emergency, women’s rights NGOs are fighting hard to prevent a backsliding. In fact, it was thanks to the efforts of women’s rights NGOs that the government withdrew a scandalous bill last November, which would have served the “marry your rapist” mentality had it passed in parliament.

It might sound oxymoronic and it is sad to say this but there is also a “positive” dimension to femicides.

 They happen because women become more aware of their rights and if they don’t want to continue a marriage, they ask for a divorce. “A lot of women who file divorce cases see the horrible end of those women murdered because they asked for a divorce. But they don’t give up. They are courageous to continue their legal cases despite the risk of getting killed,” said Kav.