Turkish women feel more vulnerable and legally unprotected since Turkey withdrew from a convention that activists argued helped deter male violence, according to women’s campaign groups.
The landmark Istanbul Convention came into force in 2014 and laid the way for a Europe-wide legal framework to tackle, prevent and prosecute violence against women.
Turkey abruptly withdrew in March following a decree by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
And though there’s been no detectible surge in violence, rights advocates say that there has been a jump in unexplained deaths.
The withdrawal also risked encouraging abusers, campaigners say, with one asking lawyers if they would be released from prison.
Conservatives in Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) had claimed the treaty promoted homosexuality and threatened the traditional Turkish family structure, although there was no public consultation on the claims.
Women’s rights advocates have been protesting since March to make their voices heard and keep the convention alive, even as the government insisted its home-grown laws and constitution were adequate to protect women.
“This country is waking up to a woman’s murder every day,” said Nursen İnal of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform.
“Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul convention has encouraged male perpetrators,” she told AFP, ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Thursday.
The brutal killing in İstanbul of 28-year-old Başak Cengiz, an architect, repeatedly stabbed by a man wielding a samurai sword earlier this month, sparked a public outcry.
The suspected killer, Can Göktuğ Boz, reportedly told the police that he committed the murder because he was bored.
“I went out to kill someone and picked a woman,” he said according to testimony published by Turkish media.
He was later charged with aggravated murder.
‘Off the agenda’
A total of 345 women have been killed since the start of the year, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. There were 410 women killed in 2020, with dozens found dead under suspicious circumstances.
The killing of Cengiz revived calls for Turkey to rejoin the treaty but Erdoğan sought to draw a line under the issue last week, saying that the convention was “completely off the agenda.”
“To us, women are the holiest creature. We will never allow their holiness to be tainted,” he said. “Thus, there’s no need for the Istanbul convention.”
But women’s advocates are fighting on.
Berrin Sönmez of the Women’s Platform for Equality said Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention created a perception that male offenders can act with impunity.
“A jailed male perpetrator asked his lawyer shortly after Turkey exited from the treaty whether he would be released,” she told AFP.
Adile Doğan of the Esenyalı Women’s Solidarity Association, said the attitude of security forces and prosecutors had also changed.
Previously, every police station had a department dedicated to policing violence against women, and restraining orders could be imposed within 24 hours, Doğan said.
Now it takes a full two days to impose such a protective order and police station provision for women can be inadequate.
Doğan said that women threatened by male violence are now required to obtain a medical report proving injuries, with a threat no longer enough to start procedures.
‘Will not give up’
Sönmez said police stations are reluctant to assist women and instead refer them to the courts which can sometimes prove difficult to access, particularly in city centers.
Activists also pointed to the increase in the number of suspicious deaths since the convention was removed.
Sönmez said: “180 women were murdered from March to July 2021 and besides that, there have been 171 suspicious deaths. This is not a justifiable number.”
Cases were closed without further investigation unless there was social media pressure, she said.
İnal questioned why “these women’s deaths remain suspicious?”
“Because of a lack of adequate prosecution and investigation,” she said.
“Laws are there to protect the women, therefore we keep saying we will not give up on the Istanbul convention.”