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In Turkey, violence against women and feminicides are ongoing and relentless. Women are murdered, almost always by a man of their immediate circle, husband, ex-boyfriend, father, brother… Among them, Pınar Gültekin, a 27 year old student. Reported as missing for five days, her body was found on July 21 in the woods of Muğla, in western Turkey. She had been killed and her partially burned body had been buried by her ex boyfriend. The man was arrested. He claims he killed her “because she refused to be with him”. Pınar’s funeral was held on July 22.
Pınar is not the first, and unfortunately, hers will not be the last life lost in this country by women victims of feminicide whose names are engraved on a counter monument that keeps on counting faster and faster…The last figures for the year 2015: 293 victims: in 2016: 286; in 2017: 394; in 2018: 403; in 2019: 416; and for the year 2020 they currently stand at 141…
With Pınar’s death, the reappraisal of the Istanbul Convention by Turkish authorities, pointed out by feminists and defenders of human rights, has taken center stage in the news and in debates.
Our readers know the following sentences well, they keep recurring on Kedistan, as in every opposition media in Turkey that manages to survive despite all the oppression…
Patriarchal domination and the consequences of the way of life it exacerbates, encouraged by the regime’s conservative and bigotted social and family policies, imprison women in the role of “good obedient housewife whose sole career is mothernood” at all levels of Turkish society. Lenient treatment following arrests and prosecutions along with reduced sentences, give perpetrators of violence and feminicides a feeling of impunity. At the same time, organizations in civil society defending women’s rights, feminist activists and demonstrators are subjected to police and judicial violence.
And, going even further in their belligerent attitude toward women, shored up by the conservative, bigotted and macho discourse, those indirectly responsible for the violences and feminicides are now re-appraising the need for the Istanbul Convention.
Concerning Pınar Gültekin, Erdoğan mouthed all his usual formulaic sentences… “The “journalists” serving the Turkish regime picked up the chorus as one, “The President of the Turkish Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that he cursed all crimes committed against women. In a message he shared on his Twitter account, the Turkish Chief of State called on Allah’s blessing for Pinar Gültekin who was murdered by her ex boyfriend, and asked for her family, her friends and all those who loved her to show patience during their period of mourning. ‘We were deeply saddened by Pinar Gültekin’s suffering. I curse all crimes committed against women’, he repeated. President Erdoğan said we would be following the trial personally. (Sic TRT in French)”
At one and the same time, the signature on the Istanbul Convention is being questioned.
But what is the Istanbul Convention?
The Istanbul Convention is an essential international treaty concerning violence committed against women. In Europe, it is currently considered as the most advanced at the moment on matters of prevention against such violences. Of course, as it results from negotiations it is not the alpha and omega on the matter, but it has opened a breach in the wall.
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, is also known as the Istanbul Convention (you will find the full English text of the Convention here). It rests on the understanding that violence against women is a form of sexist violence committed against women because of their gender. The signatory States have the obligation to combat it fully in all its forms and to take measures in order to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute its perpetrators. In principle, the text is binding.
The Istanbul Convention was signed by 45 countries and the European Union in March 2019. On March 12 2012, Turkey had become the first country to ratify the convention; 33 other countries followed suit between 2012 and 2019 (Albania, Germany, Andorre, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzgovina, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Northern Macedonia, Holland, Poland, Rumania, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland). The Convention became effective on August 1st 2014.
As a reminder, the opening of this convention to signature by States occurred on May 11 2011, during a ministerial meeting of the European Council, by the same AKP regime now calling for its abolition
“We will abolish it if that is the people’s wish”
For several weeks, Turkish authorities have been expressing their wish to denounce their ratification. At first, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “We will abolish it if that is the people’s wish”, and then announced that a decision concerning the Istanbul Convention would be made public on August 5 2020.
In France, the Istanbul Convention was in the news in 2019 during the Grenelle on domestic violence (a series of round tables organized by the French government between September 3 and November 25 2019). You may remember the criticism aimed at Marlène Schiappa, who was then Secretary of State responsible for Equality, who was blamed for not being familiar with this convention.
In its denunciation process, one of the “reasons” invoked by the Turkish regime is the fact that the Istanbul Convention is “neither national, nor local”. In other words, a concern for national sovereignty. And yet, as its name indicates, the Convention was signed in Istanbul and mostly, the preparatory stage was initiated by the Turkish Women’s Movement.
On August 1st 2014, witnesses at the time and “architects” of the Convention spoke to Bianet about the importance of the Convention. I think their testimonials and comments are precious in order to understand the role this Convention plays and the seriousness of the current situation…
Here are the comments of three women, Aylin Nazlıaka, elected member from the People’s republican party (CHP): Selma Acuner, coordinator of the Turkish arm of the Europe Women’s Lobby (LEF) and academic Eylem Ümit Atılgan, from the Department of Legal Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Girne.
‘This Convention is our compass”
Aylin Nazliaka, elected member from the People’s republican party (CHP):
“At the time, there was a festive mood in Parliament. Only four parties had groups in the Assembly. Listed in decreasing number of members, they were the AKP, the CHP, the MHP and the HDP. During the 24th Legislature, there was one, and one only, bill on which all four parties agreed: the one dealing with the Istanbul Convention.
Women parliamentarians of all parties spoke up and expressed their pride in being the first to sign the convention.
As elected members from the opposition, we had underlined the fact that women’s right to equal treatment could not be guaranteed solely by signing this convention, and that the real process was only beginning: the convention would have nothing but a symbolic meaning if those obligations were not met.
Of necessity over the years we have frequently criticized the AKP government for its lack of respect for the convention’s dispositions. But there was not yet such an irrational environment in which the very abolition of the convention was being discussed. The Istanbul Convention was always our compass in our fight for equality.
We considered it essential concerning women’s right to life and we insisted on this forcefully. Occasionally, we heard declarations by pro-governmental media or representatives from religious communities, suggesting that Turkey might withdraw from the convention, but we took these words to be unimportant. In fact, even the female leaders of the AKP and the KADEM, the women’s association founded by President Erdoğan’s daughter, Sümeyye, were opposed to these irrational declarations”.
“The right to life is the most fundamental right of them all”
“Then, last year, a ‘sole’ candidate was announced for the leadership of GREVIO, the body charged with follow-up and inspection of the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. The ‘sole’ candidate was not Professor Feride Acar (a member of the Department of Political Sciences and public administration at Ankara’s Technical University of the Middle East), one of the people who had written the convention and then-president of GREVIO, but Professor Askin Asan, the Principal of the religious High School Imam Hatip Tenzile Erdoğan… Thus, already last year, we foresaw a future of ridiculous debates.
The AKP has fallen into the bottomless well of religious communities/sects and struggles there. And yet, the right to life is the most fundamental right of them all. While our sisters are massacred under our eyes, every day, while they struggle for the very right to breathe, asking to pull out of the Istanbul Convention defending the right to life for women means supporting their massacre.
This decision amounts to saying “I do not believe in the equality between women and men, it is contrary to man’s creation”. We women cannot allow this revocation of the signature, we will not compromise on acquired rights. We extend a hand to all women in the AKP also: this struggle belongs to everyone!”
“Only the Parliament can decide”
If a member State decides to withdraw from the convention, announcing the decision is sufficient and the withdrawal can take effect three months later. This process does not require the approval of the other contracting parties or of the Council. A notification is all it takes…At this stage, none of the States can express a reservation or append an explanation. This should have been provided for at the beginning.
Dr Eylem Ümit Atılgan specifies: “As pertains to the withdrawal from the convention in terms of internal law: “According to the latest constitutional amendment, the President is not authorized to publish a decree relative to fundamental rights and freedoms. Thus, it does not seem possible for Turkey to withdraw from the convention by Presidential decree. Only the Parliament is authorized to do so. The price to pay for the withdrawal will have a bearing on international politics rather than in international law. We will see what the reactions will be in the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe.”
What about discrimination in the case of a withdrawal?
“The main provisions in the Istanbul Convention are already constitutional principles. If what they wish to bypass is the ban on discrimination, this is also provided for in the Constitution. Thus, they must also modify the Constitution”, Eylem Ümit specifies, “for the issues supposedly causing distress are not limited to the Convention, they cannot get away with saying, once the convention is abolished “we took care of it”. There is the Constitution and it is still in force. As a jurist, I have trouble understanding their thought processes: do they think that if we don’t mention the gender, the sexual orientation and the identity of the person, discrimination based on these elements will be authorized?”
“Society has precedence over politics”
It is Dr Selma Acun’s turn to speak: “I don’t think the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention can succeed. (…) Society always takes precedence over politics and we know that except for a handful of misogynists, society does not want women and children to be subjected to violence. (…) During the redaction phase of the Convention, we expressed our opinions via the Women’s Movement and the Women’s Lobby in Turkey. (…) The opinions expressed by women in Turkey were taken into account. Withdrawing from this convention would amount to allowing free rein to violence against women. I do not even want to think that such a thing could happen. I believe that society has precedence over politics.”
What happened for the issue to reach this point?
When one looks over the news at the time of the setting up of the Istanbul Convention, one notes the chorus of praise and laudative comments by Turkish authorities who took a certain pride in it. The question is then “what caused such a reveral leading to these same authorities turning this convention into their main target?”
Religious groups, organized in communities would have applied pressure on the government. This amounts to the State saying “We will no longer protect women and children from violence”. Why would the AKP regime adopt such a discourse and take the risk of adding a new checkbox in the chapter of the lacks and violations of human rights, already of epic proportions in Turkey? Is the influence of organized religious circles so heavy on the AKP that it would push it to renounce a convention of which Turkey was the instigator?
This convention was like the tail of the comet, following the “negotiations” concerning additional chapters for Turkey’s eventual membership in the EU, and the open-minded approach demonstrated by the AKP (and its former ally, Gülen, now a declared enemy) on issues they called “feminine”. The AKP was keen on this, which had contributed greatly to its rise. Times have changed. Electoral allies also.
We must not forget either that those against the convention denounce it and keep repeating: “It legitimizes homosexuality”. This reactionary viewpoint has reached such proporitions that we have seen with astonishment that manufacturers have withdrawn toys containing a “rainbow”! This is but one example among others. Yet, according to the Turkish Constitution, homosexuality is neither an offence nor a crime, Human Rights are inalienable and as human beings LGBTIQ persons are included. Moreover, even if specific laws protecting LGBTIQ persons are absent, article 122 of the Turkish Penal Code notes that discrimination and hatred based on gender identity are legally reprehensible.
Indeed, the key can only be the AKP’s main concern: its survival. So, as everything is halal in order to pander to all kinds of circles that can provide support at the domestic level – nationalism, xenophobia, anti-migrant hatred, dirty ongoing wars, ultra nationalism and Turcity, the Ottoman myth… All types of hatred and discimination against different ethnic and social populations are outrageously instrumentalized. Even if this brings losses in even the crumbs of support still existing in external politics, meaning a loss of support from Russia, from the United Sates, everything is worthwhile in order to maintain the regime internally. Only a few remaining European countries because of commercial concerns and threats over the refugees, maintain a hypocritical stance of still considering the Turkish regime as a credible interlocutor…
And, by the way, let us point out that Poland, which has just elected a homophobic, patented bigot, also announces that it will soon denounce his signature. A club is on the horizon. Who’s next?
Convention or no Convention, what is the reality in the field?
At the time, this convention proposed by the EKP regime was announced as being “good news”, by Erdoğan as well as by Fatma Şahin, then Minister for the Family and Social Policies. Today, defenders of rights, feminists, unions and jurists all point to the rising voice of Turkish State authorities and Erdoğan as being those “placing all women in serious danger”. But one only needs to look back on the years preceding this will to withdraw from the convention in order to realize that reports, statistics, press articles, denunciations and protests signaled the exponential rise in violence against women and feminicides. This shines the light on the concrete reality of the lack of actions and measures and on the fact that already, the signature and the good intentions expressed by Turkey remained on paper only…This wish to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is thus nothing other than the officialization of a reality, a populist gesture
In Turkey, the women’s movement lives through the same contradictions as elsewhere. Struggling inch by inch to maintain what had already been acquired is important, even if it was the result of a hypocritical political approach at the time when a form of national union favored the regime. But to do so as a “defense of the Republic’s values” would amount to turning our backs on the fact that feminicides, and discriminations against women and LGBTIQ have nothing to do with the Republic but with its patriarchal underpinning exerted against Kurdish women as well as Istanbul women in favor of the Treaty.
Thus, what must take precedence is the political autonomy of such a struggle.