Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2014, said “You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different”. In 2016, addressing women and democracy in Istanbul, Erdogan once again sent shockwaves by saying that women who reject motherhood are ‘incomplete’.
As lewd comments against women by prominent world leaders are barely a surprise anymore, they have gone on to prove how such discriminatory outlooks have real and tangible effects on people; especially now more than ever, at the wake of the brutal murder of a 27-year-old Turkish woman named Pinar Gultekin that took place on July 22, 2020. She was beaten to death by her ex-partner Cemal Metin Avici. Later, he burned her body and covered it with cement. Cemal has been arrested and confessed to the murder of Pinar.
Even though the Turkish Constitution rejects discrimination on the basis of sex, the systematic gender-based violence and discrimination sheds light on the discrepancies in the ground reality. Many women’s organization and NGOs took to the streets of Istanbul to rally and protest against the ongoing femicide in Turkey that has been once again exposed by the torture and murder of Pinar Gultekin.
As many as 91 women have been murdered from January 2020 to June 2020, as the We Will Stop Femicide Platform reports. Monument Counter, a digital database of women, accounts that at least 337 women in 2018 succumbed to domestic violence. The number of such episodes has only gone up since the imposed lockdown due to COVID-19.
Unfortunately, these statistics peak into the actual position of women in Turkey, or whether they are given any position at all. Not to mention that these numbers emerge from recorded incidents which implies that there still are unaccounted events of gender brutality. Adding to it is the lack of reliable official source by the government for this reoccurring slaughter. Everything paints a grand picture of deep-rooted misogyny that can hardly be eliminated by laws and constitutional clauses.
President Erdogan on July 22 expressed his remorse on Pinar’s murder by tweeting: “The pain for Pinar Gultekin has deeply saddened us. I curse all crimes committed against women. I will be a follower of the case personally, and as the Republic of Turkey, we will do whatever it requires to stop the violence against women that we never want to encounter again.” Despite his issued statement, the government response has spoken louder; the lack of statistics of brutality on women, the police crackdown on protesters, and something that is being talked about widely is the absence of implementation and possible withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, popularly known as the Istanbul Convention, signed on May 11, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, is a treaty to protect women against violence and injustice. The primary aim of the convention is victim protection and “to end with the impunity of perpetrators.”
As Floraine Leclercq of European Association for the Defense of Human Rights pointed out “It is considered the most ambitious treaty on the subject: it targets all forms of violence (psychological, physical, sexual harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilisation, which are criminal offenses under the convention.)”. The treaty is an all-encompassing document, with Turkey as the first country ratifying it.
However, the ambitious strides in the document never came to being, and how could they, since the government itself has been inactive in pursuing any of it. One of the top reasons behind the lack of implementation of the treaty is that several religious sects of the Turkey, who are pushing for a more conservative social schema, find it to be in violation with the Turkish tradition and customs.
Ebru Asilturk, the spokeswoman for women’s affairs of Saddet Party described the Istanbul Convention to be a “bomb” which would break the Turkish family system, and that it is a way of the West trying to hurt century-old practices. Similar statements have been made by Turkish officials against the treaty, and as a result, it is being debated in the Turkish parliament currently.
Various scholars, lawyers, activists, organizations are utilising avenues to express dissent towards the possible withdrawal of the convention because as it is the Turkish code of laws protecting women do little good to live upto its aims, the rolling back of the convention would allow more aggression and suppression with zero consequence and compensation.
The only way to cut Turkey some slack on the issue of the Istanbul Convention is arguing that other European countries like Slovakia and Poland are considering to withdraw from the Convention as well because the treaty affirms rights of women, LGBTQ, abortion and many more, which are deemed to be in conflict with traditional values and norms of these countries. To go back to what Floraine Leclercq had said about the treaty; it is a treaty for the rightfulness of the discriminated and for any country in the current world system to be discarding it would make its stand against human rights and democratic values.