Protesters Say: “The Istanbul Convention is Ours”

10 years after first signing it, Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”

10 years after first signing it, Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”. It has done this by Presidential Decree, published in the Official Journal to be implemented after midnight on 20th March. Turkey was the first country to sign up to the Convention which aims to prevent male violence and punish perpetrators.

In 2020, 330 women were killed by men in Turkey. The deaths of 171 women are recorded as suspicious. According to official sources, 40 percent of women living in Turkey have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. There is no doubt that the real figure is much higher than this. The effect of withdrawing from the Convention is worse than not signing it in the first place. It gives a signal to (potentially) violent men that the state allows violence against women.

Turkey’s withdrawal from an international agreement by Presidential Decree is even against the Turkish Constitution, which was drawn up by the ruling ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) and President Erdogan. According to Article 90 of the Constitution, international conventions should be agreed to or withdrawn from only by passing a law in the Assembly.

While withdrawal from the Convention has been widely discussed since 20th March, the women’s movement has also responded with action across Turkey. Women have taken to the streets in at least ten provinces. “The Istanbul Convention is Ours”, “Withdraw your decision, implement the Convention” have been the most pronounced slogans. Demonstrations and protests take place almost every day in the big cities.

It seems certain that the decision to withdraw from the Convention was taken to appease those far-right Islamist circles in Turkey close to the AKP. The withdrawal also addressed the widespread far-right Islamist vein within the AKP itself. Since March 20, they have been celebrating their “victory”. This reflects more the weakness than the strength of the Erdogan regime which is losing support due to the ongoing economic crisis, the corona crisis and mounting corruption. It therefore needs to keep its reactionary allies on board, while trying to split any opposition.

There is no doubt that an international convention cannot end violence against women. Although the Istanbul convention is a step forward compared to the situation before it was signed, it goes nowhere near far enough. Only the destruction of patriarchal capitalism will end violence against women. It is the patriarchal capitalist order, which sees human beings in general and women especially as a commodity, as property which is to be kept in line, that produces violence against women and girls. As such conventions are passed by institutions and ratified by states that are built on exactly this capitalist system, they can — at best — only provide partial protection for women and girls and push states to implement these measures, albeit reluctantly.

The Istanbul Convention was not sufficiently implemented anyway. The women’s movement has been calling for the implementation of the convention in the streets for the past few years. Now the slogan has turned into “withdraw this decision, apply the Istanbul convention”. The withdrawal is a symbol for a series of attacks on major achievements that have been made by the women’s movement. But at the end of the day Erdogan will have to see that this might turn out against him, further strengthening the anger and resistance of women in Turkey.

The women’s movement has the capacity to respond en masse to the attacks of the neoliberal conservative AKP today. The coming together of various left and working class women’s groups and organisations in this struggle is an important step to further strengthen this capacity.

We, as socialist feminists, think that we are on a very favorable ground to voice our demands against violence against women. The movement in general has put forward several important demands that are echoed in the demonstrations including:

  • the achievement of gender equality, with the state taking all necessary steps in education and the workplace to ensure equal representation of women
  • the end to discrimination against anyone for any reason, including sexual orientation or gender identity
  • the establishment of a separate 24/7 dedicated “Violence Hotline” for women, providing services in different languages, with the opening of a sufficient number of counseling centres and shelters to assist women who suffer from violence
  • the end of impunity for cases of violence against women and girls
  • the collection and regular publication of independent data about violence against women and children
  • the provision of safe and risk-free access for women to basic reproductive health services such as abortion
  • the right to alimony, for the simplification of divorce procedures and compulsory mediation, against amnesty for child marriages -an end to all discussions on the acquired rights of women and children
  • the provision of clear arrangements for all women and children who are refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants so they have equal rights to protection from violence.

As socialists we support these demands, and would go further. To prevent gender-based violence and discrimination in the workplace and implement effective policies to ensure equality, all obstacles to the right to organize, to ensure gender equality in all areas by trade unions and workplace organizations, to ensure the rights of women workers are implemented should be removed.

Women’s rights and struggle against violence against women should be central issues for the trade union movement, which should take up the fight for a living wage for all women in work and easier access to jobs for women with the provision of public free childcare and other measures to help women out of the home and into the workforce.

This should include affordable, and when necessary free housing for those women who need to flee violent partners — this housing could quickly be provided in the empty hotels.

We have no trust in the Turkish state and its institutions, nor in the EU or UN to implement such policies — they have to be fought for, implemented and controlled by representatives of the workers and the women’s movement.

We, as the Socialist Alternative, take part in discussions over progamme and perspective for the movement and want to add our socialist feminist ideas. We will continue to contribute both to the construction of the coming together of left and working-class women’s organisations and to the struggle on the street. However, we know that this movement will be even stronger by combining with other opposition movements against the AKP, which attacks the rights of all minorities, the oppressed and the working class as a whole.

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