Turkey does not need to withdraw from Istanbul Convention, says parliamentary speaker

Turkey’s Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Şentop told reporters on Thursday that it was not necessary to withdraw from the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, to address issues within the document or the implementation of laws related to it.

Şentop, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy, said Turkey did not implement certain measures “because the convention says so,” but rather based on the laws Turkish parliament has passed.

“As such, any hiccups in implementation or any objections can be dealt with via amendments to the law, or changes to the practical application,” he said.

The AKP’s Central Committee was expected to decide during its meeting on Wednesday whether the country should withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, but the meeting was postponed to Aug. 13, citing scheduling issues.

The matter has dominated the agenda throughout July for women in Turkey, after AKP Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş said it had been a mistake to sign the convention. Kurtulmuş said two issues - the mention of “gender” and “sexual orientation” in the text - were at their core incompatible with Turkish society and would “butter the toast for marginal groups”.

An earlier hint at withdrawal came from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself in February, who cited young Turks being more reluctant to get married as a reason to review the convention.

Some conservative circles say the convention, and Turkey’s Law No. 6284 to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women based on it, encourage divorce and subsequent violence from (ex-)husbands.

“If you tell women they can kick their husbands out if they’re bored, that you’ll stand by them if they slander (their husbands), it results in the convention increasing murders (of women),” conservative columnist Sema Maraşlı said in a tweet.

Due to law 6284, some 2.5 million men have been issued restraining orders and were not allowed to defend themselves, leading to a spike in violence against women, chairman of an anti-alimony platform, Mesut Arabul said.

However, an analysis of available data on femicide in Turkey says otherwise.

Contrary to the argument that restraining orders and dissolution of families has led to an increase in femicide, “the data used to prove the claim does not show an increase in femicides because of divorce, custody issues or refusing to reconcile,” data scientist Baybars Külebi said.

Külebi’s analysis is based on data propagated from the Counter Monument, a website where activist group We Will Stop Femicide Platform documents women murdered in Turkey over the years, because the Family Ministry, Justice Ministry and the police refused the group’s requests for information on statistics.

The group collects information on the murders via national and local media, and its archives go back to 2008.

Out of the hundreds of murders, Külebi looked at those committed by current or former husbands or their relatives, who stated their reasons as their wives wanting a divorce, not wanting to give up custody of their children, refusing to reconcile, making decisions on their lives on their own (like applying for a job or moving to a different city after divorce), and refusing the men’s advances.

“With these filters, it appears that femicides related to ‘the dissolution of the family’ that conservatives complain about constitute just a small portion of the total number of murders reported in the media, and have gone down compared to the total number of murders since 2014,” Külebi said.

The pro-AKP Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), in which President Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan is vice president, stands by the convention while criticising the parts that it deems legitimising for diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

“If murders (of women) have really increased here, there are many sociological and psychological variables that should be looked at. Making the convention a target like this means ignoring the real causes,” a recent KADEM statement said.

Supporters and members of the AKP remain divided on the matter, but a recent survey by Metropoll found that only 17 percent of the general population unequivocally supported the withdrawal. The demand for withdrawal within the AKP was slightly stronger, while still remaining at 25.7 percent.

Şentop said Turkey had taken many strides with regards to violence against women. “And I believe the Istanbul Convention has contributed to this,” Şentop said. “And I believe that the objections and faults can be evaluated via legislation and bylaws.”

“There is a Eurocentric understanding and paradigm of human rights,” Şentop said, about why some circles in the country find the convention objectionable. “And this includes women’s rights.”

Some parts of European treaties “are Western European cultural elements, but Europe imposes this paradigm onto the whole world as a universal paradigm”, he added.

However, international treaties signed among many nations are bound to have elements that each nation objects to, and no one party is entirely supportive of any such document, he said.

“I do not believe that there is a situation to make it imperative to withdraw from the convention,” Şentop concluded.

While Turkish law does not have any bans against LGBT individuals, the last LGBT pride parade without police intervention was held in Turkey in 2015. Women’s marches on International Women’s Day (March 8) and Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25) have been met with heavy police presence, often ending with demonstrators being tear gassed and detained since 2016.

Abortion is legal in Turkey up to 10 weeks after conception, and 20 weeks in cases of pregnancies related to assault, but only 7.8 percent of hospitals offer the procedure on demand without a medical necessity, according to a 2016 Kadir Has University report cited by BBC Turkish.

Out of 3,106 murdered women tracked by the Counter Monument, 153 were known to have appealed to authorities for protection beforehand. The protection status of 263 women was unknown, but at least 38 were in women’s shelters or under other types of state protections.

As such, Turkey upholding the Istanbul Convention may not give the country’s women and other vulnerable populations more peace of mind, but a withdrawal is likely to lead to an increase in violence.

“If this convention is annulled, will men be encouraged to inflict violence or not? Answer me this,” conservative commentator Nihal Bengisu Karaca, a staunch supporter of the president, asked in a televised debate on Wednesday.

“This convention is a hope to prevent (violence against women),” Karaca said.