Conservative Turkish women’s group defies critics to support Istanbul Convention

The Women and Democracy Organisation (KADEM), whose vice president is Sümeyye Erdoğan, the daughter of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has defied many in the ruling party and conservative circles to publicly state its support for the beleaguered Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

“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,” KADEM said in a 16-point statement published on its website on Friday that sought to answer questions and address concerns over the treaty.

There have been recent signs that Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government may be set to withdraw Turkey from the Council of Europe treaty known as the Istanbul Convention, designed to protect victims of domestic and gender-based violence, as some Turkish conservatives have said that it encourages divorce and immorality.

KADEM said that the convention does not promote homosexuality, undermine the traditional family unit, or deny biological sex.

It also said that, while the treaty was intended to protect women against all forms of violence, promote gender equality, and empower women, it was also designed to protect the rights of children and men.

In a Twitter thread on Saturday, KADEM said it was speaking out against the “demonisation” of the convention and said that, while not a complete solution, it is part of an effective fight against violence.

But in an apparent reference to critics of the government, KADEM also criticised those it said wanted to turn the convention into a “political instrument”.

“As an association working for the rights of women and the oppressed, we don’t support these views and we will not be a tool for this,” KADEM said.

Femicides and violence against women are longstanding and growing issues in Turkey. Last week, the brutal killing of Pınar Gültekin, a 27-year-old student, triggered protests in Turkey.

Gültekin was one of 120 women killed in Turkey in 2020, mostly by partners and relatives. A total of 474 women were killed in 2019, the highest rate in a decade in which the numbers have steadily increased.

Marches in four Turkish cities last week mourned Gültekin’s death and called on the government to uphold the Istanbul Convention.

The convention was opened for signatures on May 11, 2011, in Istanbul. On March 12, 2012, Turkey became the first country to ratify the treaty.

But Turkey’s conservative media has long stood against the convention, and recently AKP officials have started to discuss the possibility of withdrawal, an initiative kick-started by AKP Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş.

“Just as we fulfilled the requirements and signed it, we can fulfil the requirements and leave,” Kurtulmuş said on July 2.

KADEM’s perceived support for the convention has led to the association coming under fire from conservative circles, despite its links to the president’s daughter.

The AKP’s inner circle seems divided on whether Turkey should withdraw from the treaty.

At a Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting on July 13, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül backed moves to withdraw Turkey from the convention, while a number of leading names in the party voiced their opposition to Turkey’s withdrawal, including Family, Labour and Social Services Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk and AKP group deputy chair Mehmet Muş, according to reporting by Yücel Kayaoğlu in Türkiye newspaper.

Erdoğan concluded the meeting that the treaty must ultimately be scrapped, the Türkiye contributor said.