Protesters have taken to the streets of Istanbul for the second straight weekend to protest against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from an international treaty to combat violence against women.
Erdogan last week sparked anger with the announcement Turkey was pulling out of the Istanbul Convention, named after the Turkish city where it was drafted in 2011.
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Justifying the decision to withdraw, the presidency argued the treaty had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalise homosexuality” which it said was “incompatible” with Turkey’s “social and family values”.
There was a flood of reaction from Western countries and international organisations – including the United Nations, which called on Turkey to reconsider its decision.
On Saturday, protesters gathered in an Istanbul seafront square under heavy police presence, waving purple flags and chanting slogans such as “Murders of women are political.”
“Protect women, not the perpetrators of violence”, one placard read, with another adding, “LGBTI+ rights are human rights.”
“We will not give up. We will be here until we get our freedom and our convention back. We will not give up on the convention,” student Selin Asarlar Celik told the Reuters news agency, which put the number of protesters at several thousand.
In the capital, Ankara, a smaller group of women protested in the heart of the city centre, surrounded by riot police.
The protests came in the face of fresh anger in Turkey on Saturday after a 17-year-old pregnant girl was stabbed to death in the Aegean province of Izmir, state news agency Anadolu reported. The suspect was reported to be the man she was living with and her unborn child was also killed in the attack.
Violence against women and femicide is a serious problem in Turkey, with daily media coverage of the issue.
In 2020, 300 women were murdered and the rate shows no sign of slowing with 87 women killed so far this year, according to the women’s rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform. World Health Organization data shows 38 percent of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime.
Renowned Turkish novelist and women’s rights activist Elif Shafak told Al Jazeera that the femicides figures are in reality “much higher” as there are many cases that go unreported.
She called Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention unacceptable as “femicide and domestic violence in Turkey is at an alarming level”.
“This is an emergency for us. The fact that the government is not supporting this and is doing the exact opposite, to me is just unthinkable,” Shafak said.
Conservatives in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party have said the convention, which stresses gender equality and forbids discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, undermines family structures and encourages violence.
Officials said this week that domestic law would protect Turkish women, not foreign treaties.