Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: the beginning of a knock-on effect?
Turkey has been the first country to sign and ratify the Istanbul convention, but also the first to withdraw. Before analysing the possible consequences and the impact that this decision has caused, we must first briefly present the content of the Istanbul Convention. It is relevant that women's rights are human rights, thus violations against the former are human rights violations. The United Nations has sought through the establishment of international treaties such as CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) or the promotion of SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) number five to achieve these objectives. But, what about regional treaties?
According to Berthe De Vos, the Istanbul Convention is a “benchmark to combat violence against women” (De Bos, 2020). The Istanbul Convention, hereafter referred to as “the Convention”, aims to define violence against women as a human rights violation, and crucially, to acknowledge that any violation against the rights of women is a form of gender-based violence. According to OHCHR, domestic violence has increased in the context of COVID-19 and it is precisely for this reason, that more than ever, we need more tools to deal with this type of violence. What does this withdrawal entail?
Once the withdrawal is deemed effective, the obligations under the convention are considered terminated. Therefore, the state – in this case, Turkey – is no longer responsible for any possible non-compliances with what is established in the treaty, since it is no longer party to it. This is very relevant, especially because one of the most relevant provisions (or objectives) of the convention is the fact that it
“obliges the member states to address all forms of violence and to take actions to prevent violence against women, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.” (De Bos, 2020)
The content of the Istanbul convention focuses on two aspects: mainly prevention methods and protection. On the one hand, it extensively develops prevention through the need of raising awareness and acknowledging the forms of discrimination and violence that women and girls suffer just for the mere facts of being women or girls. On the other hand, protection is materialised through the reinforcement of a legal system that persecutes and condemns those who carry out this type of violence and in the same way emphasising the protection and attention to the victims. That is why, with its withdrawal, Turkey no longer has the obligation, derived from this convention, to have these types of tools implemented in its legislation.
What does Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention imply? The main reason is that it may generate a domino effect and turn a behaviour that should be classified as exceptional into a norm. Although this conduct has been heavily criticised and not supported by its European neighbours, Turkey has remained firm in its decision to withdraw from the agreement, whose legal obligations will cease to be binding as of July 1 2021, approximately in a month and a few weeks' time.
The aforementioned domino effect is relevant because countries on the European continent itself where traditional family values occupy a preponderant place in social and political life may follow the path initiated by their Turkish counterpart. A clear example of this is represented by countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, or Bulgaria where the role of the church has a great weight and influence on the political course and values prevailing in those societies. Likewise, Turkey's decision to carry out such a withdrawal is not presented as an isolated factor but is the fruit of a policy carried out by Erdogan since they began his mandate back in 2014. The justification for making such a move is based on the fact that it is intended to impose certain values associated with liberal and Western-centric ideology through the incorporation of new gender categories and with the protection of the rights of the LGTBIQ+ collective.
According to the World Health Organization, 38 per cent of women in this country, in comparison to the 25 per cent in the European continent, are or have experienced forms of violence from their partners at any given time of their life (WHO, 2021). Not only that but it is also estimated that the feminicide rates, despite not being able to provide official figures, have “roughly tripled over the last 10 years” (France24, 2021). Taking into account these figures, we can argue that a collective that experiences not only systematic forms of direct violence – and also the forms of the structural violence of a patriarchic society – is left behind with fewer instruments and resources in order to protect themselves.
On the whole, taking into account that Erdogan made official on March 31 that Turkey was withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and today, May 23, nearly two months later, no country has also retired, we could say that it might not appear that it has created an apparent “impact” on other countries who might be following same Turkey’s moves. Despite that, this might be the beginning of a knock-on effect where conservative countries with traditional values at the centre of politics and a predominant role of the Church in society might be tempted to follow the same path.
Berthe De Vos. “The intent and importance of the Istanbul Convention”, 2020. Available at https://www.soroptimistinternational.org/the-intent-and-importance-of-the-istanbul-convention/ (accessed 12 May 2021).
Council of Europe. “The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence” November 2014, ISBN 978-92-871-7990-6. Available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/548165c94.html (accessed 19 May 2021).
De Vido, Sara. "The ratification of the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention by the EU: a step forward in the protection of women from violence in the European legal system." Eur. J. Legal Stud. 9 (2016): 69.
France24.com. “Women in Turkey rally against Erdogan decision to exit domestic violence treaty”, 2021. Available at: https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210327-women-in-turkey-rally-against-erdogan-decision-to-exit-domestic-violence-treaty. (accessed 20 May 2021).
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