4th Aug 2021

Turkey formally exits treaty against gender violence

  • Turkey's president Erdogan (r) announced the withdrawal from the convention three months ago: Now, it is official (Photo:

Turkey's withdrawal from an international treaty on protecting women has triggered a backlash from rights organisations.

"At the stroke of midnight today, Turkey turned its back on the gold standard for the safety of women and girls," said Amnesty International's secretary general, Agnès Callamard, in a statement on Thursday (1 July).

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  • Female EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was sidelined in Ankara (Photo: European Union, 2021)

Turkey's move comes as the EU begins negotiating a new migrant-swap deal with Ankara and amid other overtures to smooth tense relations.

It also comes after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen visited Ankara in April, where she pressed Turkey on women's rights before finding herself side-lined in a sexist protocol fiasco.

Formally known as the Istanbul Convention, the 10-year old treaty seeks to prevent violence against women and girls.

Some 34 countries out of the 47 that belong to the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, have ratified it.

But Turkey will be among the first to pull out, three months after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced it via a presidential decree.

In any case, Turkey's membership of the convention is not a prerequisite for EU cooperation.

The point was made clear in April, when von der Leyen's Commission was pressed on the issue.

"This is not about highlighting one specific element to the detriment of others," a European Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels at the time.

Amnesty said Turkey's withdrawal has rallied activists around the world.

The level of domestic violence against women and girls has also increased in Europe due the pandemic.

Belgium's prime minister Alexander de Croo, in a recent statement, said one in five women were victims of physical or sexual violence, and every day seven women died under the beating of their partners.

Von der Leyen made similar observations.

"Several EU member states have still not ratified the convention. And others are thinking about quitting. This is not acceptable," she said in a speech in April.

Although every member state has signed it, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia have still not ratified the convention.

Poland may be next to withdraw after its prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, last year case doubt on whether the convention aligned with his country's constitution.

Poland, also last October, extended its ban on abortion to include even cases of "severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus' life", in a separate strike on women's freedom.

And Hungary recently passed legislation curtailing gay rights under the pretext of upholding tradition family values, prompting a nasty row at the last EU summit, where the Dutch prime minister asked Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán if he really wanted to stay in the EU.

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EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen blamed sexism for having been relegated to a sofa in Ankara during a meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the presence of European Council president Charles Michel.

Commission demands equal treatment of EU presidents

The European Commission says its president should be treated on an equal footing with the president of the European Council. The issue came to a head over a meeting in Ankara which saw von der Leyen separated from male counterparts.

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