Turkey officially withdrew on Thursday from an international treaty to prevent violence against women, Reuters is reporting.
The country at the crossroads of Asia and Europe was the first to sign the treaty which bears the name of its largest city, 10 years ago.
The Istanbul Convention states that men and women have equal rights and obliges state authorities to take steps to prevent gender-based violence against women, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.
Many members of President Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party had advocated for a review of the agreement, arguing it is inconsistent with Turkey’s conservative Muslim values by encouraging divorce and undermining the traditional family unit.
The decision to withdraw drew condemnation from many Turks and Western allies when Erdogan announced it in March. Critics say the withdrawal puts Turkey even further out of step with the EU, which it applied to join in 1987.
Proponents of the convention and related legislation say more stringent implementation is needed, not less. Thousands were set to protest across Turkey, when a court appeal to halt the withdrawal was rejected this week.
“We will continue our struggle,” Canan Gullu, president of the Federation of Turkish Women’s Associations, said on Wednesday. “Turkey is shooting itself in the foot with this decision.”
She said that since March, women and other vulnerable groups have been more reluctant to ask for help and less likely to receive it because Covid-19 has been fuelling economic difficulties which have caused a dramatic increase in violence against women.
Femicide has surged in Turkey, with one monitoring group logging roughly one per day in the last five years.
“Our country’s withdrawal from the convention will not lead to any legal or practical shortcoming in the prevention of violence against women,” Erdogan’s office said in a statement to the administrative court on Tuesday.
Many conservatives also see the Convention as promoting homosexuality through its principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
Hate speech is on the rise in Turkey. The country’s interior minister recently described LGBT people as “perverts” in a tweet. Erdogan has rejected their existence altogether.
This month, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic sent a letter to Turkey’s interior and justice ministers expressing concern about a rise in homophobic narratives by some officials, some of which targeted the convention.
“All the measures provided for by the Istanbul Convention reinforce family foundations and links by preventing and combating the main cause of destruction of families, that is, violence,” she said.
The AP reports that a total of 77 women have been killed since the start of the year, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. Some 409 women were killed in 2020, with dozens found dead under suspicious circumstances, according to the group.