18 women appear in court for participating in demonstration against withdrawal from Istanbul Convention

(Photo: AFP)

Eighteen women had their first court hearing today in Turkey’s Izmir province for participating in an August 2020 demonstration against government plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.

According to the Duvar news website, the women made a joint statement to the press in front of the courthouse before the hearing. “Like many women in different cities across the nation, we organized a peaceful demonstration for the reinstatement of the convention. However, the police tried to prevent us from demonstrating by beating and then detaining us,” they said.

The women added that they would continue to demonstrate for reinstatement of the convention. “Our position is very clear, we do not want another woman to be killed, raped or beaten. We will never give up on the Istanbul Convention.”

A series of demonstrations against Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention have been staged since 2020. The 18 women in Izmir were detained on August 5, 2020 during one such demonstration. They were charged with violating the law on protests and demonstrations.

Despite public outrage, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a decree on March 20, 2021 withdrawing Turkey from the convention.

Government officials and conservative prominent figures had been discussing withdrawing from the convention for some time, arguing that the convention destroyed families by introducing “foreign terminology” to traditional Turkish values and the law.

“The first of them is gender. The İstanbul Convention is built on the concept of gender. … In the simplest terms, it holds that the identities and the biological sexes of men and women are constructed by the society and envisions a fight against it. It doesn’t accept the distinction between the sexes,” Ebru Asiltürk, a prominent Islamist politician from the right-wing Felicity Party (SP), wrote in May 2020.

Erdoğan has repeatedly said he sees gender equality as contradictory to the nature of men and women.

“Feminists don’t understand motherhood,” he said in a 2014 speech, claiming that Islam accords women high value due to their ability to bear and raise children.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Turkey. According to a report published in March 2021 by Sezgin Tanrıkulu,  a human rights defender and Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker, nearly 7,000 women were victims of femicide during the 18 years that the AKP had been in power.

World leaders, including US President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, international and regional organizations and rights groups reacted negatively to Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.

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