(Washington, D.C.) — On Thursday, thousands of people across Turkey assembled in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to call upon Ankara to rejoin the Istanbul Convention – a Council of Europe treaty signed by 45 states to combat violence against women and domestic abuse. Those assembled in Istanbul were met with tear gas and rubber bullets fired by state police.

When the Istanbul Convention was initiated in 2011, President Erdogan was the first to sign. In July 2021, however, he officially withdrew from the framework meant to protect the safety of women and girls from abuse at home. Signatory states criminalize offences such as sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion, and stalking. It expressly outlaws acts committed in the name ‘honor’.

The government claimed that there is sufficient domestic legislation protecting women, however Turkey has an extraordinarily high rate of violence against women. The government’s Minister for Family, Labor, and Social Policies said via Twitter:

“The guarantee of women’s rights [is covered by] existing regulations in our domestic legislation, especially our Constitution. Our legal system is dynamic and strong enough to implement new regulations as needed.”

Despite such an assertion, a 2019 study found that 42 percent of Turkish women between the ages of 15 and 60 years old have experienced physical or sexual assault by husbands or partners. Rates of femicide have steadily increased. The total women murdered by partners and family in so called ‘honor killings’ reached 474 in 2019. Femicide is defended by some as a cultural tradition, used to justify the acts.

The Turkish government’s behavior demonstrates that protecting women from sexual and domestic abuse pales in comparison to Erdogan’s political agenda. He claimed that the Istanbul Convention promoted ‘immoral lifestyles’ and homosexuality, weaponizing the issue of women’s safety in a battle of conservative cultural politics to reinvigorate his voter base during economic downturn. Erdogan can be expected to violate human rights in order to strengthen his own grip on power.

Turkish Democracy Project Executive Director Madeleine Joelson said:

“In a society suffering from endemic femicide, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at women protesting for their safety is a telling example of the Government’s contempt for women’s rights.

The Istanbul Convention signifies solidarity among nations with the women who have been murdered by husbands, partners, and families while criminalizing gruesome offences committed on the basis of gender. Withdrawing from the Convention signaled the government’s willingness to compromise human rights when politically expedient. The Turkish Democracy Project stands with Turkish women, and calls on President Erdogan to immediately rejoin the Istanbul Convention.”