President Tayyip Erdogan pulled Turkey out of an international accord designed to protect women, the government said on Saturday, prompting protests and criticism from those who said it was necessary to tackle rising domestic violence.
The Council of Europe accord, called the Istanbul Convention, pledged to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality. Turkey signed it in 2011 but femicide has surged in the country in recent years.
No reason was provided for the withdrawal in the Official Gazette, where it was announced in the early hours on Saturday. But top government officials said domestic law rather than outside fixes would protect women’s rights.
The convention, forged in Turkey’s biggest city, had split Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) and even his family. Last year, officials said the government was mulling pulling out amid a row over how to curb growing violence against women.
“Every day we wake up to news of femicide,” said Hatice Yolcu, a student in Istanbul, where hundreds of women carrying purple flags marched in protest at the withdrawal.
“The death never ends. Women die. Nothing happens to men,” she said.
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, secretary general of the 47-nation Council of Europe, called Turkey’s decision “devastating”.
“This move is a huge setback … and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond,” she said.
Many conservatives in Turkey and in Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP say the pact undermines family structures, encouraging violence.
Some are also hostile to the Convention’s principle of gender equality and see it as promoting homosexuality, given the pact’s non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
“Preserving our traditional social fabric” will protect the dignity of Turkish women, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter. “For this sublime purpose, there is no need to seek the remedy outside or to imitate others.”