UN urges Turkey to reverse decision ditching landmark women’s rights accord

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Turkey’s decision to ditch the Council of Europe Convention on Protecting and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence could significantly set back efforts to tackle the issue, a United Nations rights expert warned.

The UN rights expert Reem al-Salem’s warning comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pulled out of the landmark international treaty in March 2021, which came into effect on July 1.

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The accord, widely known as the Istanbul Convention, was named after the Turkish city where it opened for signatures in 2011.

Al-Salem said in a statement on Wednesday that around one in four women in Turkey has suffered physical or sexual abuse by their partners, according to the latest available government figures from a 2014 survey.

She added that there are also likely “hundreds of femicides” every year, highlighting that such issues have been seriously underreported due to the lack of confidence in the country’s protection mechanisms, widespread impunity, and gender-related discrimination and bias.

“Türkiye has made important legal and policy reforms to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, but these fall short of its full capacity, potential and responsibilities to protect women and girls living on Turkish soil and do not correspond to the gravity of the situation,” al-Salem said.

While much progress has been made towards advancing gender equality and ending violence against women and girls, al-Salem feels that their pulling out of the pact risks backtracking its human rights obligations.

“Almost all stakeholders I have met in Türkiye unequivocally recognize the bearing the Istanbul Convention has had on combating violence against women and girls, and how intrinsically linked it is to Türkiye’s identity, aspirations, and its destined role and standing regionally and beyond,” the Special Rapporteur added.

The UN expert said the effectiveness of Turkey’s initiatives to tackle violence against women and girls have been hampered by the lack of reliable disaggregated data, inadequate shelters and a lack of access to them.

Al-Salem noted that refugees, migrants, beneficiaries of temporary protection status, human rights defenders, as well as women in politics, detention or with disabilities were at a significantly higher risk.

A banner reading I do not want to die pictures a complaint letter filed by a woman to a local prosecutor's office, detailing the abuse and violence she suffered from her partner, as part of a campaign against Turkey's withdrawal from Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women, in Istanbul, Turkey, April 5, 2021. (Reuters)
A banner reading I do not want to die pictures a complaint letter filed by a woman to a local prosecutor's office, detailing the abuse and violence she suffered from her partner, as part of a campaign against Turkey's withdrawal from Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women, in Istanbul, Turkey, April 5, 2021. (Reuters)

“No society can truly prosper unless its woman and girls enjoy equality and freedom from violence. All stakeholders I met agreed that violence against women and girls has no place in Turkish society. Türkiye must therefore translate this belief into practice, by tackling impunity and prioritizing the issue of violence against women and girls at the highest levels,” al-Salem said.

She called on the government to reconsider its decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention and to “continue to uphold its other international human rights obligations,” urging them to dedicate more resources to tackling the issue and address harmful social and cultural norms.

“In many ways, Türkiye is at an important junction in its history. It can either consciously and deliberately choose to protect the gains made in advancing the rights of women and girls, or risk backtracking on this important progress and leaving its women and girls behind,” al-Salem said.

The UN expert had just concluded a 10-day visit to the country where she met with ministers, government affiliated institutions, civil society representatives, and trade unions, among many others.

Al-Salem will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in June 2023, according to the statement.

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