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Erdogan’s Empty Promise to End Violence Against Turkish Women

A demonstrator waves a flag during a protest against gender-based violence on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in Istanbul, Turkey November 25, 2021. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

president of Turkey

“We have stood by women in their struggle for rights in every field, and we will continue to do so in the future. Hopefully, we will completely eliminate violence against women by strengthening our humanitarian and moral values.”


On November 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that Turkey would continue to take all necessary measures to end violence against women, touting a plan he unveiled in July.

Erdogan issued the tweets on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The rate of domestic violence and femicide in Turkey has been rising.

Erdogan claimed Turkey has the “most comprehensive and effective legislation” addressing violence against women.

“We have stood by women in their struggle for rights in every field, and we will continue to do so in the future,” he said. “Hopefully, we will completely eliminate violence against women by strengthening our humanitarian and moral values.”

That is misleading.

Advocates for women’s rights say that despite Erdogan’s promises, violence against women is up since June, when Turkey became the first country to pull out of the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty that commits to preventing violence against women and promoting gender equality. The convention has become lightning rod for conservative attacks on LGBTI+ rights.

(LGBTI+ is shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other gender orientations.)

Erdogan’s office has said the treaty “normalizes homosexuality,” which is “incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.”

While Erdogan tweeted, thousands of women and LGBT+ supporters rallied in the Ankara and other cities, including Istanbul, to protest attacks on women and urge Turkey to rejoin the treaty.

The organizers said violence against women and femicide is rising.

“The withdrawal of signature from the Istanbul Convention, written on the basis of real equality, which plays an important role in the protection of women, LGBTI+'s, children and immigrants against violence, is also part of these attacks,” the statement said.

Turkish riot police barricaded streets in Istanbul and fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators. Protests began in March, when Erdogan first announced leaving the convention.

The Turkish advocacy group We Will Stop Femicide said 353 women have been killed in Turkey so far in 2021. In November alone, 25 women were killed, mostly by their husbands, boyfriends or relatives.

“Seven of them were killed on the pretext of wanting a divorce, refusing to reconcile, refusing to marry, rejecting a relationship; and 2 women were killed on economic pretexts,” the group said in its November report.

The independent news outlet Bianet reported 35 femicides in November, including the killing of a trans woman, compared with 31 recorded in November 2020. Half of the deaths happened in the home.

Although Turkey has laws that protect women, they have not been fully enforced. The women are often blamed for allegedly dressing inappropriately and thus provoking the perpetrators.

There have also been protests in Turkey against a law the government introduced in 2020 to grant rapists amnesty if they marry their victims.

The head of Turkish Women’s Associations Federation, Canan Gullu, decried the impunity. “As long as the perpetrator of violence is not punished for the violence he committed, femicide will increase. Unless precautions are taken, the murders will not decrease,” Gullu told Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.

The Istanbul Convention, which was opened for signature in 2011 and has been signed by 46 EU and non-EU countries, is the first legally-binding human rights accord establishing comprehensive legal standards to prevent violence against women. The treaty upholds the four principles of prevention, protection, prosecution and coordinated policies to combat such violence.

In place of the convention, Erdogan announced a four-year plan to reduce domestic violence and femicides, starting with revising regulations on stalking women, cyber violence and forced marriages.

Governments and non-governmental organizations alike condemned Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. In July, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on Turkey to reverse its decision.

“The adoption of this decision in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to deepen the protection gap for women and girls during a time when gender-based violence against women (GBVAW) is on the rise,” CEDAW said in a statement.