On 8 March, several thousand people in the city center of Istanbul were confronted with Turkish police forces as they celebrated International Women’s Day. Istanbul’s authorities forbid marches or protest in the city, and police was widely present to dissolve the protests. In Turkey, femicide and gender-based violence are a major problem. In 2021 alone, 418 woman were killed by men in the country.
In recent years, Turkish authorities often forbid such gatherings, and use violence to deter those who protest. This time, police fired pepper spray and pushed the protesters back with riot gear. Meanwhile, women were whistling and chanted “we are not scared, we do not bow down”. According to local media, dozens of protesters were detained in Istanbul, but also in other cities such as Antalya.
The Istanbul Convention
In June 2021, Turkey controversially pulled out of the Istanbul convention. This framework by the Council of Europe aims at preventing and opposing various forms of violence against women. It is the first legally binding instrument to do so and aims to harmonize legal standards for women among countries in Europe. Currently, 44 countries have signed the agreement.
In 2011, Turkey was the first to ratify the agreement. But in recent years, critics argued that it damaged traditional family values and that it pushes a LQBTQ agenda. At the time, a government spokesperson said that the convention is “incompatible” with Turkey’s social values. It angered Turkish women’s rights activists, lawyers and opposition figures. However on 1 July 2021, Turkey officially withdrew.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has drafted a reform package that aims to better protect women in the country. It includes higher prison terms for gender-related violence and the possibility for women to have a lawyer without costs. Erdogan’s government has said that it is committed to women’s rights, also without the Istanbul convention. However, activists already indicated that it is far from sufficient and that Erdogan’s government must re-enter the treaty.
Bottomline, police repression during peaceful protesting on International Women’s Day certainly does not aid safety of women in the country. Already, the position of women in Turkish society is alarming. It is pivotal that the country re-enters the Istanbul convention and commences to work on meaningful reform to truly protect its women from all sorts of violence.