By Lara Villalon
Istanbul, Jul 1 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of people, most of them women, took to the streets of Istanbul and other Turkish cities Thursday to denounce President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from a treaty on preventing and combating violence against women known as the Istanbul Convention.
Chanting, “the convention is life” and “we won’t keep quiet, we’re not afraid, we won’t obey,” protesters gathered in the heart of this metropolis of more than 15 million residents.
“It’s more important than ever that we be in the street today,” activist Tugçe Sönmez told Efe. “Nothing has improved since the exit from the convention was announced. On the contrary, everything has gotten worse. The state must protect women.”
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the pact’s official name – was opened for signature in May 2011 at the 121st Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul.
Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister, signed the document and persuaded parliament to ratify it in 2012. But three months ago, he renounced the pact via a decree that took effect Thursday after surviving a court challenge.
The “Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women” that the president announced Thursday did not mollify the protesters.
“We can’t endure any more. The convention must be applied, we don’t trust a local law. It’s clear that they (Turkish authorities) don’t know how to prevent violence,” a woman identifying herself only as Firde said.
While police in Istanbul permitted the protest, Evrensel newspaper reported that riot cops in Izmir, Turkey’s third city, used pepper spray to break up a march by hundreds of women.
Ankara, the capital, witnessed a number of separate processions in different parts of the city, some of which experienced harassment by police.
Despite deficiencies in its implementation in Turkey, feminist organizations say that the Istanbul Convention has become a vital tool in combating gender violence.
Elements with influence over Erdogan’s conservative Islamist AKP party first raised the idea of withdrawing from the convention last summer.
The reaction – including from women’s groups inside the AKP – was overwhelmingly negative and the government appeared to abandon the notion.
Yet opponents of the convention continued to agitate for withdrawal, accusing the treaty of undermining family values and promoting homosexuality.
While the text makes no mention of alternative sexualities, Turkey’s LGBT organizations came to embrace the Istanbul Convention and Erdogan said that he decided to renounce the treaty because it had been “hijacked by a group trying to normalize homosexuality.”
Between 300 and 400 Turkish women a year, on average, are slain by partners, ex-partners, disappointed suitors or even by their own male relatives in so-called honor killings.
So far this year, according to the We Will Stop Femicide group, 189 women have been murdered in Turkey. EFE iut-lvm/dr