In pictures: Women rally across Turkey in support of Istanbul Convention
Thousands of women across Turkey gathered in urban meeting spots on Wednesday to protest against the worsening problem of violence directed against them in the country.
In Istanbul, 20-year-old Emine from the western Izmir province carried a sign that read: “It’s not a coincidence; It’s femicide #6284letslive.”
Femicide, the intentional killing of women because they are women, is a persistent and deepening issue in Turkey. In 2012, Turkey adopted "Law No. 6284 to Protect Family and Prevent Violence Against Women." That law is now under threat.
In the neighbourhood of Kadikoy, with the Bosphorus strait on their left, crowds chanted “Istanbul Convention lets [women] live,” calling on the Turkish government to fully implement the international treaty to avoid further violence and deaths.
The Istanbul Convention was signed by members of the European Council, including Turkey, in 2011 with a mission to implement preventive, protective and legal measures in cases involving gender-based discrimination and violence against women.
Though the convention was ratified by the Turkish Parliament in 2012, women still do not have full access to their legal rights and the measures that the treaty secures for people, Asli Karatas, a lawyer and creator of Sebuka, a website on sexist legal practices in Turkey, explained.
“It is not a coincidence that 39 women were murdered in Turkey in July alone,” she told MEE.
“The Istanbul Convention allows to prosecute the perpetrators irrespective of ‘culture’ or ‘honour killings,’ excuses widely used to lower penalties in such cases."
In 2019, at least 328 women were murdered in Turkey, according to Bianet’s Male Violence Monitoring Report.
Nearly 60 percent of the women were murdered by their husbands, and 59 percent of the women were killed at home, the report says.
Various perpetrators reported that their partners wanted to break up, or did not want to reconcile, or refused a marriage proposal.
“For years, the women’s movement here has pushed for this treaty’s proper application. But soon after Pinar Gultekin was murdered, the government announced they were mulling withdrawal from the treaty. Two incidents following each other acted as a catalyst for the [Implement Istanbul Convention] campaign,” Karatas said.
Pinar Gultekin’s name was among those pronounced through the speakers in Kadikoy. Like Ozgecan Aslan, Emine Bulut and Sule Cet, 27-year-old Gultekin’s also became a high-profile case in Turkey.
In Istanbul, women held a large piece of purple banner made of fabric stitched with: “Alone isn’t the way; women are strong together."
Deputy chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Numan Kurtulmus in July hinted at the government's intention to withdraw from the treaty once and for all, saying it was wrong to ratify the document and criticising it for deprecating family and social values.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also stated he would be willing to withdraw from the convention "if people want to".
Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Erdogan’s electoral ally, with considerable sway over Turkey’s politics, called for Law No. 6284 to be “fully implemented.”
“We picked this date because the AKP’s MYK (Central Executive Board) planned to meet today, and originally, they were going to discuss withdrawing from the convention,” Canan Gullu, president of Turkey’s Women’s Federation said.
“For the first time, all women’s divisions in Turkey are standing in solidarity,” she said, emphasising the importance of getting support from the AKP’s female representatives over the treaty.
KADEM (Women and Democracy Association), a pro-government women’s rights organisation at which Sumeyye Erdogan, the president's daughter, is deputy chair, also voiced support for the treaty’s proper implementation.
“The Istanbul Convention is the first international document that provides protection to women against all types of violence within a legal framework,” KADEM said on 3 August, describing Istanbul protests as “a right won by Turkey’s women’s movement’s struggle; it’s absolutely not a gesture.”
“Had the Istanbul Convention been implemented, Ulviye Ince could have been alive,” read one poster.
“I want to live as a woman free of fear,” 23-year-old journalist Evin Arslan said, explaining why she attended the demonstration on Wednesday. “I demand preventive penalties against violence. I demand the Istanbul Convention to be implemented."
For 19-year-old Melek Bulut, who is studying political science at Istanbul University, it was important to be there to stand in solidarity with women in Istanbul and abroad.
“Of course, it is great that our campaign spread to the world,” she said, and added that it created connections with women across a world ruled by male politicians.
International celebrities such as Jessica Biel, Salma Hayek and Christina Aguilera also joined the campaign online, voicing their stance against Turkey’s femicide problem and showing solidarity with Turkish women.
“The Instagram action was intended to show the Turkish government that all women know it could be them, their picture on the news, next,” actress Sophia Bush wrote in a public post.
On social media, supporters of the treaty “challenged” each other to post a black and white photo of themselves to help raise awareness.
“The government and justice system [are] doing nothing to stop these crimes. Just this week, several women have been murdered,” wrote American actress Vanessa Hudgens.
In Istanbul, crowds danced at the end of the meeting as the sun set and left the ferry port chanting.
For the young reporter, it was an empowering event to participate in.
“I feel that I’m not alone. If it weren’t for the women’s movement’s existence, I don’t think we could live with the news of deaths we receive everyday,” Arslan said after the demonstration.