Recently, I’ve been seeing posts with the hashtag #Istanbulconventionsaveslives. I wish I was able to say it was just to inform the public about the significance of a treaty, but it wasn’t. It was a cry for help. For the past year, Turkish women have been posting black and white photos of the victims of femicide and domestic violence. Every week we posted someone new; every week I tried to gather myself after reading about a dreadful story of a coldblooded murder.
However, on March 20, the government made it clear that it has never heard and will never hear us. With a presidential decree that abolished the Istanbul Convention, the president of Turkey disregarded the mournful screams of all the grieving families, the loss of hundreds of young lives and the value of any and all women’s rights.
For the past couple of months, Turkey has been at the heart of unrest and conflict. The governmental appointment of a president to Bogazici University — one of the most prestigious universities in the country — rekindled the issues between the pro-government and opposition groups. Incidents of anti-LGBTQ actions followed the conflict after an art piece used in the protests was alleged to disrespect the Islamic values. Thousands of people took the streets to protest against the government. Instead of focusing on restoring order and establishing mutual respect and tolerance, the government chose to feed off of the continuous conflict and use it to conceal their decision to abolish the Istanbul Convention.
The Istanbul Convention is a Council of Europe treaty on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. In spite of the ongoing public support for the Istanbul Convention and in the middle of the current conflicts regarding the LGBTQ community, Turkey announced the end of its participation in the convention. The government and its conservative supporters justified the decision with their claims that the treaty undermines the familial values and normalizes homosexuality. The phrases “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are said to be against the Turkish social understandings and construction of family. Therefore, conservatives portray the convention as a threat to the next generations. Since then, many citizens have joined Bogazici University students in their efforts to change the presidential decision about the convention. Connecting the convention to homosexuality — a topic of long-standing debate in the Islamic community in Turkey — the government framed the abolishment of the convention to be an extension of the prevailing debate between conservative pro-government and opposition groups. Though a red herring, it worked — as it often does — and distracted the general public from the real gravity of the government’s actions that is to undermine women’s rights through abolishing the Istanbul Convention.
In reality, the Istanbul Convention establishes an international legal ground for preventing, prosecuting and eliminating any act of violence against women. Contrary to what opponents say, it seeks to strengthen family bonds and promote respect for gender equality and nondiscrimination for all genders. Though, there are Turkish bylaws aiming to combat violence against women, they haven’t been successful enough for years with many instances of amnesty to related crimes. It has always been a struggle to exist as a woman in Turkey knowing the ignorance against the atrocities toward women. However, as of March 20, any international ground for fighting for women’s lives has been reduced to nothingness.
Today, writing this column, I feel ashamed that I have to advocate for something that is righteous in and of itself. There can be no valid argument for abolishing a treaty which seeks to ameliorate the already disgraceful situation of women’s rights in a country. Last year, at least 300 women were killed and 171 women were found dead under terrible conditions. This means that at least one woman was murdered specifically because of their gender every single day of 2020, on average, in Turkey. According to data obtained from UNWomen, approximately 40 percent of women suffer physical and/or sexual violence from their partners. There is much more statistical evidence that can be presented but even the loss of one woman is enough to see the significance of this treaty. Abolishment of the Istanbul Convention now serves as a battleground for the fight between conservative and liberal groups. But there cannot be a battleground for this: The only fight should be against domestic violence. It is an unacceptable debate while we have numbers, facts and just one reality.
Our past may have been full of examples that celebrated patriarchal ideologies. Misogyny may have been tolerated in the past. However, today in the midst of the 21st century, we have to take actions that combat the mistakes that inhibited or reversed social progress. Progress can only be achieved if we can change perspectives against certain long-standing ideas.
With this fact in mind, governments have to take exemplary actions that promote respect among all. If administrators are not on our side, then who will be? How are we going to seek justice when someone rushes into a building and shoots a woman just because of his obsessive mind?
In my country, justice has lost its meaning. For so long, it meant much less than it should have, but today it deprives women from their right to live and to fight for each other. Watching the countless women march for their lives, I feel appalled by anyone who has caused this and anyone who can have a slightest bit of justification for it. As a Turkish woman, I am heartbroken that my country is associated with such a disgrace. More importantly, I am heartbroken that I am scared to go back because the Istanbul Convention doesn’t save Turkish lives anymore. Fear is what suppressed women for thousands of years, but today has to be different. I might be scared but I will not acquiesce. We will read, talk and write about this. We will live, we will live to fight another day.
DILGE BUKSUR is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.