What Happens When Turkey Takes Back Women’s Rights?

Women in Turkey protesting for women's rights

On Mar 19, 2021, Turkey officially announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, effective on July 1, triggering a nationwide protest. The Istanbul Convention was signed in 2011, passed by the Council of Europe, signed by 45 countries, to defend women’s rights against domestic and gender violence against women.

The Convention has always been a political debate in Turkey. The conservative party believes it encourages homosexuality and divorce, eroding the core value of “family’ in Turkey.

According to the UN (United Nations), in 2014, over one-third of married women in Turkey experienced different degrees of domestic violence. Several hundred women were killed.

Women’s rights issues have always been a concern. Since the government’s official withdrawal from the Convention, there have been protests across the country.

56-year-old Zeynab is a retired high-school teacher. On March 27, she decided to join the protest against the injustice done to women in the country.

“I have lived in Turkey all my life. Growing up, I never knew women could have rights. I thought men naturally should have more rights than women. After half a century, I see young girls are having more options in life. They are living a happier, freer life. I’m so proud of that. But our government is trying to regress our civilization to half a century ago. Back to women’s rights were a taboo. For my children, I have to stand up today.”

As an educator, Zeynab understands the power of education. Deep-rooted toxic masculinity is the problem as she described. She does not want to see her female students growing up believing they are less, or that they should accept the violence done to them because of their gender.

Doga is a young dancer who took on her favourite dance moves on the streets that day.

“I hate this country. It divides people because of their sexual orientation. Why can’t gay people have rights? Regardless of our sexual preferences, we are all just normal people trying to live our lives. We don’t need the government to criminalise our freedom. I want to live in a civilised society, not a regime.”

That Saturday, besides Zeynab and Doga, many more joined the protest. They were dancing and singing, showing a different side to the traditional protest scenes.

There have always been unspoken rules imposed on women in society, stripping them the freedom to freely show their body or their emotions in public. The seemingly fun protest was a way to fight against these rules.

Until Mar 29,  dozen of protestors were arrested in Istanbul, but it does not put out the flames roaring in other parts of the country. Protestors are standing firm. They say they are not scared of being arrested, they are only scared if they do not come out today, they will not be able to come out tomorrow.

Following the development in Turkey, there have been talks in Poland that the government also wants to withdraw from the treaty, sparking off protest within the country.

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