Ten Years of Istanbul Convention: ‘A Milestone with a Worrying Edge ‘

Today, ten years ago, the Istanbul Convention was signed. The convention, designed to combat violence against women and domestic violence, is supported by dozens of countries. What has been the result of the Convention in recent years and what does it mean that Turkey has abandoned the Treaty in March?

The Convention was drawn up by the Council of Europe – an international organisation of which 47 countries are members. Countries that have subscribed to it must prevent violence against women, protect victims and condemn perpetrators. They also contribute to the elimination of discrimination against women, advocate equality between men and women and fight violence against people because of their sexual orientation.

The Convention also specifies which forms of violence should be punishable, such as psychological violence, stalking, sexual violence, forced marriages, forced abortion and genital mutilation.

Sign and ratify

In 2021, 45 countries and the European Union signed the treaty. A large part has also ratified the agreement. That means that Parliament has agreed to it. Armenia, Moldova, the Czech Republic and Hungary have signed the convention alone. Russia and Azerbaijan are members of the Council of Europe, but do not support the agreement.

Find out which countries support the Istanbul Treaty and how:

Renee Römkens, professor emeritus of gender based violence at the University of Amsterdam, was a scientific member of the committee that drew up the Istanbul-Convention. “That process lasted more than two years. It took time for all countries to reach agreement, to think about every comma,” she says.

Römkens says that Turkey wanted it to be signed in Istanbul. “The country was keen on good contact with Europe in connection with the then envisaged accession to the EU,” she says. “And that country of all people gets out first.”

That happened last March. Governing Party AKP calls the content of the treaty “not in line with traditional family values” in Turkey. The AKP also disagrees with the comments on gender equality and believes that the Convention ‘promotes’ homosexuality. Poland also wants to leave the Convention because it contains elements of an ‘ideology which the government considers damage’.

Protests

Turkey‘s decision led to a lot of resistance. Thousands of women went out to the streets to demonstrate. Other countries, including France and Germany, condemned the decision. Violence against women has been a problem in Turkey for many years.

“ There was a street protest every week in Turkey for women’s rights, but now it‘s stopped because there’s another lockdown,” says correspondent Mitra Nazar. “Much attention is still being drawn to the Istanbull Convention, especially by women‘s rights organisations and the opposition, particularly on social media.”

Several foreign embassies in Ankara, including those of the Netherlands, have published a statement today. For example, they write that they deplore Turkey’s decision and hope that the government will reconsider the decision.

Turkish women‘s rights organisations today dwell on the treaty. On the old city wall of Istanbul they projected the text ‘we don‘t give up’:

If Römkens looks back on the past ten years, she is generally satisfied. “Very important steps have been taken, but we are not there yet,” she says. “We can be delighted with some developments, especially if you look at the facilities that some countries have set up.”

According to Römkens, an example is a telephone helpline that Sweden has set up. “But also the legislative changes that some countries are doing or have already implemented are good steps. For example, the Netherlands is working on a new rape law, which is also a consequence of the treaty. Ratifying means that you adapt laws if necessary.”

The Emeritus Professor regrets that Turkey and Poland are withdrawing or threatening to withdraw: “At a time of growing populism and conservative movements, women‘s rights are the first to be put under pressure. It is a sad illustration of how populist politics are doing everything to achieve their goal and promote traditional values at the expense of women.”

Work on the store

In the Netherlands, according to Römkens, progress has been made with initiatives and judges applying the agreements contained in the Convention. But there’s still plenty to do. “In international treaties, rules are sometimes easily pushed aside, even here in the Netherlands. There must be more knowledge of the Treaties, a willingness to enforce if rules are not complied with. And one should be aware of the fact that violence against women constitutes a violation of fundamental human rightsis.”

The committee that checks compliance with the treaty in all countries says that not all countries keep to the agreements. “In Albania, Hungary and Poland, for example, they want to suspend a number of rights for women. This is contrary to international treaties,” says Römkens. “This ten years is a milestone, but also with a worrying edge.”