Freedom of Speech | 1 min

A Populist Disinformation Campaign of A Human Rights Treaty: The Truth behind The Istanbul Convention

The Turkish state has caused widespread disinformation about the Istanbul Convention. It's time to pick these claims apart


Nesibe Kırış
Women gather to protest against the government's decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention, in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 26, 2021

The Istanbul Convention has attracted the common interest of various far-right groups throughout Europe. Gender-based violence has always been a deep-rooted problem in Turkey and across Europe. But still, several EU countries reject ratifying this Convention, while Poland takes steps to withdraw from it, and Turkey announced withdrawal from the Convention two weeks ago with a presidential decree based on misinterpretations and myths. By using an intensive lobbying effort, fundamentalist and conservative groups within Turkish society accused the Convention of undermining the traditional family structure and defending LGBTQI rights. Seven women were killed in Turkey on the same day of the withdrawal decision, while seven femicides happened within 24 hours, according to “Anit Sayac” (Counter Monument), a civilian initiative that tracks femicides in the country for the whole year. The moment has come to examine all these allegations closely.

“The convention applies only to women/girls; men are getting victimised because of it.”

A big no. The preamble of the Convention recognises that the structural nature of domestic violence and violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. The Istanbul Convention does not aim to “abolish differences” between women and men; it does not imply that women and men are, or ought to be, “the same”, but equal instead. Outbreaks of violence like forced abortion, female genital mutilation are problems that only women can experience simply because they are a woman. However, even though women experience sexual violence and rape, stalking, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced marriage, forced sterilisation more often than men, the Convention recognises that they are not the only victims. It encourages the state parties to apply its provisions towards domestic violence victims, including men, children, and the elderly. The Convention provides a framework for eradicating violence against women and domestic violence in the context of the achievement of de jure and de facto gender equality.

“The convention supports a ‘destructive gender ideology’. It legally forces countries to introduce a third gender.”

Untrue. Istanbul Convention Article 4/3 prohibits discrimination on many grounds, including gender identity and sexual orientation. It refers to the fundamental meaning of “everyone” — the Convention basically says:”This [Article 4/3] goes for everyone”. It provides protection and support to all victims of abuse, regardless of their characteristics. This term does not intend to replace the biological definition of “sex”, or the terms “women” and “men.” The main goal is to emphasise that inequalities, stereotypes, and violence do not only originate from biological differences but rather from a social construct, namely from attitudes and perceptions of how women and men are and should be in society — in other words “gender”. First, and above all, we should note Article 14 in the European Convention on Human Rights: prohibition of discrimination; and Protocol No. 12 and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (in e. Oliari vs Italy, 2015, Ratzenböck and Seydl vs Austria, 2017), as well as the Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec (2010)5 on measures to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Whatever is the case, it does not force countries to adopt this position and does not replace any biological definition. The principle of non-discrimination regarding gender identity or sexual orientation is based on legal obligations from other legal instruments. Besides, the Convention does not oblige states to recognise a third sex under domestic law. The term “third sex” does not even appear in the text.

“The convention legitimates illegal migration.”

Seriously? It is a European argument that we did not hear from Turkey. However, the Convention requires no further refugee status. Rather, it is the right of women to proceed with a fair asylum process, taking into account their reasons for seeking protection, a gender-responsive approach, and also considering the violence aspect.

“It’s against traditional family values.”

No! No one is interested about family values in this Convention. The real threat against families is the violence itself. The Convention’s objective is not to regulate family life and/or family structures; likewise, it does not contain a definition of “family”, nor does it promote a particular type of family setting. The Convention requires governments to ensure the safety of those who find themselves at risk at home or threatened by a family member, spouses, or intimate partners, which unfortunately is the most common form of violence. Since it aims to fight domestic violence wherever it occurs, it is intended for anyone living in a violent relationship. The Istanbul Convention does not challenge joint custody benefits but seeks to ensure that contact with children does not endanger victims and children’s rights and safety. The Convention aims to safeguard domestic security and support victims of violence.

“We already have sufficient legislation and there is no need for more.”

Not enough. This is not a justified reason for not ratifying or implementing the Convention. It aims to eradicate all forms of violence, and no country is totally free from violence against women. It is also, first and foremost, a complementary legal document with a specific added value in this area, compared to previous international texts. According to governmental documents leaked to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), the authorities will seek to replace the Convention with a new treaty that would ban same-sex marriage and abortions. The Turkish ministries also affirmed they were preparing for a new treaty. One should ask: if the real motivation is to protect women and children and prevent domestic violence, the first action would be the efficient implementation of the current regulations. We then have to prepare for the “new” agreement that is “more sufficient”, “real”, and “appropriate” and try to hold a referendum to ensure what citizens want. Otherwise it is only a small group deciding the fate of millions of women and children who face violence.

It is now time for every single person to tell the truth and make the strongest campaign for factual information regarding the Istanbul Convention, which is actually: The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. We won’t let any potential perpetrator allow themselves the right be violent towards any woman or child, or let any victim face violence just because some groups wanted to promote negative populist propaganda against a human rights treaty. The Istanbul Convention saves lives, and we will save the Istanbul Convention.

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