Istanbul, Turkey Turkish police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Thursday to repel thousands of people, many of them women, who took to the streets of Istanbul to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence in Humanity. towards women.
The protests, which are part of a week-long nationwide mobilization, came amid calls for Turkey to join the Istanbul Convention, a landmark agreement to protect women that includes 45 countries and was signed in Turkey’s largest city in 2011.
While Turkey was the first country to sign the convention, in July it also became the first to pull out with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government claiming the initiative had been hijacked by a group of people trying to normalize homosexuality.
Turkish women staged mass protests against the withdrawal twice, in March when Erdogan first announced his intention to withdraw, and again in July when the movement went official.
Erdogan argued that existing laws in Turkey already provide sufficient protection for women, but women’s rights groups in the country say the convention provided a roadmap for important legislation that the government did not. never fully implemented.
At least 285 women have been killed by men so far in 2021 in Turkey, according to the We Will Stop Femicide platform, a non-governmental organization that tracks these incidents and lobbies for the killers to be prosecuted.
On Thursday, Turkey’s interior minister acknowledged that statistics from his own ministry on feminicides in the country showed this year was on track to overtake last year with 251 women killed as of November 15, up from 268 in 2020, but the government was trying to reduce that number.
These are not just statistics, it is a matter of human lives, and we need to address this issue quickly, Sleyman Soylu said at a meeting to review a national domestic violence reporting system. We see violence against women as a humanitarian problem and we cannot tolerate even one loss of life.
For many women in Turkey, however, the government’s statements that it is interested in protecting them are hard to believe, especially after its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.
Women are taking to the streets because in Turkey and around the world male violence is on the rise, Gokce, 25, of the Womens Defense Network, an organization that connects activists across the country, told Al Jazeera. Like many others at Thursday night’s protest, she also took part in the march in Istanbul in July. We are in the streets to demand the right of women to defend themselves, to demand justice for the women who have been killed, for their right to work, for the rights of lesbian women.
Gokce said the Istanbul Convention was the product of years of work by women’s rights activists, and although Turkey never fully fulfilled the obligations set out in it, the withdrawal came as a shock.
Erdogan withdrew from the Istanbul Convention overnight, on the pretext that it is spreading homosexuality, she said. Feminists wrote this convention, and they struggled to enforce it. They went from court to court to enforce it and it was still not fully enforced in Turkey. It shouldn’t be one man’s decision to get out of this.
Subjected to violence
Hundreds of women gathered as Gokce spoke, shortly after sunset, near the southern end of the city’s most famous pedestrian street, Istiklal Avenue. Soon the crowd swelled to several thousand, with three groups converging from three different directions under the watchful eye of hundreds of riot police blocking the road north of Taksim Square, the traditional endpoint of the city’s political rallies. .
I came because I’m a feminist and I think there must be a women’s struggle in this country, Hilal Akcan, 22, told Al Jazeera. And I came because I think the Istanbul Convention is necessary and to support my sisters.
I don’t think they’ll let us walk, Akcan said, looking down the street towards the mass of riot shields and a double layer of metal barricades blocking the path. They’ve already closed the exits and entrances to get here, and I think we’ll walk a bit and then the police will intervene.
Demonstrations like this drew large and diverse crowds to mark occasions such as International Women’s Day, but since a failed coup attempt in 2016, police have treated such public demonstrations of dissent with seriousness. heavier and heavier hand.
The rapid rise in consumer prices and the devaluation of the Turkish lira sparked small protests across the country earlier this week, with police quickly intervening and arresting dozens of people in Istanbul on Wednesday evening who were calling on the government to resign .
During Thursday’s women’s rights protest, participants also chanted slogans calling for Erdogan’s resignation, as well as placards and chants calling for the re-accession of the Istanbul Convention and an end to it. that many see as everyday cases of brutal violence against women.
Every day in our homes, in the streets, in our workplaces, we are victims of violence, a woman who gave her name as the only Nihal told Al Jazeera. We have had enough.
During Thursday’s protest, many women carried placards with the number 6284, referring to the name of the law passed by the Erdogan government in 2012 to implement the Istanbul Convention.
Among other measures, the Law on Family Protection and Prevention of Violence against Women made it easier to obtain restraining orders and called for the construction of hundreds of special shelters for victims. domestic violence. Rights groups say that although some shelters have been established, they are far from the hundreds that were supposed to be available. To keep the pressure on the government to pursue this law and other reforms, they say the Istanbul Convention must stand.
President Erdogan, however, lambasted feminists who begin every sentence with the Istanbul Convention for their calls to join the deal.
We have completely removed the Istanbul Convention from our agenda because we already have the steps to take in this agreement in our own laws on the agenda, he said on November 17 in Ankara.
As the protesters walked up Istiklal Avenue on Thursday evening, police gradually withdrew to let them walk, but then, just a few hundred yards from the start of the rally, they suddenly stopped. Hundreds of riot police gathered behind barricades, supported by half a dozen water cannon trucks and dozens of buses to transport potential detainees. Groups of police officers deployed with rubber pellet guns and tear gas canisters, while others put on gas masks and attached plastic clips to their belts.
The standoff between the police and the demonstrators lasted nearly half an hour, as the demonstrators chanted the barricades!
Moments later, riot police entered, firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into the sidewalk, the start of a gradual push against the crowd until it dispersed near. one hour later.
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