Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pulled his country out of an international treaty designed to protect women, ministers and an official notice said on Saturday, prompting criticism from those who said it was necessary to address growing domestic violence.
The Council of Europe accord, called the Istanbul Convention, vowed to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality. Turkey signed it in 2011 but femicide has surged in the country in recent years.
No reason was provided for the withdrawal in the Official Gazette, where it was announced early on Saturday. However, senior government officials said domestic law rather than outside fixes would protect the rights of women.
The convention, forged in Turkey’s biggest city, had split Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) and even his family. Last year, officials said the cabinet was considering pulling out amid a row over how to curb rising violence against women.
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, secretary general of the 47-nation Council of Europe, described Turkey’s decision as “devastating” in light of the violence faced by women and girls alike.
“This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond,” she said.
Opposition politicians said Erdogan by law cannot act without parliament’s consent. But many conservatives in Turkey and in his Islamist-rooted AKP say the pact undermines family structures, encouraging violence.
Some are also hostile to the Istanbul Convention’s principle of gender equality and see it as promoting homosexuality, given the pact’s non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
“Preserving our traditional social fabric” will protect the dignity of Turkish women, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter. “For this sublime purpose, there is no need to seek the remedy outside or to imitate others.”
The constitution and current regulations guarantee women’s rights, said Zehra Zumrut, Family, Labor and Social Policies Minister.