Turkish police fire tear gas at women protesting gender-based violence

By: Lane Johansen

On November 25, several thousand demonstrators, mostly women, marched in the center of Istanbul to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Turkish riot police fired pepper gas to disperse the protestors when a group tried to breach barriers set up at the end of Istanbul’s main pedestrian street, Istiklal.

Demonstrators called on Turkey to rejoin the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence—better known as the Istanbul Convention, as Turkey became the first of 45 countries to ratify the convention on May 11, 2011.

However, a decade later, Turkey became the first and only country to withdraw from the convention. In March 2021, President Erdogan announced Istanbul would be withdrawing from the convention, claiming the initiative had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality” and asserting Turkey would use local laws to protect women’s rights.

Hundreds took to the streets to protest the announcement in March. Then, on July 1, 2021, Erdogan officially withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, and within hours, thousands of people gathered for another round of protests in Turkey’s largest cities. Demonstrators in the latest march on November 25 vowed they would not give up on the Istanbul Convention.

We Will Stop Femicide, a Turkish women’s rights NGO, has reported the murder of over 285 women in Turkey so far in 2021. The group found that in most of these cases, husbands had killed their wives in their homes. However, women are also murdered by complete strangers, such as the shocking murder of 28-year-old Basak Cengiz on November 9. According to Al Jazeera,

“Cengiz was walking down a street in Istanbul’s Ataşehir district when a man wielding a samurai sword walked up behind her, and without saying a word, began to stab her repeatedly, continuing after she fell to the sidewalk and died… the suspected killer, when questioned by the police about why he killed Cengiz, said he was simply out to kill someone. ‘I went out and picked a woman because I thought it would be easier.’”

Erdogan critics blame the Turkish government for such gender-based violence; Gulsum Kav, co-founder of We Will Stop Femicide, said that because of the poor implementation of regulations, “killing women is easy in Turkey.”

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