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Istanbul does not stand for the Istanbul Convention anymore

For us as a women’s peace organisation, the current backlash against women’s rights is also an attack on inner peace, which is endangered in our countries, in Europe and worldwide.

In autumn 2020, we at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom from European sections, approached governments, the Council of Europe and EU parliamentarians, alarmed by the announcement of Poland’s Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy, Marlena Maląg, to denounce the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the “Istanbul Convention”.

Today 46 member states of the Council of Europe have signed the Convention and 33 of them have ratified it. However, nearly everywhere the implementation has deficits!

The President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, claimed last autumn that the Convention was unnecessary because Polish law sufficiently protected victims from violence – the rest was “gender talk”. For us, a rarely scandalous act of misogyny! This week in Poland, the fundamentalist religious organisation, Institute for Legal Culture Ordo Iuris, an extreme anti-choice group whose founders were ‘inspired’ by a controversial catholic fundamentalist network, introduced a legislative initiative to end the anti-violence convention.Their strategy is to cancel Istanbul Convention, after that they will try to put a new law “to protect children” in which abortion will be illegal in Poland (because it will be considered as “murder od unborn child”) and for abortion abroad several years prison. This will be voted on March 30 within a new proposed law – title “Yes for family – no for gender!”
From a feminist point of view, this request is absurd, because family policy can never replace women’s and gender policy.

Many feminist activists marched in the streets of Poland again on 8 March 2021, to protest against the humiliation associated with the illegalisation of the abortion. Pictures and testimonies from friends about brutal attacks by law enforcement and police persecution of women showed the full extent of brutal human rights violations.

For us as a women’s peace organisation, the current backlash against women’s rights is also an attack on inner peace, which is endangered in our countries, in Europe and worldwide. Paradoxically, it is precisely in the pandemic that statistics show the frightening increase in sexualised violence and even femicides. However, there are completely inadequate protection facilities for women threatened by domestic violence. Especially for migrant women, women refugees, and women living in precarious situations, the situation is often catastrophic: lack of protection and adequate shelters, lack of institutions to protect them, lack of political understanding and will. The social and economic costs of violence against women and the state’s disregard for the problem are enormous.

Poland is not an isolated case, this is becoming increasingly clear. We hear similarly alarming stories from partners in Ukraine, Bosnia, Armenia, Georgia and practically all countries in Central and Eastern Europe. However, we also notice that the threats to life and limb of women with increasing legal tendencies are spreading everywhere in Europe and the EU. Many of these experiences are in tragic collaboration with legal and nationalist circles and are covered up and promoted by church institutions under the pretext of “preserving tradition”. Poland is a field for many of these experiences and propaganda against gender, women’s rights, minority rights. Therefore we are all called to be aware and alarmed, stand in solidarity with the women and call to our respective governments and multilateral institutions not to accept this step and condemn and take back these measures.


So now, since the end of the week, Turkey has canceled the Istanbul Convention by the way of a decree by Erdogan. What is behind this? They want to keep women who no longer want to “give” their sons for the wars out of the political sphere. Especially the young women who raise their voices regarding environmental destruction (remember the protest in Gezi park) and against shrinking space for civil society, by marginalizing women and declaring them the “weak sex”. Women are pushed back into dependencies on husbands and partners, they are supposed to bear many children, and then send them to religious schools. The social ideology behind all this is clearly patriarchal and enjoys broad consensus with corrupt elites, economic oligarchs and mafia structures. The government and its “friends” argue that the protection of women through the convention is a Western construct to destroy Turkey’s moral values – such as “extramarital relations, same-sex partnerships, alcohol consumption, sodomy” included. The abuse of children should no longer be punishable if the victim and the perpetrator marry. A draft law states that sexual contacts between adults and minors could be retroactively declared exempt from punishment if the age difference between the two is not more than fifteen years, the victim has not reported the perpetrator and consents to marriage.

This is nothing but cynical!

That is why we women from WILPF want to contribute to the outcry that is going through the feminist movement and as members of the EWL and other networks! Our solidarity is with the women who need protection from violence now or in the future with the women’s coalition in Turkey. It is important for all of us, it is our right.

WILPF demands remain: 

– It is high time to guarantee the citizens of the European Union the right to a life free of violence and to make this the basis for all external relations of the EU!

– Germany must work more actively for the prevention of violence and more effective protection of victims, especially in its presidency of the Council of Europe.

– The European Union must overcome the standstill in ratifying the anti-violence convention. The EU’s silence on violence prevention creates space for fundamentalist organizations in the member states, for whom the adoption of the Convention at the EU level is an important blockage in advancing their agenda.

– The EU should accelerate the establishment of mechanisms to periodically monitor the implementation by Member States of Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. This requires a comprehensive EU strategy to prevent and combat violence against women and the adoption of legally binding legislative solutions that allow the standards enshrined in the Convention to be harmonized and implemented across the EU.

– Countries must provide the appropriate financial and human resources to help implement the Istanbul Convention in practice and not just on paper.

– Reducing domestic violence must be seen as a generational task. Education, awareness-raising, non-violent communication and conflict resolution methods as well as intersectional offers must be expanded.

written by Heidi Meinzolt