Turkish police fire tear gas on protesters in Istanbul | Women’s Rights Issues

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 celebrate International Day for the Emination of Violence against Women.

The protests, which are part of a global humanitarian week, come as Turkey calls for a return to the Istanbul Summit, a well-known agreement to protect women from 45 countries and signed in 2011 in Turkey’s largest city.

Although Turkey was the first country to sign the summit, in July it was also the first to withdraw from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming that the move was “stolen by a group of people who are trying to curb homosexuality”.

Turkish women have protested twice over the eviction, in March when Erdogan first announced his intention to leave, and also in July, when the move was legal.

Erdogan said existing laws in Turkey provide adequate protection for women, but women’s rights groups in the country say the conference provided a map of important legislation that the government has never 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 oversees such incidents and attracts prosecutors for the killers.

On Thursday, Turkey’s Interior Ministry acknowledged that its ministry’s statistics on the number of female genital mutilation in the country indicate that this year should be higher than last year – with 251 women killed on November 15, compared to 268 in 2020 – but the government is working to bring the figures back. down.

“This is not just a statistic, it is a matter of public life, and we must address this issue urgently,” Süleyman Soylu said at a briefing on domestic violence reporting. “We see violence against women as a social issue, and we cannot tolerate even one death.”

A woman pours milk into the eyes of a protester affected by a tear gas canister that police fired at a rally in Istanbul to mark International Women’s Day Against Violence Against Women. [Ozge Sebzeci/Al Jazeera]

For many women in Turkey, what the government says it wants to protect them is hard to believe, especially after leaving the Istanbul Convention.

“Women are filling the streets because in Turkey and around the world, men’s violence is on the rise,” Gokce, 25, of the Women’s Defense Network, a women’s rights activist nationwide, told Al Jazeera. Like many others in the exhibition on Thursday evening, they took part in Istanbul in July. “We are in the streets calling for women’s rights to protect themselves, for justice for women who have been killed, for their right to work, for women’s rights to homosexuality.”

Gokce said the Istanbul Convention was made up of years of experience by women’s rights activists, and although Turkey did not live up to its promises, the withdrawal was surprising.

“Erdogan left the Istanbul Convention on the same night, because he was promoting homosexuality,” he said. “The women wrote the convention, and it was difficult for them to use it. They went from one court to another to use it and it had not been fully utilized in Turkey. It should not be a one-man decision to end that. ”

‘Overcome by Violence’

Hundreds of women gathered as Gokce spoke just after sundown, near the southern end of the city’s famous pedestrian precinct, Istiklal Avenue. Soon the crowd swelled to several thousand, and three groups rallied from three different areas under the watchful eye of hundreds of violent police officers who blocked the northern route to Taksim square, the last political rally in the city.

“I have come because I am a feminist, and I believe there is a need for a struggle for women in this country,” Hilal Akcan, 22, told Al Jazeera. “And I have come because I believe the Istanbul Convention is important, as well as helping my sisters.”

“I don’t think he’ll let us march,” Akcan said, looking at the road full of violent shields and two barricades. “They have already closed the exits and entrances to get here, and I think we will march a bit and then the police will intervene.”

The protesters have met with riot police who blocked a roadblock to Istanbul on Thursday. Police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets [Ozge Sebzeci/Al Jazeera]

Demonstrations like this tend to attract large, diverse people to the event as International Women’s Day, but since its failure to seize power in 2016, the police have put an end to public protests against the growing hand.

Rising consumer prices and the fall in the Turkish Lira sparked minor protests in the country earlier this week, with police in riot gear storming a rally in Istanbul on Wednesday night demanding that the government resign.

At a women’s rights rally on Thursday, protesters chanted Erdogan’s resignation, along with posters and songs calling for the reunification of the Istanbul Convention, as well as the end of what many see as the daily crimes against women.

“Every day in our homes, on the streets, in our workplaces, we are bombarded,” a woman who gave her name as Nihal told Al Jazeera. “We’ve had enough.”

At a demonstration on Thursday, several women carried placards reading “6284” that listed the name of a law that Erdogan’s government had issued in 2012 to implement the Istanbul agreement.

Among other things, the Protection from Domestic Violence and Prevention Act made it easier to obtain restrictions and called for the construction of hundreds of specialized shelters for victims of domestic violence. Human rights groups say that although some residences have been established, they are close to the hundreds that need to be provided. In an effort to force the government to comply with the law and to make further changes, they say the Istanbul Alliance should be adhered to.

President Erdogan, however, has criticized the women’s rights activists who “start every decision with the Istanbul Convention” for their call for a reunion.

“We have completely abolished the Istanbul Convention on our negotiations because we have the procedures to be followed in this agreement in our legislation on what we want,” he said on November 17 in Ankara.

One woman carried a sign reading “We Will Make You Sign the Istanbul Convention” at an assembly held in Istanbul, Turkey on Thursday, commemorating the End of Violence Against Women. [Ozge Sebzeci/Al Jazeera]

As the protesters marched through Istiklal Street on Thursday night, the police slowly returned to allow them to march, but then, just a few hundred yards from where the rally started, they suddenly stopped. Hundreds of anti-riot police stormed the back wall, with the help of half a pickup truck and several buses to evacuate the detainees. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.

The argument between the police and the protesters continued for about half an hour, with protesters chanting “open the barricades!”

Shortly thereafter, the violent mob began to move, firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the air, pushing the group slowly until it disperse about an hour later.

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