1 Introduction

Turkey holds a special importance in terms of its implementation of the Council of Europe Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women including Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention, 2014), since it was the first country that signed and ratified it. The representatives of Turkey took an active part during the drafting process of the Convention, whose efforts considerably contributed to the final text of the Convention. Turkey, on the other hand, decided to withdraw from the Convention with a presidential decree after six years of its ratification in March 2021. This move has sparked concerns about the future of the Convention in Europe, and it caused heavy criticism in both the domestic and international arena (Council of Europe, 2021; Bengisu, 2021; Stanimirova, 2021).

In looking at the reasons put forward by the Turkish government in this withdrawal decision, it can be said that there were two main critiques against the Convention. First, it was argued that the Convention was challenging traditional family structures and therefore was harmful to the family unity. Secondly, it was argued that the Istanbul Convention, due to its gender definition and inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity into its anti-discrimination provision, had an agenda to increase the scope of the LGBTQI+ rights, such as introducing same-sex gay marriage and third sex in civil laws (Guney in Torunoglu, 2020). These concerns were constantly expressed by conservative NGOs in Turkey since the ratification of the Convention and were echoed in some other Central-Eastern European countries, including Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. However, at the time of writing, Turkey was the first and only country who officially declared a withdrawal.

The focus of this chapter is neither on the withdrawal reasons nor on the question whether these reasons have legal validity. This chapter rather focuses on legal and political steps taken by Turkey in the period between the ratification and the withdrawal. In doing this, the chapter specifically focuses on the steps taken to address gender-based domestic violence against women. It is believed that the real reason for Turkey’s abandonment of the Istanbul Convention can be discovered by looking at how Turkey has treated the Istanbul Convention from the beginning up to the point of withdrawal. This chapter argues that the withdrawal decision should not be taken as a surprise considering that, although Turkey has adopted a novel and progressive law in addressing violence against women, it has failed to recognise gender equality in its other policies. As the promotion of gender equality is one of the most prominent obligations that the Convention imposes on the states, Turkey was already failing to meet the obligations imposed by the Istanbul Convention and therefore was not committed to effectively implement the Convention.

2 The Istanbul Convention in a Nutshell

The Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence was adopted in 2011 in Istanbul and entered into force on 1 August 2014. Following the tradition of the Council of Europe requiring treaties to be referred to by the name of city in which they were opened for signature, the Convention is commonly called the “Istanbul Convention” (Acar, 2014). The Istanbul Convention is a significant development on behalf of women victims of violence on the grounds of its unique and progressive features. It is the first legally binding instrument within Europe specifically aimed at combating violence against women, including domestic violence (Sainz-Pardo, 2014), and second in the world after the Organization of American States’ Convention of Belem do Para (1995).

Thanks to its specific focus on gender-based forms of violence against women, the Convention provides the most comprehensive and holistic set of measures in the world that a state can adopt in order to address all forms of violence against women (Stanley & Devaney, 2017). In doing this, it involves a wide range of actors in the fight against violence, including law enforcement bodies, members of the judiciary, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and the media (Alwood, 2016). Furthermore, it requires states to establish institutions (Art 10(1)) that ensure that these actors work in co-ordination with each other through a holistic anti-violence policy (Art 7(1)). The Convention imposes state responsibilities through a 4Ps approach in a similar vein to the other recent conventions within the Council of Europe, that is, the (P)revention of violence, the (P)rotection of victims, the (P)rosecution of perpetrators and the adoption of gender-sensitive (P)olicies. Under each of these (P) pillars, the Convention brings detailed and multidimensional responsibilities to be fulfilled by the state parties.

The Istanbul Convention has been signed by 45 out of 47 member states of the Council of Europe and ratified by 33 of them as of the time of writing. It is also important to note that the Istanbul Convention has been signed by the European Union in 2017, and this can be considered as an indicator of the widely acknowledged nature of the Istanbul Convention at a European level. For these and more reasons, many scholars, journalists and human rights practitioners have described the adoption of the Istanbul Convention as a milestone development and a “defining moment” in the struggle against violence against women (Human Rights Watch, 2014; Simonovic, 2014; Amnesty International, 2011; Meyersfeld, 2012).

3 The Picture of Gender-Based Domestic Violence Against Women in Turkey and Turkish Law: Pre- and Post-Ratification of the Istanbul Convention

Following the ratification of the Convention, the Turkish government made several statements underlining the way in which the Istanbul Convention was being taken seriously by the state, specifically since it had been the first signatory and ratifying country among all Council of Europe member states (Tok, 2017). In contrary to these political promises of the government, however, we can observe increasing media coverage on the incidence of domestic violence against women (Boyacıoğlu, 2016)Footnote 1 and on state officials’ controversial declarations on gender equality in general. At the same time, Turkey did enact a new law and developed new policies in order to comply with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention aiming to eliminate violence against women (the 6284 numbered Law on the Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence against Women (hereinafter 6284 Law), 2012). At the face of this clash between Turkey’s legal promises and the concerning number of gender-based violence incidents occurring, Turkey presents an interesting case study. Considering that the Turkish Constitution openly supersedes international agreements on human rights and individual freedoms over the Turkish laws in the case of an incompatibility between them (Art 90 of the 2709 Numbered Constitution of Turkish Republic, 1982), to analyse the legal steps taken as a consequence to the ratification of the Istanbul Convention becomes vital.

Turkey presents a unique case study for one other reason too. Turkey has always remained in the double bind between its modernised Western laws on the one hand and its own eastern-originated culture and traditions on the other, and women’s rights have been one of the issues that have been affected most from this tension. In fact, with the foundation of the Turkish Republic, the country has found itself in a rapid modernisation process leading to a secular Western legal framework prevailing over the non-secular laws and eastern and Muslim identity of its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire (Silverstein, 2003; Gökariksel & Gündoğdu, 2007).Footnote 2 This separates Turkey from many of the other state parties to the Istanbul Convention.Footnote 3 While conducting analysis on Turkey, it is important to take these unique cultural dynamics of the country into consideration.

Unsurprisingly, Turkey is not an exception to the outrageous prevalence of gender-based domestic violence against women, perpetrated by their male partners all over the world (WHO, 2017).Footnote 4 Again, in a parallel vein to the global picture of the issue, women are predominantly the victims of domestic violence in Turkey (Akın, 2013).Footnote 5 Becoming aware of the disproportionate effects of domestic violence on women took long in Turkey, since up until quite recently there had been neither comprehensive research in the field nor the collection of data with regards to the problem. There are two far-reaching studies presenting the qualitative data on the rates, types and reasons for domestic violence against women across the whole country, which were conducted in 2008 and 2014 (Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies, 2009, 2014). According to the study of 2014, in Turkey, 36% of women are subject to physical violence, 12% to sexual violence, 38% to both sexual and physical violence, 44% to emotional violence, and 30% to economic violence from their husbands, male partners or ex-partners. On the basis of research analysing the rates of domestic violence against women across the European Union countries, the average of all European women suffering from male partner violence is 22% (EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014). Therefore, the rate of domestic violence against women in Turkey supersedes the one in Europe.

Turkey is also familiar with gendered practices stemming from its own traditional and cultural values, such as arranged marriages, marriages following elope, polygamy and religious marriages, which are increasing the risk of domestic violence against women, unlike many European countries (Boyacıoğlu, 2016). In fact, within these practices, women lose the agency to take decisions and therefore become more restricted within family structures. These practices originate primarily from the honour culture that is dominant within the country and which promotes the patriarchal structure. Men are perceived as the protector of family honour, thus having control on the sexual behaviours of women. When women act in contrast to those structures, men are perceived to be entitled to react in violent manners (Boyacıoğlu, 2016). Comparing the data collected in 2014 and 2008, we cannot reach the conclusion that the rates of domestic violence have increased during the last decade. However, it is evident in this comparison that the type of male violence that women have been subjected to is more violent and harmful than before. At this point, it should be reiterated that these two analyses cannot be taken as the mere basis of information, since there are various other surveys pointing out different amounts of gender-based domestic violence in Turkey, sometimes in far higher levels (Akın, 2013; Harcar et al., 2008).

Before the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, Turkey had been exposed to various criticisms from the CEDAW Committee (the monitoring body of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1981) with regards to its regulations on gender-based domestic violence. The CEDAW Committee (2005, 2010) consistently criticised Turkey on the grounds that the patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted traditional and cultural stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women were pervasive, and these behaviours contributed to the perpetuation of violence against women. It was also underlined that no sufficient protection services such as shelters for battered women had been provided (CEDAW Committee, 2005), and that discriminatory provisions against women were still present within the legal framework (CEDAW Committee, 2010). It is noteworthy to mention that in its last state report, the CEDAW Committee expressed its concerns on the potential negative effects of the policies developed following the attempted coup on women’s rights, and the rise of patriarchal attitudes within state authorities and society (CEDAW Committee, 2016). It particularly underlined discriminatory and offensive statements made by high-level representatives of the government against women who did not adhere to the stereotypical traditional roles (CEDAW Committee, 2016). It should also be noted that Turkey was ranked as 131st among 144 states in terms of gender equality in the survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (2017).

Following the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, as mentioned above, Turkey adopted the 6284 Law in 2012 in order to comply with its obligations imposed by the Convention. It is a common practice that a particular international human rights law instrument on which a Turkish law is based upon is referred in the explanatory report of that domestic law (Uğur, 2009). However, it is interesting that the Istanbul Convention is cited as the basis for the 6284 Law within the law itself (Art 1). Therefore, it is beyond doubt that the 6284 Law was adopted as the main tool to be used for the effective implementation of the Istanbul Convention in the Turkish context. For this reason, the next section focuses on the 6284 Law and analyses the steps taken by the Turkish government therein to address gender-based domestic violence.

4 The 6284 Law: A New Ray of Hope to Address Gender-Based Domestic Violence?

The 6284 Law has improved the legal framework concerning gender-based domestic violence in Turkey in three distinct ways. First of all, it brought a woman-centred approach in addressing gender-based violence for the first time as required by the Istanbul Convention. Before the 6284 Law came into force, the 4320 Numbered Law (The Law on the Protection of Family (hereinafter 4320 Law), 1998) was the primary law applicable to domestic violence cases. Enacted in 1998 and abolished by the 6284 Law, the 4320 Law was a law devoted to all form of violence within family, and it was the first legal instrument in this regard in Turkey. Those protected within the scope of this law were determined as “one of the married partners, children or the other family members living in the same residence” (Art 1), and in the rest of the law no specific attention on women was given at any point. In other words, this law took a gender-neutral path towards violence that occurs in an intimate setting. Considering the disproportionate and gendered impacts of domestic violence on women, this gender-insensitive approach was problematic and had been subject to critiques.

In 6284 Law, on the other hand, there is no provision explicitly declaring that women victims of violence, including domestic violence, are a central concern of the legislation. However, it is evident in the title of the law, which is ‘the law on the protection of family and prevention of violence against women,’ that when violence is at stake, it is women whom the law primarily aims to protect. Furthermore, the 6284 Law makes it clear that its purpose is to protect four groups of people, women, children, family members and the victims of stalking, who are subjected to violence or potentially at risk of being subjected to violence (Art 1).

This being the case, women are protected within the scope of law purely because they are women. In other words, women are protected outside the realm of family or domestic violence and are protected under any circumstance. Children are granted the same protection as women. However, men can benefit from the protection of the law only if they legally identify as family members or the victims of stalking who are subjected to or under the risk of being subjected to violence. Therefore, it could be easily argued that women are ensured a broader and more explicit protection from violence within the framework of the 6284 Law. In this context, it is clear that the 6284 Law is far more progressive than the previous 4320 Law due its prioritisation of women’s protection.

Secondly, the 6284 Law broadens application and scope of legal protection when compared to the former 4320 Law. During the time when the previous 4320 Law was in force, whether women having an imam marriage, women cohabiting with their partners without any form of marriage or divorced, women were entitled to protection from violence had been contentious (Kırbaş-Canikoğlu, 2015; Uğur, 2009). Imam marriage is a type of religious marriage conducted by an imam (the name of the religious priest in Islam) and is not recognised as a marriage before the law and official bodies in Turkey. However, such a marriage is still a common religious ritual in the country. The 4320 Law required women to be officially married in order to be included within the protection scope (Art 1). Even though in 2007, the 4320 Law was amended to broaden the scope of the protection and to remove the requirement that family members had to be living together in order to be protected, the requirement of “official marriage” was nevertheless kept for the victims of violence. In the application of the law, there had been inconsistency in the protection of such women; while in some cases protection orders were issued for women cohabiting with their partners without marriage or imam marriage, or divorced women, in others, the injunction was rejected (Karınca, 2008).

However, in the 6284 Law, although the domestic violence definition does not include “former or current spouses or partners”, as contained in the definition of the Convention, there is a consensus in the literature that the 6284 Law applies to all partners, regardless of their marital status. Thus, it includes couples married solely by an imam, those who live together outside marriage, and even ex-partners (Kırbaş-Canikoğlu, 2015; Uğur, 2009). In fact, the Justice Commission confirmed this approach in its report that the main purpose of the law is the protection of women from any type of violence; whether or not the marriage is conducted through official or in other ways or, whether or not there is any declared commitment to marriage between partners, women are going to be protected from violence within the borders of the 6284 Law. It can, therefore, be argued that Turkey took a positive step with its adoption of the 6284 Law on inclusion of women who are not officially married, even though the Law does not explicitly include the words of “former or current spouses or partners”.

Thirdly, in accordance with the Convention, the 6284 Law provides a wide array of preventive and protective orders. The Istanbul Convention requires state parties to strike a fair balance between their criminal and special civil law measures while addressing domestic violence. In other words, the Convention does not only oblige states to criminalise domestic violence, it also explicitly imposes an obligation to ensure special civil law measures including emergency barring orders (Art 52), and restriction and protection orders. In looking at the 6284 Law, it can be seen that this law is predominantly devoted to the regulation of these orders and authorises the family courts to issue such orders, when women are subjected to violence or are at risk of being subjected to violence (Arts 3, 4, 5).

These orders have been categorised under two different titles, as prevention orders and protection orders. The protection orders include providing suitable accommodation for victims and their children (Art 3(1)(a)), provisional financial assistance (Art 3(1)(b)), guidance and counselling on psychological, occupational and legal matters (Art 3(1)(c)), changing the victim’s workplace (Art 4(a)), locating a separate settlement than the family settlement, if the victim is married to or cohabiting with the abuser (Art 4(b)), and changing the identity documents of the victim when necessary (Art 4(d)). The prevention orders, on the other hand, include the prevention of the perpetrator to humiliate and insult victim in words or behaviour (Art 5(1)(a)), immediate removal of the perpetrator from the settlement of the victim (Art 5(1)(b)), prohibiting the perpetrator to approach the settlement, school or workplace of the victim (Art 5(1)(c)), restriction on the relationship between children and perpetrator (Art 5(1)(ç)), prohibiting the perpetrator to disturb victim through communication instruments (Art 5(1)(f)), treatment for perpetrator if he is an alcohol or drug addict in a health centre and so on (Art 5(1)(h)). Thus, it becomes clear that the 6284 Law provides a comprehensive array of prevention and protection orders in line with the Convention’s requirements. It is important that GREVIO, the monitoring body of the Istanbul Convention, expressed its appreciation in this regard in its first evaluation report on Turkey (GREVIO, 2018, para 296).

In the light of the analysis of the 6284 Law that was specifically enacted to implement the Convention, Turkey has taken progressive steps to improve its measures to address gender-based violence against women including domestic violence. These measures included bringing a more woman-centred approach towards violence against women, including more women into the scope of protection regardless of their official marital status and adopting comprehensive civil measures. This demonstrates that the impact of the Istanbul Convention has been wide, on taking all these measures in such a short time. In the next parts of the chapter, I will demonstrate how Turkish government deployed problematic policies towards gender equality despite all these positive developments in the special context of gender-based violence. Before doing this, the equality approach of the Istanbul Convention should be unpacked.

5 The Istanbul Convention and Its Approach to Equality

The Convention, in its entirety, is established on the understanding that gender-based violence against women and the inequality of women are two issues that are strictly related to each other through an organic and structural link (Guney, 2020). Therefore, it is not possible to address one (gender-based violence against women) without responding to the other (gender inequality against women) and vice versa (Alwood, 2016). To put it differently, the Convention confirms that violence and inequality are two phenomena that protect and promote each other in a vicious cycle. For this reason, it explicitly recognises all forms of violence against women as a form of discrimination against women (Art 3(a)). For the drafters, gender-based violence is simply a structural problem that stems from historical power inequalities between women and men (Peroni, 2016). In fact, the drafters confirmed in the preamble that women and girls were exposed to a higher risk of gender-based violence than men. By confirming the structural and gendered nature of violence, the preamble makes it clear that the realisation of de jure and de facto equality is the key element in the prevention of violence against women.

It is de facto equality that the Convention particularly emphasises in eliminating violence. As the Convention considers gender inequality as the main reason of gender-based violence, it obliges states to address not only legal but also socio-economic and cultural inequalities that women suffer from. For this reason, as a significant step, the Convention requires state parties to condemn all forms of discrimination against women, whether or not related to violence against women. In Article 1, the Convention proposes two separate but interrelated aims. While one is the eradication of violence against women, the other one is the “contribution to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promotion of substantive equality between women and men, by empowering women”. As the Convention obliges states to provide equality beyond the violence context, it is argued that the Istanbul Convention has a dual character in being both an anti-discrimination and anti-violence instrument (Acar, 2017).

The purpose of the Convention, “to contribute to substantive equality between women and men, including by empowering women”, needs to be highlighted (Art 1). The Convention’s reference to substantive equality implies that such equality does not consist only of formal equality, and thus the eradication of direct discrimination would not satisfy the expectations of the Convention. In Article 4, the Convention enumerates the legal and other measures to be taken for this purpose, namely that of providing the right to equality in national laws, the abolishment of discriminative laws and the prohibition of discrimination through effective sanctions. All these measures refer to a rather formal, namely de jure, equality understanding (Facio & Morgan, 2009). However, through the requirement of the “practical realisation” of these legislative measures, the Convention points out that, unless states’ laws and their application result in equality in a practical sense on behalf of women, the equality would not be achieved in its substantial terms. This refers to substantive equality (Saksena, 2007) and is directly borrowed from CEDAW.Footnote 6

In providing this de facto equality, one essential responsibility that the Convention imposes on states is “to promote changes in the social and cultural patterns of the behaviour of women and men” that are based on the idea of the inferiority of women (Art 12(1)). The drafters explained this provision by arguing that present behaviour patterns of women and men are often shaped by prejudices, stereotypes and gender-based customs or traditions, and unless the states actively attempt to change such mentalities and attitudes, it would not be possible to prevent gender-based violence against women (Explanatory Report, 2011, para 85). In the same article, the Convention ensures that states cannot invoke culture, religion, tradition or the so-called honour as justification for any acts of violence within its scope (Art 12(5)).

It can be seen in these regulations that the Istanbul Convention holds a firm stance against any potential cultural or traditional arguments which could be harmful to women and women’s equality. In the next part, Turkey’s approaches towards women’s equality and its interpretation of culture in the context of violence against women will be discussed.

6 A Cultural Uprising: A Threat to Women’s Equality

As explained above, the Istanbul Convention, in its own wording, requires states to promote changes in the social and cultural patterns of behaviour of women and men, in a way that eradicates the customs and traditions leading to the subordination of women. In the respective article, states are obliged not only to take legal measures to this end but also to take all measures beyond law that could be effective (Art 12(2)). This aspect of the Convention is particularly vital considering the unique cultural position of Turkey and its recent gender policies.

Turkey’s attitude on culture and its relation to women’s equality seems more concerning than ever been before, on both legal and political grounds. Particularly in last few years, the controversial statements of public officials serving to strengthening the gender roles of women on traditional grounds, and therefore endangering women’s equality, are broadly being reflected in the media. These examples include, but are not limited to, the then health minister’s declaration that the only career for women can be the motherhood; the then prime minister Erdoğan’s statement that women are half women if they are not mothers, because of working; one minister’s argument that Turkish women are the accessory of their house and the honour of their husbands; and the then deputy prime minister’s claim that women’s laughing loudly in public space is equivalent to unchastity, and so on. This situation was subjected to the criticism of the CEDAW Committee in its last report of Turkey:

[The persistence of deep-rooted discriminatory stereotypes against women] overemphasise the traditional roles and responsibilities of women as mothers and wives, thereby (…) constituting an underlying cause of gender-based violence against women. The Committee also notes with concern that high-level representatives of government have, on several occasions, made discriminatory and demeaning statements about women who do not adhere to traditional roles. (CEDAW Committee, 2016)

The same issue was also criticised by GREVIO, the monitoring body of the Istanbul Convention, in its first Turkey report which argued that public statements of statesmen and leading public professionals that blamed women victims of violence had amounted to hate speech in some instances and called these speeches “disquieting” considering the opinion-shaping role of these individuals (GREVIO, 2018, para 104).

As complementary to this part of the Convention requiring the dismissal of traditions that are harmful to women, the Convention has another subsection requiring states to ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or the so-called honour shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence (Art 12(5)). The Convention also asks states to ensure that any of these factors shall not be regarded as justification in criminal proceedings (Art 42(1)). This is a very crucial part of the Convention since one of the most prominent types of violence against women in Turkey is custom (töre) murders and honour (namus) killings.Footnote 7 In fact, in the cases of women getting married or having a romantic relationship without permission of their family, losing their virginity in extramarital relationships, being raped and so on, women are being murdered by males in their families, such as their brothers, fathers, husbands or ex-husbands (Karınca, 2011). In some circumstances, women are murdered on the basis of honour, due to their dressing styles, talking to foreign men or wanting to divorce their partners (Karınca, 2011). Looking at the Turkish legal framework in this regard, in the previous Turkish Criminal Law, namus (honour) and töre (custom) were considered as a reason for the application of unjust provocation, and therefore the perpetrators were issued a reduced sentence (The 765 Numbered Turkish Criminal Law (abrogated), 1926). However, in 2005 the law was amended to exclude töre (custom) as a legitimate reason for unjust provocation. In contrast, this amendment required the perpetrator to receive an increased sentence (The 5234 Numbered Turkish Criminal Law, 2004).

Although this amendment made in 2004 is a positive development in accordance with the respective provisions of the Istanbul Convention, it needs to be highlighted that the new law does not refer to namus (honour) as a forbidden ground for unjust provocation. It only refers to töre cinayetleri (custom murders [direct translation]). It is important to underline that custom and honour killings in the Turkish context hold differences. Töre cinayeti (custom murder) refers to the case in which a family council decides on the killing of the woman who arguably dishonoured the family due to her inappropriate sexual or non-sexual behaviours, and one male member of the family is selected to execute the murder. This tradition is particularly unique to the eastern part of the country.Footnote 8 Namus cinayetleri (honour killings) are, however, the murders of women due to the personal interpretation of honour of the males and does not require the involvement of a family council or anything as such. In other words, these murders are being prosecuted on a wider spectrum of honour-related reasons, and they are murders having an individual character (Karınca, 2011). Considering that honour killings are one of the most prominent types of domestic violence against women, the failure of the Turkish law to include honour as a forbidden ground for the unjust provocation is concerning in terms of Turkey’s compliance with the Istanbul Convention (Akbulut, 2014). What is more concerning is that, as noted by GREVIO, the unjust provocation is still being considered as applicable to honour killings before Turkish courts (GREVIO, 2018, para 254). In this regard, “honour” arises as a loophole that the government, law enforcers and judiciary can fill by grounding it on cultural factors, in line with their own political desire to suppress women.

Besides controversial political statements and judicial interpretations, chastity, religion and traditions also formed ground for some controversial attempts of legal reform such as prohibiting abortion and re-criminalising adultery. The recent law authorising imams to legally validate the marriage is another example. These legal steps are in contradiction with the earlier era, when progressive legal reforms took place to annul some laws having discriminatory effects on women, as a result of strong women lobbying and feminist movements. For example, in the 1990s, the provision binding women’s work to the permission of their husband was abolished by the Constitutional Court. By 1997, women were allowed to officially use their maiden name and the husband’s surname together, and, by 1998, the adultery of women was decriminalised. Yet, the most essential and holistic change among these was the mass of amendments to both Criminal and Civil Law by the beginning of the 2000s, so as to abolish the inequality between women and men in family structures and to perceive the sexuality of women as a part of their personal integrity, rather than a component of morality and family order (Altınay & Arat, 2008).

In the light of these, the Turkish government seems to have been jeopardising women’s equality in its policies, and it has been doing this by relying on the so-called cultural, traditional and religious norms and values. As revealed above, this has been confirmed by the CEDAW Committee in its recent country report. This constitutes an example for how culture can be instrumentalised by a state to imperil women’s social and political equality, bodily integrity and freedom. As confirmed by GREVIO, these practices are in stark contradiction with the spirit of the Convention as well as its specific provisions on women’s equality explained above.

7 Conclusion

Turkey has been the first state to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention with a recent presidential decree. Instead of analysing the reasoning behind this withdrawal and its legal validity, this chapter studied the legal and political steps taken by the Turkish government in addressing gender-based domestic violence between its ratification of the Convention and withdrawal from it.

The chapter demonstrated that, in implementing the Convention, Turkey took effective steps by adopting the 6284 Law which provided a more efficient response to gender-based domestic violence. In this law, Turkey took a woman-centred approach in its legal measures for domestic violence, it included more women into protection scope compared to its previous laws (by including women who are not officially married), and it guaranteed a wide range of prevention and protection orders to the extent that it was never done before and the Convention’s requirements were fully satisfied.

Alongside these developments, however, as this chapter has demonstrated, the Turkish government took legal and political initiatives which seriously jeopardised women’s equality, and it did this by relying on the so-called cultural and traditional norms of the country. To put it differently, it became visible that on the one hand the government enacted a very new law specifically devoted to tackling violence against women (the 6284 Law) through promising features and on the other it took legal and political steps endangering women’s both de facto and de jure equality.

This signified a worrying turn in terms of the effective implementation of the Istanbul Convention. As explained above, the concept of violence and women’s inequality are conceptualised as two sides of the same coin in the Istanbul Convention. For this reason, the Istanbul Convention made it clear that, without empowering women from all aspects, including legal, the elimination of violence was an impossible project. However, Turkey egregiously failed to establish this link between women’s equality and eliminating violence against women, threatened the former and, therefore, failed to implement the Convention effectively altogether.

This makes it clear that Turkey’s sincerity in its political commitment to address gender-based domestic violence was suspicious from the beginning. This tells a lot about Turkey’s withdrawal decision, regardless of whatever reasoning was put forward by the government (which is the subject of another study). Considering this conservative approach positioning women as secondary and subordinate positions within in society, on the top of withdrawal from the Convention, it would not be wrong to expect a rise in all types of gender-based violence against women, including domestic violence, in Turkey in the forthcoming years. As one author stated, Turkey has already turned into a laboratory of violence requiring more research and comprehensive policies towards gender equality (Boyacıoğlu, 2016).