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Biden Condemns Turkish Withdrawal from Treaty Aimed at Protecting Women

Women hold placards defending the Istanbul Convention during a protest rally in Ankara, Turkey, March 20, 2021.
Women hold placards defending the Istanbul Convention during a protest rally in Ankara, Turkey, March 20, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s surprise withdrawal from a European treaty aimed at protecting women against violence.

In a statement, Biden called Turkey’s rejection of the treaty “unwarranted” and “deeply disappointing.”

“Countries should be working to strengthen and renew their commitments to ending violence against women, not rejecting international treaties designed to protect women and hold abusers accountable,” the U.S. leader said. “This is a disheartening step backward for the international movement to end violence against women globally.”

In 2011, Turkey was the first European country to adopt the pact known as the Istanbul Convention, but Erdogan withdrew from it early Saturday. In recent years, Erdogan and other members of his ruling party claimed the agreement reached in Turkey’s largest city undermined the country’s conservative policies.

“We will not leave room for a handful of deviants who try to turn the debate into a tool of hostility to our values,” Erdogan told his party during a speech in Ankara in August.

The accord was aimed at eliminating domestic violence and promoting equality, but femicide has nonetheless surged in Turkey in recent years.

Conservatives in Turkey and in Erdogan's Islamist-rooted ruling AKP contended that the accord undercut family structures and encouraged violence.

Some critics also were opposed to the pact’s principle of gender equality and viewed it as promoting homosexuality, given the convention's call for 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."

Family, Labor and Social Policies Minister Zehra Zumrut said the Turkish constitution and laws guarantee women's rights.

The Council of Europe said the Turkish action was “devastating.”

“The Istanbul Convention covers 34 European countries and is widely regarded as the gold standard in international efforts to protect women and girls from the violence that they face every day in our societies,” the council said in a statement.

“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,” the council said.

In his statement, Biden said, “Gender-based violence is a scourge that touches every nation in every corner of the world. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen too many examples of horrific and brutal assaults on women, including the tragic murders in (the U.S. state of) Georgia.” He was referring to a shooting last week in the Atlanta area in which six of eight people killed were women of Asian descent.

“And we’ve seen the broader damage that living under the daily specter of gender-based violence does to women everywhere,” the U.S. leader said. “It hurts all of us, and we all must do more to create societies where women are able to go about their lives free from violence."