Apr 18th, 2021, 10:15 PM

Understanding The Istanbul Convention Through Mass Media

By Aylar Reimova
Image credit: Creative Commons/brokodil
Turkey's withdrawal from the E.U. treaty protecting women sparks outrage across the country, but the Turkish government splits opinions.

On 20 March 2021, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided the European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence does not reflect the nation's views and it is better to quit than to stay a part of it. This decision was not welcomed and women rallied on the Turkish streets to protest. Similarly, the international community denounced Turkey's decision to pull out, calling it disappointing and regressive. Turkey's government, on the other hand, calls its decision rightful and legal because the Istanbul convention threatens family values. Moreover, the convention normalizes homosexuality, according to Erdoğan, and does not serve the initial purpose.

Fahrettin Altun, Director of Communications in the Turkish presidency, also expressed support toward withdrawal, "Turkey is not the only country with concerns about the Istanbul Convention. Six members of the European Union did not ratify the Istanbul Convention. Poland has taken steps to withdraw from the Convention, citing an attempt by the LGBTQ+ community to impose their ideas about gender on the entire society," Altun says. How do mass media report this decision?

Image credit: Creative Commons/matthrono

Sources that represent liberal views do not approve of Erdoğan's decision to pull out of the Istanbul convention. NY Times, The Conversation, CNN all state the same – what Turkey's government did is unacceptable and puts women in danger. The journals explain the withdrawal as following:

  • Withdrawal is a planned action to attract supporters for the Turkish presidential elections in 2023. Erdoğan’s decision to withdraw from the treaty combating violence against women is aimed at attracting more voters from Islamic Parties who initially were concerned about the Istanbul Convention's ideas and did not support the decision to ratify the treaty. In order to gain their support during elections, Erdoğan decided to withdraw from the Treaty. Though, it still can be noted that religion plays a less important role in people's lives in Turkey. Hence, the decision seems ignorant of people's views and aimed solely at consolidating political power. 

  • The withdrawal poses a threat to family values. Many critics claim that The Convention does not take Turkish values into account, encourages divorces, and undermines family values by putting men and women on an equal level. For Erdoğan, women and men cannot be equal as it is against nature. However, here it is important to note that the Convention forces neither men nor women to experience a certain lifestyle. On the contrary, it protects women from domestic abuse and provides legal support for female victims.

  • The Istanbul Convention is against the norms of Islamic societies. The Istanbul Convention does not serve its purposes, according to some conservatives, as it gives a say to the LGBTQ+ community by prohibiting discrimination on sexual orientation.

However, other mass media sources justify Erdoğan’s decision on withdrawal. To make this article less biased and more objective, it is important not to only consider liberal views but also to look through the lenses of other informational resources.

  • "Russia-24", a Russian news channel, invites Marina Sorokina, a chairman of the coordinating council of the organization of compatriots in Turkey, to express her competent opinion regarding Turkey's decision to withdraw from Istanbul Convention. "This decision is a political move. Laws that protect women's rights have existed and practiced before the Istanbul Convention. Moreover, Turkey takes female abuse seriously, and there are many laws to protect women...The Istanbul Convention has simply become obsolete," says Marina.  However, the high femicide rates show the opposite, which makes this source unreliable, and questions the expert's objectivity toward the topic of discussion. 

  • A. Ramdan, an expert in the Middle East area, explains Erdoğan's decision by pointing out that Turkey is an Islamic society and the Istanbul Convention was composed of E.U.'s cosmopolitan views completely ignoring cultural and religious pluralism. In Ramdan's words, the protests that we see to reverse the decision to pull out of the convention are most probably paid by international organizations which try to make a fuss and impose Western ideas. Interestingly, Ramdan sees this move as a way to show power to international "friends" because, "Nowadays, the power is in strengthening core values, and not in nuclear weapons," says the expert. "It is more difficult to spread influence in countries with a strong sense of national identity and system of values, hence it is more challenging for other governments to establish their power from within a society. Therefore, many Western countries, including the U.S. do not approve of Erdoğan's decision." 

More mass media sources disapprove of Turkey's decision and it is challenging to find any sources from Turkey since the press is under strict monitoring. However, it is still evident that some of the views divide between liberals and conservatives when it comes to issues such as above: while the West is advocating for human rights, some of the countries in the East and Russia are more focused on preserving traditional values.

What is clear, though, is that treaties do not necessarily mean protection. If the country is patriarchic, and even its President finds gender equality unnatural, there is no treaty that could protect women from abuse and discrimination. It is about mindset. Rojava, an autonomous administration of North and East Syria, for example, did not need the treaty to protect women from domestic abuse.

The goal of this article is to help readers understand that the way we perceive news around the globe depends on our sources. In conservative countries, without exposure to liberal views, it is easy to see the world through black and white lenses, and the same goes for liberals. It is important to find the balance and understand both views in order to avoid conflicts.