NOEL KING, HOST:
Turkey's president shocked women's rights advocates last week when he pulled the country out of the Istanbul convention, which tries to combat violence against women, including domestic violence. Now, it was signed in Istanbul a decade ago. But religious conservatives who helped elect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan oppose it. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on the protest that started after he pulled Turkey out.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The decree drew immediate and widespread condemnation. In a statement, President Joe Biden called it a disheartening step backward for international efforts to end violence against women. A member of Erdogan's cabinet defended the decision by saying Turkey's constitution and bylaws provide all the protection women require. But women's rights groups weren't reassured. Within hours of the government's decree, hundreds of women and men gathered in Istanbul to protest the move.
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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).
KENYON: Demonstrators chanted, enforce the convention. Let the women live. Sixty-one-year-old Michelle (ph) and 37-year-old Aisha (ph) held a banner reading, no to harassment, violence and abuse. Both women asked that their family names not be used for fear of retribution from the government. Michelle called the withdrawal from the convention regressive and a huge setback for women.
MICHELLE: (Through interpreter) It's a really bad signal for the men who will be - if they hurt a woman, they know that they're going to get very, very little punishment.
KENYON: Aisha says she expects an upturn in violence against women as a result of this decision.
AISHA: (Through interpreter) Well, leaving this convention means - we already are in a climate of violence in Turkey as everyone knows. And this officially opens the road to more and more to this.
KENYON: Standing nearby, 29-year-old Emre Citin says men need to take up this cause as well.
EMRE CITIN: (Non-English language spoken).
KENYON: I came here to stand with the women, he says, to say no to this unlawful move. It's not only the women, he adds. It's not right for men, women, children, everyone. Erdogan's director of communications, Fahrettin Altun, issued a statement clarifying the reasons for pulling out of the convention, which also requires states to protect LGBT rights. Altun says the Istanbul convention had been, quote, "hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality, which is incompatible with Turkey's social and family values."
On social media, critics say Erdogan issued the decree in a bid to shore up sagging support from his conservative religious backers, fearing that Turkey's sagging economy was eroding his base. But analysts say for other groups, the move is likely to harden opposition to Erdogan as he prepares to stand for reelection sometime between now and 2023. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.
(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "ORBIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.