The women, peace and security update

Turkey withdraws from Istanbul Convention, sparking protests and legal challenges

On 20 March, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew the country from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.

The convention supports women’s right to life and combats gendered violence through ‘prevention, protection, prosecution and coordinated policies’. The withdrawal will remove safeguards for Turkish women amid the nation’s severe and increasing rates of femicide. The latest annual report by Turkey’s We Will Stop Femicide Platform reported 300 murders of Turkish women, mostly by their partners, and 171 suspicious female deaths in 2020.

Politically, the move reflects increasing conservatism in Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). Analyst Alev Ozkazanc argues that the AKP traditionally attracts the female vote through ‘Janus-faced’ gender policies that focus on women’s rights through the lens of their roles as wives and mothers. Such policies discreetly reinforce conservative familial ideology and defines women exclusively as dependents.

The withdrawal sparked widespread protests, and the political opposition appealed to the State Council to challenge the rescindment. The Istanbul Bar Association also denounced the decision, arguing that Erdogan doesn’t have the legal capacity to withdraw Turkey from the treaty.

Police brutality highlights systemic gender-based violence in Mexico

The death of a Salvadoran refugee woman, Victoria Esperanza Salazar, while being subdued by Mexican police on 27 March brought the widespread issues of police brutality and gender-based violence in Mexico to the fore, igniting protests across the country.

Writing for the International Peace Institute, Gema Kloppe-Santamaría notes that while Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO) has promised ‘no impunity’ for Salazar’s killers, her death characterises a broader issue of femicides throughout Mexico, which have grown exponentially since 2015 and now represent about 10% of murders in the country. Exacerbating the issue further, she argues, is the country’s history of abuse and extrajudicial killings by police forces and systemic impunity; shockingly, 93% of crimes in Mexico went unreported or uninvestigated in 2018. As a result, 77% of Mexican women reported feeling unsafe in 2019.

While there have been some policy shifts by AMLO’s administration to combat femicide, Linnea Sandin argues that, without more serious steps, violent crimes against women will remain a systemic issue and women in Mexico will continue to feel unsafe. She suggests measures such as establishing early intervention domestic violence programs and funding a special prosecutor’s office for gender-based crime, along with presidential support for gender violence protests.

Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has implications for women’s safety

Concerns about the safety of Afghan women have been raised following US President Joe Biden’s announcement that US troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn by 11 September. Although Afghanistan has implemented UN Security Council resolution 1325 by developing a national action plan on WPS, women’s participation in the peace process and in negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government remains minimal.

Addressing the withdrawal, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the nation’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said that the decision might undermine the gains the council has made in the past two decades, especially in women rights. Women’s participations in peace talks should continue to be advocated by all political stakeholders.

Pacific women’s role in responding to climate change 

The Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts climate change. Yet women in the Pacific who are directly affected by climate-change-related threats have long been excluded from discussions or opportunities to contribute. They are not only marginalised, but also simply considered as victims. Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls argues that Pacific women should always be included in decision-making processes in regional responses, particularly because they have localised knowledge and can transform response approaches into more ‘human and non-militarised security’.

Gendering terrorism in German courtrooms

Gender researcher Carlotta Sallach, writing for the London School of Economics, assesses how courts’ treatment of female members of Islamic State as mothers first and women second reinforces gendered tropes and ignores women’s agency in propagating terrorism. She notes that Germany’s recent decision to repatriate three mothers from Kurdish camps because just repatriating their children posed legal challenges will encourage German trial lawyers to draw on gendered stereotypes to obtain lenient sentencing.

Portrayals of IS women in court trials tend to focus on two narratives. The first is that IS women play no role in the group’s terrorist activity, despite evidence that they have carried out crimes and the fact that it’s the severity of those crimes that is usually under sentence. The second common narrative is that, despite evidence that IS women were trained in combat and don’t see themselves exclusively as IS brides or mothers, they are best viewed through the lens of their motherhood roles rather than as criminal actors.

This analysis adds to the body of work examining the use of gendered stereotypes in legal proceedings and in shaping public understandings of gender. Although women have without doubt experienced vulnerabilities as victims of terrorism, often people and institutions fail to acknowledge that women also act as supporters, perpetrators and facilitators of terrorism.