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The Istanbul Convention comes into force

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Istanbul Convention comes into force, UK needs to ratify it, David Cameron, violence against womenProtection for women against all forms of violence just got better.

By Hilary Fisher.

Ending violence against women got a little easier from 1 August 2014.

A significant milestone has been reached with the coming into force of the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the “Istanbul Convention” because it was opened for signature there three years ago.

The Istanbul Convention is the first binding instrument in Europe dealing with violence against women that takes a comprehensive approach addressing prevention, protection, prosecution and coordinated policies.

It requires Governments that have ratified it to take action to criminalise many forms of violence against women from domestic, sexual and psychological violence to stalking, forced marriage and FGM.

It also requires them to provide or support the provision of specialist services, to promote coordinated action between relevant agencies and services, to raise awareness, and it has a strong independent monitoring mechanism to monitor compliance by governments.

The need for a Convention was identified by the task force set up by the Council of Europe to lead a Europe wide campaign and evaluate national measures across Europe to protect women.

As a member of the task force it was clear much needed to be done. We found legislation often not enforced, services for women scarce and underfunded and significant disparity in protection measures between member states.

In our final report we recommended the adoption of a comprehensive, legally-binding, human rights law to prevent and combat all forms of violence against women.

Recommending it was one thing, getting there another.

It took two years of intensive negotiations in CAHVIO, the committee of government and other stakeholders set up to draft the Convention. Reaching agreement across the 47 Council of Europe member states was not easy and some sessions lasted into the night with pizza and fizzy drinks to keep us going. The text was finally agreed in December 2010 and states could sign up to it from May 2011.

Since then 23 have signed and 13 countries ratified it.

The Convention clearly links eradicating violence against women with achieving equality and ending discrimination, an issue the TUC has long campaigned for. It recognises the key role women’s organisations play in running support services for survivors and raising awareness and calls on Governments to encourage the work of NGOs and ensure they are adequately funded.

The importance of specialist services is recognised in the Convention and provision for these is specifically called for.

In England specialist independent women-only services with a long history of providing the holistic support women need to rebuild their lives are under threat. The removal of ring-fenced funding and poor commissioning decisions has had a devastating effect. In the last three years, 21 specialist refuge services have closed completely.

The UK signed the Convention in June 2012 and the Prime Minster announced in January this year that the UK will ratify it, following a campaign by Women’s Aid and the TUC.

However, the Government has not ratified it yet; until then there is more campaigning to be done.

Hilary Fisher is Director of Policy, Voice and Membership at Women’s Aid Federation England, the national domestic violence charity better known as Women’s Aid,  and was a member of the Council of Europe Ad Hoc Committee 2008 – 2011 that drafted the Istanbul Convention. A version of this article appeared on the Touchstone website on 1 August 2014.

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