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Istanbul Convention: one more step forward


Istanbul Convention, European Council, MEPs, end violence against women, UK governmentMEPs call for zero tolerance of violence against women.

In an interim report adopted earlier this week – by 489 votes to 114 and with 69 abstentions – members of the European Parliament welcomed the signing of the EU accession of the ‘Istanbul Convention’ on 13 June 2017.

The EU’s accession to the ‘Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ – known as the Istanbul Convention – will provide a coherent European legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women and gender-based violence.

It is based on the understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence that is committed against women because they are women. It is the obligation of the state to fully address it in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Failure to do so would make it the responsibility of the state.

The convention leaves no doubt: there can be no real equality between women and men if women experience gender-based violence on a large-scale and state agencies and institutions turn a blind eye.

MEPs made the following calls for action:

They urge Member States to speed up negotiations on the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention;

The European Parliament should be fully engaged in the monitoring process of the Istanbul Convention following the EU’s accession;

Member States should allocate adequate financial and human resources to prevent and combat violence against women and gender-based violence;

Appropriate training, procedures and guidelines for all professionals dealing with the victims of all acts of violence should be available;

A change in attitudes must be promoted, in behaviours and in shifting the guilt from victims to perpetrators;

To ask the Commission to initiate, without delay or postponement, a constructive dialogue with the Council and Member States, in cooperation with the Council of Europe, so as to address any reservations, objections and concerns expressed by Member States; and

To combat sexism and stereotyped gender roles – promoting gender-neutral language and address the key role of media and advertising.

The text of the Convention says that the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights services, including safe and legal abortion, is a form of violence against women and girls, and MEPs reiterated that women and girls must have control over their bodies.

The Istanbul Convention also ensures that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” cannot be a justification of any acts of violence against women.

MEPs are now calling on Member States to adopt measures to address new forms gender based violence on the internet and on social media, including sex-extortion, grooming, voyeurism and revenge pornography, and to protect victims, who experience serious trauma leading sometimes even to suicide.

Finally, MEPs stress that the EU’s accession will provide a coherent European legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women and will bring better monitoring, interpretation and implementation of EU laws, programmes, funds and better data collection.

The Convention was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011 and entered into force in August 2014. It allows for accession by the EU to run parallel to accession by its individual Member States.

And while all the Member States have signed the Convention, only 14 have ratified it, making it part of their country’s law.

The next step – formal EU accession to the Convention – requires adoption of a Council decision following the consent of the European Parliament.

The Commission and the Council of ministers are negotiating at this stage the code of conduct to agree on EU and national competencies.

Co-rapporteur Anna Maria Corazza Bildt said: “Today we say loud and clear stop violence against women.

“We are talking about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, honour killing, Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage, all violence that affect women and girls.

“It is time to move from words to action. All Member states must ratify the Istanbul Convention and adopt a zero tolerance policy against gender based violence.

“I will continue to be committed to keep violence against women and girls on top of the EU agenda.”

In the UK, The Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill was signed off by the Queen and became a UK law on 27 April 2017.

This was a massive step made possible by the hard work of campaigners, Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP and supporting MPs from across all parties, and all the fantastic organisations and individual supporters working to get the Istanbul Convention established in UK law.

However, this is not the end of the road for the campaigners, as this law simply means the government must put in place a timeframe for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and report annually on the progress they are making towards this.

The UK government did announce on 28 June 2017 that it will be taking the final step to enable ratification of the Istanbul Convention. We await it eagerly.

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