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Council of Europe leaders note success of Istanbul Convention, but warn of challenges ahead

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November)

Joint Statement by Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić, France’s European Affairs State Secretary Amélie de Montchalin, on behalf of the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers, and Parliamentary Assembly President Liliane Maury Pasquier:

"On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, our thoughts are with the victims of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Far too many women are still dying at the hands of their partner or former partner. And as their lives are destroyed, their families are left to deal with grief and loss.

Against this backdrop, we should also take this occasion to highlight the extraordinary success of the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence).

Five years ago, the treaty entered into force. Today, it has 34 states parties, 11 signatory states including the EU. That two non-member states request accession proves its worldwide appeal.

Monitoring by the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) has made the convention an effective tool, by promoting co-operation with governments to ensure that national legislation reflects the standards of the convention. This week, for example, GREVIO published its first report on France, which, like other states that have ratified the Istanbul convention, has made a clear political choice: violence should be understood not as a private matter, but as criminal behaviour for which authorities should ensure that there is no impunity.

France, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, has put particular emphasis on the important role that police play in stopping violence against women. The French government has undertaken a campaign against sexism, which can lead to violence. And France has encouraged further accession to the convention by countries that are not members of the Council of Europe. Several third countries have already expressed their interest in adhering to the Istanbul Convention.

Since its entry into force for an increasing number of states, publicly-funded shelters and 24/7 specialised helplines that refer women to counselling services are being set up where none had existed before. Judges, prosecutors and other legal experts are receiving specialised training to improve women’s access to protection and justice. Laws are changing for the better. Rape, for example, is being defined more by lack of consent, rather than by just proof of force. Where such changes have happened, we have seen conviction rates and reporting of violence increasing, as women are less afraid, and they trust the authorities more. Such positive indicators are cause for celebration.

But this is also a moment to focus on challenges lying ahead. We must thwart a recent backlash against women’s rights by engaging in constructive dialogue about the benefits that the Istanbul Convention brings to women in states that ratify it. We must combat the fake news and wrong reports about the Istanbul Convention and highlight the positive contribution of this convention to gender equality and human rights overall. We must solve problems that are emerging as common issues from GREVIO reports, including difficulties in collecting comprehensive data and a lack of adequate protection for victims of domestic violence and their children. We must also tackle the root causes of such violence, including sexism. Indeed, we urge all member States to implement the landmark 2019 Committee of Ministers recommendation on preventing and combating sexism as we hope this can help change perceptions and behaviour that can lead to violence.

The success that we have so far is due also to efforts by parliamentarians who promote the treaty in their countries and help to dispel misconceptions about it. This year, our Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution to reaffirm its firm support for the convention and to step up co-operation with GREVIO, and a resolution on promoting parliaments free of sexism and sexual harassment. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly also launched, as a reaction to the results of a study on sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians in Europe, the #NotInMyParliament initiative to counter sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliaments across Europe.

There is a long way to go, and it is crucial that the Istanbul Convention is not only ratified but also fully implemented. To successfully face new challenges, we must all reaffirm our support for the Istanbul Convention and the monitoring work of GREVIO. In doing so, we can ensure that women enjoy that most fundamental of human rights: the right to live a life free from violence."