Gender Equality and the Istanbul Convention: a decade of action
Conference organised by the Council of Europe in partnership with the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in the framework of the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
It is a great honour for me as President of the Parliamentary Assembly to join celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention – the landmark treaty that is inspiring positive change and uniting us in our efforts to eradicate violence against women.
I should like to express my thanks to the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, for having made the fight against violence against women and promoting further ratifications of the Istanbul Convention a priority of their Presidency. Germany’s commitment to fighting violence against women and upholding what the Istanbul Convention represents for women’s human rights was further underpinned by Chancellor Merkel’s address to our Assembly during the April part-session
10 years is a short time in a lifetime, but the Istanbul Convention has already achieved so much in the decade since it entered into force.
To start with, the Convention is the greatest contribution that the Council of Europe has made to the advancement of women and the promotion of women’s rights in its 70 years of activity. It has become THE reference treaty in Europe and beyond in efforts to eradicate violence against women and girls. The Convention is right where it belongs – at the core of the Council of Europe legal system that aims to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Its legal and policy transformative power is a fact. We owe it to the legally progressive, far-reaching, tried, and tested provisions of the Convention the changes that member States introduced in their national legal and policy frameworks. From new criminal offences such as forced marriage, stalking and female genital mutilation to the modification of law provisions on rape and the introduction of comprehensive multi-agency policies.
The Convention’s provisions are more than just some legal words and phrases seeking to make things difficult for us to understand. The Convention and its provisions set out in a very clear language and doable manner a set of comprehensive, detailed measures that states need to put in place to eradicate violence against women and girls. Put together by government representatives from the 47 member States, with diverse experiences and qualifications, with input from the parliamentarians, civil society and service providers and experts who have been working with women victims of violence.
Not only has the Convention been a catalyst for change in legislation and policies – it has also contributed towards what is a very long and ever on-going process: the change in our mentalities.
As we have witnessed in our work and activities at the Assembly level, including with women victims or survivors of violence, or organisations working with them and perpetrators, the Convention has helped to break the wall of silence surrounding violence against women. Hitting a woman is not – never was and never should be – a "private" matter to be tackled behind closed doors. It is a matter that concerns us all. It is the responsibility of all the society and the State mechanisms and institutions to ensure the safety of women. By bringing the issue of violence against women into public domain, making it clear that it is a violation of fundamental human rights and ending impunity against perpetrators as required by the Convention, the message is very clear to women victims or survivors of violence: We hear you. We are with you. It is not your fault.
And by doing so, we gain the trust of women and all those affected by violence against women. And with trust, more women and girls will come forward to report violence. Blame and shame shifts from victim to perpetrator. And slowly, the wall of silence starts to crumble.
And through its monitoring mechanisms, the Convention has also created a platform that allows State parties to exchange on both challenges and good practices and benefit from each other’s expertise, know-how and lessons learnt. It has also allowed us as Parliamentarians to benefit from peer-to-peer exchanges to make progress in areas where we have a responsibility – ratification of the Convention and its effective implementation.
In the Parliamentary Assembly, we are very committed to the success of the Convention. Because we believe in its transformative and unifying power in our fight to end violence against women. Because we believe in the hope it gives to the women and girls victims of violence. To the children experiencing or witnessing such violence. We believe in the Convention because we were there from the start making it very clear what our stance on violence against women was then and is now: let’s end this serious violation of human rights and persistent form of discrimination against women. The many recommendations and resolutions adopted by our Assembly paved and made their way into the provisions of the Convention.
One of the novelties – and I would say farsightedness of the Convention regarding a multi-sector coordinated approach – is the role it foresees for parliaments and our Assembly through the direct involvement of national parliaments in the Convention’s monitoring mechanism, and the PACE itself which is tasked with the responsibility to regularly take stock of the implementation of the Convention.
And we take this role very seriously. Because we believe in what the Convention stands for and its paramount importance to end violence against women, as parliamentarians we continue to be very involved in raising awareness on the prevalence of violence against women and the urgent need to take action based on and inspired from the requirements of the Convention. We do this by asking questions on the possible ratification of the Convention, by triggering discussions in parliament, in public meetings and in the media, or by asking for the allocation of sufficient resources for assistance services for women victims of violence.
While celebrating the achievements of the Convention, we should not loose sights of the threats and challenges we face with its implementation and further ratification. Our regrets and profound disappointment towards the deliberate misinterpretation, defamation or open attacks on the Convention and its aim to end violence against women, should go together with firm political leadership and action to expose all efforts to overthrow or weaken hard won human rights. Women’s rights.
Deliberate misinterpretation, misinformation and abuse of the very clear aims and scope of the Convention for short-term political gains to the detriment of undermining the fundamental human rights and safety of women is not just wrong – it is dangerous because the safety of human lives is at stake.
We should also be very firm on the narrative adopted by some governments that their own national legislation is more advanced than the provisions contained in the Convention. A narrative that goes against the very principles at the core of multilateralism and European cooperation.
The standards drafted and agreed at the level of the Council of Europe fill a gap and respond to a need. Work on the Istanbul Convention started only after studies and a Europe-wide campaign revealed both the magnitude of the problem and the need for harmonised legal standards to ensure that victims benefit from the same level of protection everywhere in Europe. So clearly, national legislation was not enough.
Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
As we enter a new decade of the implementation of the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, I reiterate that it is imperative that we strengthen, not weaken, the international system to protect women against violence. To all the member States that have not yet ratified the Convention, time is overdue to do so.
As a human rights issue, ending violence against women is both a moral and a legal obligation. Let’s unite around the Istanbul Convention and live up to that obligation and make sure that violence against women is never, accepted, condoned, tolerated.