Convention raises bar for Europe to combat violence against women

by Joseph D'Urso | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 1 August 2014 11:22 GMT

An activist from the women rights organization "Femen" shouts at an Interior Ministry officer as she takes part in a rally in Kiev, November 3, 2010. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin

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New convention sets standards to prevent and protect women from rape, FGM, stalking, honour violence and forced marriage

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In Turkey, a woman is killed by her son-in-law despite repeated appeals to the police. In Slovakia, a woman's complaint of domestic violence falls on deaf ears, and her husband ends up killing their two children and himself.

As many as one in three women across the European Union (EU) have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to a survey by an EU rights group.

However, a convention which came into force on Friday, may help to address the widespread problem of violence against women across Europe, campaigners say.

The Istanbul Convention outlines minimum standards to prevent, prosecute and protect women from rape and physical violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), stalking, forced abortion, honour violence and forced marriage.

"Beaten, raped, harassed or subjected to female genital mutilation, many women and girls in Europe suffer in silence as they are denied the means to extricate themselves from situations they view as hopeless," Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International's director of law and policy, said.

"Ratifying and implementing the Istanbul Convention ... is about remedying existing injustices and preventing further violations of women's human rights," he said in a statement.

The convention was adopted in 2011 by all 47 Council of Europe members, which includes western and central European states as well as Turkey and some countries in the former Soviet Union. So far, 36 states have signed the convention but only 14 have ratified it.

"All need to act now to improve the lives of the many women and girls who are subjected to violence, simply because of their gender," Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said in a statement, urging remaining member states to sign and ratify the convention.

IMPROVING LAWS

Once a state has ratified the convention, it is supposed to introduce measures to prevent violence against women, protect victims and prosecute offenders.

According to the Council of Europe, more forms of violence against women have become criminal offences in recent years in line with the convention's recommendations.

Poland criminalised stalking in 2011. France made it illegal for someone to force another person to undergo FGM in 2013, and Britain criminalised forced marriage in June of this year.

However, Estonia and Ukraine still do not criminalise all forms of sexual assault against partners, according to the Council of Europe. Ukraine and Latvia are also the only countries where non-consensual sex was not necessarily a criminal offence, the Council said.

In addition to strengthening laws, the convention requires countries to provide services including shelters, counselling and legal aid. But this varies greatly between member states.

In Norway, there are 36.4 shelter beds per 100,000 people, while in Italy, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Poland that number is less than one.

Estonia and Hungary are the only countries where police do not regularly receive training when they start the job on prevention and intervention in cases of violence against women.

"Even if we have much better legislation, we need the training of police and prosecutors," said Eha Reitelmann, a women's rights activist in Estonia, which has yet to sign the Istanbul Convention.

(Editing by Alisa Tang and Katie Nguyen: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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