A milestone in the fight for gender equality

Later today in Istanbul, the Council of Europe will open for signature a treaty aimed at improving the safety of women.

The ‘Convention on Preventing And Combating Violence Against Women And Domestic Violence’ draws on best practice from across Europe and provides an international framework for positive action.

It will help the 47 member state governments in the prevention of violence towards women, the protection of victims and the prosecution of offenders.

Ratification of the treaty will lead to immediate action to criminalise and prosecute a range of offences: rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. Excuses on grounds of culture, custom, religion or so-called “honour” can no longer be used.

Governments will also be expected to set up or fund adequate services, including shelters, 24-hour help-lines and medical and legal counseling that are vital to women fleeing violent partners.

Crime statistics show that one in seven women in Council of Europe member states have experienced violence in a relationship. With the subject still very much a taboo, the real figure is surely higher.

Worse, relatively low conviction rates for assaults against women continue to provoke concern.

Governments throughout Europe now recognise the social costs of violence towards women and are also more alert to the economic costs too.

It is estimated that in the United Kingdom, where a woman contacts police every minute to report a threat or an assualt, some £23 billion are lost every year by the professional absence of women due to injury.

One key feature of the new convention is that it recognises the need to see violence against women in the context of inequality between women and men.

Whilst women have achieved much over the past 30 years, the domination of men over women in the private and public spheres remains. One major reason for taking action now on women’s safety is the widening gap between what is on the statute books and what happens in the real world.

The convention is the next step in a body of work by the Council of Europe that has enhanced the equality agenda since the 1970s.

The organisation intends that this treaty will provide practical assistance to bring millions of women out of the violence trap and put equality back on the political agenda.

So far, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey have signed the convention. The fact that compliance will be monitored goes some way to understanding why it is considered a milestone in the long march towards gender equality.

The Essential

Treaty: Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

News: Jagland - Seven women are beaten to death every day in Europe

News: Governments agree new anti-violence treaty

Information: Women’s Day 2011: A Decade To End Inequality

Comment: José Mendes Bota – The Istanbul Convention is a landmark on the way to gender equality

Podcast: Anne-Marie Faradji explains the contribution of the anti-violence treaty to gender equality

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