Explainer: What the Istanbul Convention is and why it matters

Nathanael Williams

CommonSpace breaks down the Istanbul Convention and why MPs and campaigners want your support.

THE scourges of violence against women and domestic abuse are considered serious human rights violations by charities, governments, law enforcement agencies and civil groups.

Signed on May 11 2011 by the Council of Europe (not associated with the EU),  Istanbul Convention addresses all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, through measures aimed at preventing violence, protecting victims, and prosecuting the perpetrators.

Coming into force in 2014, it currently applies to 20 countries, including 12 EU members.

On December 16, SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford will bring a private member's bill to its first reading in the House of Commons supported by MPs from 7 political parties including SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Social Democratic Labour Party (SLDP) in Northern Ireland (NI), Conservative and a former Ulster Unionist Party MP now sitting as an independent.

Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) and IC Change have also called for constituents to ensure 100 MPs attend the reading to ensure it passes to a second reading on the Friday.  

CommonSpace breakdown somewhat the convention is and why MPs and campaigners want your support.

International and cross-border nature:

Campaigners emphasise that the international nature of the convention makes sure that standards in tackling violence against women and support for victims are kept high across a international standard. 

Albania, Andorra, Malta, Serbia and Turkey are among the 18 states that have already ratified the Istanbul Convention which will monitor progress in all countries. However, the UK is still assessing whether the country’s laws are compliant with the convention that seeks to protect women from sexual violence, a delay that has infuriated campaigners.

Prosecution & Protection:

Istanbul ensures that governments give power to the police to remove a perpetrator of domestic violence from his or her home.

For example, Maria is beaten and abused by her husband. The Istanbul Convention would empower the police to remove the husband from their home, even if he owns it. He also will not be able return to the household and would be barred from contacting her.

The convention also ensures violence against women is a crime, including psychological and physical violence, sexual violence and rape, stalking, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. This includes the so-called “honour” crimes.

Gendered in nature:

Advocates of the convention state that is it unique in the way that it is built on an understanding of the root causes of domestic violence and violence against women more broadly which is the fundamental inequality between men and women. In this the convention sees all factors as being connected and requiring a combined approach by different sections of society.

Raising awareness:

Under the convention, participant nations are obligated to promote and manage awareness-raising campaigns with civil society, and in specifically with women’s organisations. They have a responsibility to spread information to make the public more aware of ways to prevent acts of violence.

For example, France ratified the Istanbul convention in July 2014 and in November the following year launched a campaign on sexual harassment in public transport. The aim was to raise awareness of violence and the penalties but also encourage reporting and interventions by bystanders.

More Education:

Signatories must ensure that equality between women and men, non-violent conflict resolution in relationships, and the human right to personal integrity are included in school curricula at all levels.

In Italy, which ratified the convention in September 2013, the government created a web series on violence against women, used in schools, which focused on the role of men and how they could choose non-violent behaviour towards women.

Improved training of specialists:

Campaigners and academics argue that the convention sets a new higher standard for the strengthening of training for professionals aiding victims of violence. The logic is that this helps professionals to prevent or detect acts of violence, or prevent secondary level abuse of women and children.

Spain ratified Istanbul in April 2014 and has reinvested in improved specialised bodies and training in the police corps and judiciary dealing with violence against women.

What can you do to help?

You can contact your MP and lobby MPs in other constituencies around the UK to attend the first reading of the private member’s bill on December 16. SWA and IC Change are additionally running a hashtag on twitter under #ChangeHerstory. 

Pictures courtesy of Michael Curi, Adobe Stock, Peter Darch, Andrea Pearson, Hue Studios, Anders Lejcazk

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