Istanbul Convention, 1 Year on a Long Road to Protect Women and Ensure Equality

Europe, Maghreb, Mashrek, Press Release, Violence against Women, Women’s rights and gender justice

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On the 1st anniversary of the entry into force of the Istanbul Convention, Euro-Med Rights calls on governments on both sides of the Mediterranean, particularly all Council of Europe member states, to urgently ratify and implement this international tool to prevent and combat violence against women.

The ‘Istanbul Convention’ is the first and most comprehensive legally binding Council of Europe (CoE) treaty specifically dealing with gender-based violence, designating it as a human right violation and a form of discrimination. It sets out minimum standards on protection of women from violence as well as prevention and prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based violence. To date, 18 members of the CoE have ratified the Convention, while an additional 20 has signed it. See map here

By ratifying the treaty, states undertake to guarantee gender equality in their legislation as well as to criminalise all forms of gender-based violence including female genital mutilation, forced marriage, stalking, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. Ratifying countries are also required to protect and support victims of gender-based violence by implementing comprehensive and co-ordinated policies involving government agencies, NGOs as well as national, regional and local authorities in the provision of services such as hotlines, shelters, medical services, counselling and legal aid.

Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of unequal power relations between women and men. Therefore, combatting it is central to achieving gender equality. Gender-based violence is prevalent on both sides of the Mediterranean. A 2014 survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency shows that one third of women in the EU over the age of 15  have experienced physical and/or sexual violence; one in five women has experienced stalking and half of all women have been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment. Furthermore, 5% of women above 15 reported having been raped.

The lack of appropriate legislation to protect women from violence, including sexual violence, rape and sexual harassment makes the situation bleaker in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region. As many as 99% of women in Egypt have experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment while hundreds of women across the region from Turkey to Morocco are killed by relatives – husbands, fathers, brothers – every year. In many countries of the region, provisions in the penal code allow rapists to escape prosecution if they marry their victim and men can receive reduced sentences for killing women for reasons of “family honor”.

“Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations of our times.’’ Said Michel Tubiana, Euro-Med Rights President “Ratifying the Istanbul Convention can change attitudes towards this detrimental phenomenon and introduce tangible improvements in the lives of millions of women and girls in our societies’’.