Violence against women and girls constitutes a violation of human rights which has devastating, physical, psychological, including health related consequences on its victims. Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriages, stalking, online harassment, sexual abuse are all forms of gender-based violence that are committed against women because they are women.
It is estimated that a staggering 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. In Europe, one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at least once during her adult life. In the majority of cases, these acts have been carried out by men. Gender based violence is a structural phenomenon - intertwined with patriarchal societies - which continues to place women in vulnerable positions. The majority of cases are not reported and perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence - Istanbul Convention - stresses the obligation of the state to fully address this issue and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators. The Convention entered into force in 2014, and has been ratified by the European Union, and by 17 out of 28 EU Member States.
On Tuesday, 21 November, in celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the European Parliament’s Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) organized an inter-parliamentary Committee meeting bringing together European and national parliamentarians around the theme: "The Istanbul Convention: combating violence against women at national and EU level". During the meeting parliamentarians from across the EU stressed the efforts to end violence against women in their countries by allocating public resources through the budget process, to provide legal support to victims, and overseeing its implementation by their governments.
A common point coming out of the meeting was that the process of ratifying the Convention may require time since it may involve changes in legal mechanisms, but the biggest obstacle to its ratification is political will. In Slovakia, for example, the ratification of the Convention was postponed since conservative and religious groups oppose the introduction of what they call gender ideology into international law.
Parliamentarians have a central role in supporting the process leading to the signature and the ratification of the Convention by holding their governments accountable to their commitments. The Council of Europe has produced a handbook with recommendations for parliamentarians to ensure that the legislative and other measures are adopted and implemented in compliance with the requirements of the Convention.
Whether or not the Convention has been ratified in their countries, parliamentarians can make a major contribution to end violence against women by initiating legislation in the area of violence against women, asking for systematic data collection on violence against women to be made available, and ensuring that resources and support and protection services are provided for victims of violence.
Parliamentarians can also capitalize on their role as public figures to change misconceptions and systemic behaviour about violence against women. Namely, by raising awareness about the topic and taking a stand against gender-based violence in the media, and lobby for their political parties to include the eradication of violence against women in their political programmes.
Read more about what parliamentarians and political leaders can do to advance women's rights at the Agora portal’s Area of Expertise on Parliaments and Gender Equality.