A study commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the FEMM Committee was published this week. This study aims to understand the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, its added value, arguments against the ratification of the Convention, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violence against women (VAW) and domestic violence (DV).
The 27 EU Member States are included in the study, together with Turkey, which offers a comparator of the impact of the ratification of the Convention by a non-EU country. The study comprised a literature review, legal mapping of the legislation and support services of each country with relevant articles of the Convention, national data collection and stakeholder consultation, via an online survey (primarily to gather up-to-date information on the impact of COVID-19).
Violence against women (VAW) is rooted in gender-based inequality and is a violation of human rights. This manifestation of deep-rooted gender-based inequality results in physical, sexual, psychological and economic harm and suffering for women in the public and private spheres
Despite substantial efforts to advance policies and strategies on gender equality, women continue to experience serious forms of violence, unabated. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) provides a composite measure of gender-based violence in the EU, showing prevalence of 21.2 %, severity of 46.9 % and disclosure of 14.9 %.
Recent reports exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that VAW has increased in countries where stay-at-home measures have been adopted in response to the pandemic. Uncertainties surrounding security, health and finances, coupled with confined living situations, are giving rise to experiences of violence in the domestic sphere, particularly directed towards women and children. Restrictions on mobility and reduced accessibility of support services exacerbate the problem.
The Istanbul Convention is the first international treaty specifically tackling violence from a gender perspective. It recognises ‘the structural nature of violence against women’ and ‘that domestic violence affects women disproportionately’, while recognising that men may also be victims of such violence. The Convention aims to tackle violence in a holistic manner by including obligations structured around four main pillars: (1) integrated policies; (2) prevention of all forms of violence; (3) protection of victims from further violence; and (4) prosecution of perpetrators.
The EU contributes to fighting VAW and DV through legislation, such as enshrining gender equality in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, secondary legislation (such as the Victim’s Rights Directive) as well as in European Parliament resolutions. It undertakes policy efforts, such as the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 (European Commission, 2020a) and the EU guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them. It also uses targeted actions, such as funding (e.g. the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme), awareness raising (e.g. co-funding national and NGO campaigns combating violence against women and children, research (e.g. through EIGE’s collection of comparable data on gender-based violence and the development of relevant, harmonised indicators and coordinated action.
Religious and conservative voices appear to have united their diverse platforms against the common enemy of ‘gender ideology, ’highlighted opposition to the Istanbul Convention in some EU Member States, with individuals and organisations expressing their concern about the ‘gender ideology’ contained within it. Opponents argue that the Convention goes against traditional values, that gender is a biological concept rather than a social construct, that acceptance of the Convention requires the broader acceptance of progressive ‘foreign’ reform that may threaten national sovereignty, and that the Convention will necessarily lead to the recognition of LGBTIQ+ rights. Closer examination of the provisions at issue, however, finds no support for these claims.
Evidence for this study indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown measures has led to an increase in the prevalence and intensity of VAW in some countries. Over half of the respondents to the stakeholder consultation noted an increase in VAW and DV in their country, with increases in calls to telephone helplines for victims of VAW. Stakeholders noted that restrictions on movement, including stay-at-home orders, simultaneously increased contact (and thus increased control) between perpetrators and victims of violence, while decreasing access to supports.
Five overarching recommendations have been formulated for the EU institutions and Member States aimed at structurally improving the situation of women in the light of the latest data and insights in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strengthen the legal framework by fully reflecting the Convention’s substantial law provisions in the legislation Ensure the full implementation of the Istanbul Convention’s provisions Ensure an integrated, gender-sensitive, intersectional and evidence- based policy framework Ensure adequate prevention, protection and service provision Promote gender equality, education and awareness-raising on the various forms of violence and gender stereotypes.
The full study can be found at https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2020/658648/IPOL_STU(2020)658648_EN.pdf
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