The Istanbul Convention is a legal document that was presented by the Council of Europe in 2011. The convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence came into force in 2014 and was ratified by 18 member states and signed by 19 thus far. However EU countries such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Ireland are still not on the list. The Czech government argues that before the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the Czech legal system needs to be adjusted accordingly. The legislation analysis was promised to be done at the end of 2014 but was further prolonged to June 2015. We can expect updates very soon.

A number of organisations have been calling for action in Europe and have organised events to support the Convention as an international standard. For instance, in the Czech Republic, International Women’s Day 2015 was dedicated to the #ZaIstanbul campaign (#ForIstanbul). Also the participants of an international conference titled “Europe without gender-based violence: from commitments to action,” which took place in Prague in May 2015, issued a joint call for European countries to sign, ratify and implement the Convention.

The Convention sets standards for comprehensive measures to prevent and combat violence against women, recognizing that “violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared to men” (Preamble).

The Convention addresses the following key elements: protection, prevention, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination as well as support for women. The document interprets violence as an umbrella term for all kinds of violence from domestic violence to gender-based violence. Taking into consideration all forms of violence, as a whole, is a positive shift in this field.

Furthermore, the Convention symbolizes the current tendency of focusing on complex measurements for combating domestic and gender-based violence. It is the very first legal tool in Europe and the most complex international treaty targeting violence against women as a violation of human rights. This convention gives a mandate for the elimination of any form of violence to national institutions, human rights organisations, non-governmental organisations and local governments, and requires legal changes, the creation of practical steps and the allocation of funding for prevention and intervention.

“The Istanbul Convention is essential for several reasons; one of them is in the definition of violence itself.”

The Istanbul Convention is essential for several reasons; one of them is the definition of violence itself. The Convention focuses on combating violence against women and domestic violence and just as equally on attaining gender equality de jure and de facto. In the preamble, such violence is acknowledged as a structural inequality and based on unequal power relations between women and men that negatively influence the development of all women. The Convention declares the need to provide all women survivors with adequate treatment (women are not helpless and weak victims) and support for their future lives.

Ultimately, the Convention is one of the few legal documents that represent violence in a broader sense and takes all of its forms – psychological, physical, sexual and economical – into consideration, including rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilization. While many of the above listed forms of violence, and especially domestic violence, often refer to women, the Convention considers a specificity of male-oriented violence as well as violence among men and boys in general. Notably, LGBT groups are also included. Violence is not seen as gender neutral; on the contrary, it is considered gender-based.

The EU states are obliged to incorporate several serious misdeeds into their legal systems that have not been a part of them before. For instance, legislation should address digital forms of violence such as cyber stalking and cyber bullying. The key strategies to be used are prevention, protection, prosecution and monitoring.

As mentioned above, the Convention brings the most complex view on the issue of violence. It addresses different parties, namely, national and regional parliaments, human rights institutions, non-governmental institutions, policy makers, private companies as well as individuals. It also takes the role of ICT and media into account; media is covered in Article 17 – “Participation of the private sector and the media.”

The role of the private sector (media and ICT) includes prevention of violence against women and the implementation of policies. Companies are encouraged to set guidelines and self-regulatory standards respecting women’s dignity and avoiding harmful stereotypical representation of women and objectification of women associated with sex and violence and to incorporate it into their internal policies standards and protocols to prevent violence such as sexual harassment in the workplace. Additionally, media outlets should set standards and rules for the dissemination of messages and information to the public (e.g., gender-sensitive language, sensitive selection of imageries). The recommendations are not obligatory, and the cooperation with companies is not unified and standardized.

It is important to mention that action for ratification of the Convention is not a question of privileged rights for women; it is about fixing existing injustice and prevention from further human rights abuse. The ratification of the Istanbul Convention in all 47-member states brings promising development in cooperation on combating gender-based violence and promotion of gender equality and human rights. This important document represents Europe’s commitment to right gender justice and an obligation to make legislative changes, adopt practical tools and measurements and allocate adequate financial sources aiming towards zero violence and equal right for all.

Image by UN Women Americas and the Caribbean used under Creative Commons license.

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