The Istanbul Convention and the global fight to end violence against women : where do we stand?

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The Istanbul Convention and the global fight to end violence against women : where do we stand?

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In its 2019 report on the sustainable development goals, the UN indicates that, while the status of women in the world is tending to improve overall (fewer forced marriages, more women in high positions of responsibility, etc.), violence against women still occupies too large a place in the statistics. According to this report, 18% of women aged 15 to 49 have suffered physical or sexual violence. Moreover, in some countries, women’s rights seem to be diminishing year by year, at the whim of governments and in the name of family traditions and values. Even more alarming, nations that had begun to combat violence against women are now seeking to turn back the clock.

This is notably the case of Poland, which, through its Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, announced on July 25, its wish to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.

The Istanbul Convention, signed by all members of the Council of Europe – except Russia and Azerbaijan – in 2011, aims to provide a concrete legal framework to effectively combat violence against women. This no longer seems to be to Poland’s liking, which considers that this text contains “elements of an ideological nature” considered “harmful” to the proper functioning of Polish society.

While Poland’s statement made a lot of noise this summer, it is not the only country that seems to be regressing in terms of women’s rights. Turkey is not lagging behind on this issue, as Ankara is also considering withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, an issue that divides the country. Indeed, many conservative organisations and media, as well as the ruling party – the AKP – are rebelling against this text, which is considered incompatible with Turkish family values.

The importance of women’s rights and the need to effectively combat domestic violence remains too far from universally accepted and the road to tangible and sustainable improvement is too long for some nations. While the fight for women rights has its opponents, it is at the heart of many struggles and initiatives led by civil society, fighting at all costs to make its voice heard and devising solutions to make up for the lack of mechanisms and the absence of a legal framework in some countries.

 

While Poland’s statement made a lot of noise this summer, it is not the only country that seems to be regressing in terms of women’s rights. Turkey is not lagging behind on this issue, as Ankara is also considering withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, an issue that divides the country.

 

Significant room for improvement

The example of Poland or Turkey is just one of many, and many countries still have a have a long way to go before the indicators of their policies and actions to combat violence against women turn green.

As in Russia, where, according to the ANNA centre, the first Russian association created in 1993 to help victims, every sixty-three minutes a woman dies at the hands of a man, i.e. nearly 8,300 women a year.

In Poland or Turkey, the status of women, and more generally women’s rights, also still seems to be incompatible with the family values and traditions in place in the country. In 2017, Senator Elena Mizoulina – a member of the Russian Choice Party – has worked hard to decriminalise domestic violence, calling, among other things, for the removal of the term “domestic assault” from the Russian Criminal Code. Elena Mizoulina had then specified that women were “weak beings” who should not be “offended” when they are beaten. The senator is also, with four other women, at the initiative of a bill to reduce penalties for domestic violence. This law was adopted by 380 votes in favour, with only three abstentions, and aims to preserve the institution of the Russian family home by removing any possibility for women victims of domestic violence to express themselves and be heard.

Let’s recall once again that Russia is the only country, along with Azerbaijan, not to have signed or ratified the Istanbul Convention.

Hungary is also among the bad pupils. In 2010, the Head of Government Viktor Orban abolished the gender equality commission, again in the name of traditional and family values. The Prime Minister has also integrated the notion of sexism into school textbooks, and Hungarian students must now learn that men and women do not have the “same physical and intellectual abilities”. Gender equality therefore does not seem to have a voice in this country, which also claims strong traditionalist values. As for the Istanbul Convention, although Hungary has signed the treaty, it has still not ratified it, and it doesn’t seem to be one of its top priorities – on May 5, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a declaration against ratification of the treaty.

If these countries – and so many others such as China, Saudi Arabia, etc. – stick to their positions and refuse to take a step forward in the fight against violence against women, civil society keeps organising itself to weigh in on the public debate and try to push back the boundaries.

 

Civil society stands together

There are countless non-profits, NGOs and other bodies that are speaking out against the regression of women’s rights and warning of the seriousness of the situation in certain countries and the urgency of initiating change.

In Poland, the Centre for Women’s Rights, established by Urszula Nowakowska in 1994, provides support to women victims of violence, even though the association has not received state funding for years. The Association for the Defence of Democracy in Poland (ADDP) was established by Agnieszka Grudzinska in 2016, in response to the conservative and nationalist PIS party coming to power in 2015. The ADDP operates from Paris and campaigns for fundamental rights to be respected in Poland. While the ADDP campaigns primarily for the right to abortion, it is the cause of women in the broadest sense that is defended by the organisation.

 

In Poland, the Centre for Women’s Rights, established by Urszula Nowakowska in 1994, provides support to women victims of violence, even though the association has not received state funding for years.

 

In Hungary, the NGOs Patent and Nane are very active in the field of combating violence against women. Led by Julia Spronz and Gyorgyi Toth respectively, these two NGOs provide both psychological counselling for women victims of violence and legal assistance. Nane has also set up a helplinesystem, receiving over 2,000 calls each year. As for Patent, the NGO participates in the drafting of bills in favour of women’s rights, and carries out numerous lobbying campaigns to make itself heard within the country’s political community.

In Russia, three female figures stand out particularly in their fight against violence against women. First of all, there is Anna Rivina, the founder of the nasiliu.net platform, enabling both the reporting of cases of violence as well as providing assistance to women who are victims of abuse.

Then there is Marina Pisklakova-Parker, who created the ANNA Center. With ANNA, Marina Pisklakova-Parker offers support programmes for women victims of violence (legal advice, psychological support, etc.). She is also behind the creation of the first helplinefor Russian women in distress. Since 1993, ANNA has been expanding throughout Russia with more than 40 local branches.

Finally, Alena Popova, a lawyer and very popular public figure in Russia, is at the origin of many humanitarian projects including the Protect Women Project, launched in 2013. She is also co-author of the law for the prevention of domestic violence.

 

Hope

Although the fight to guarantee women’s fundamental rights and to penalise the violence they suffer is far from over, some progress is being made, including where it is least expected.

In Turkey, for example, the Women and Democracy Association (Kadem), a powerful conservative women’s lobby whose Vice-President is none other than President Erdogan’s daughter, recently officially declared itself in favour of the Istanbul Convention. Kadem said that the Istanbul Convention was “the first international document to provide a legal framework to combat all types of violence against women”. This unexpected stance came as a surprise and a shock to the community of activists and government opponents, and Kadem’s support is likely to give a boost to the fight against violence against women in the country.

The lines are also beginning to move timidly in Russia where, between 2018 and 2020, the Council of Europe has initiated a programme in cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, with the aim of developing a social protection plan at federal level to combat domestic violence.

 


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.

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