Le Parlement européen. Crédit ChequeredInk (Pixabay).

The Istanbul Convention: a big step for women’s emancipation


On Thursday 11 May, the European Union signed the Istanbul Convention. This convention was created to prevent and combat violence against women.

The terms of the Istanbul Convention were outlined early in 2017 in the European Parliament’s offices. “We are working on the European Parliament’s implementation of the convention,” Terry Reintke, the German Member of Parliament working in the Strasbourg office and member of the German Greens, explains to us. “The process is very slow because there are a lot of highly important stages on a symbolic level. At the moment, Germany is in the ratification process,” she asserts. The purpose of this European treaty is to fight for the eradication of sexist violence.

Unprecedented signing of a treaty

In 2011, the Istanbul Convention was adopted by the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental organisation bringing 47 member states together. The main objective was to create a space for female victims of violence on a global scale. Six years later, on Thursday 11 May 2017, the European Union signed the convention. “Violence against women is a violation of human rights and an extreme form of discrimination. By joining the Istanbul Convention, the European Union reaffirms its lead role in the fight against violence towards women and the eradication of all forms of discrimination based on gender,” Helena Dalli, Maltese minister for Social Dialogue, Civil Liberties, and Consumer Affairs, says in an EU press release.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, thinks along the same lines. He commends the decision, appealing in a press conference, “I urge the EU and its member states to work towards applying this treaty fully as soon as possible.”

This Istanbul Convention is established on the basis of pre-existing European and international treaties. The convention is notably in line with Article 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that everyone has a right to their own physical and mental integrity. Article 6 assures the right to liberty and security for each individual. “This is the first time that a convention with an international scope is based on gender theory. This equality is fundamental for the development of countries across the world,” Terry Reintke adds.

A sine qua non application

Cooperation is at the core of the implementation process. Within the European Parliament, “there is a certain kind of collaboration across the political spectrum, even if we don’t work with the extreme right on these issues. Once this convention is ratified, it should be translated into national legalistic terms,” says the MP.

According to the institution Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, 47% of immigrants in 2014 were female. The Istanbul text made sure to put in place specific contextual measures. “If you were beaten by your husband, for example, the Istanbul Convention allows you to receive asylum rights,” Reintke states. These women will be authorised to ask for an “autonomous residence” permit. The treaty applies equally in times of peace and in armed conflict.

To ensure its application, a group of experts will be mobilised. Given the name GREVIO, it will be made up of 10 to 15 elected members. As part of its monitoring mechanism, statistical data will be collected regularly. GREVIO will make regular visits to the different countries who have adopted the text. In signing a convention, a state expresses its approval in advance. Ratifying the text, on the other hand, leads to a juridical obligation to apply it. The mechanism is deliberately binding. Any violation of the terms of the convention will be “punishable by effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions”. The Council of Europe mentions the implementation of prison sentences and being placed under surveillance. In the case of domestic violence, parental rights can be revoked.

A work in progress, towards a European harmonisation

“Each country can agree on the eradication of violence and discrimination towards women. This is the fruit of a long process implemented worldwide. When it comes to violence towards women, it’s no longer a question of culture, it’s an issue of international right,” asserts Terry Reintke. According to a statistics report published by the United Nations in 2015, one out of three women in the world had already been subjected to physical or sexual violence. The same document states that as of that year, only 119 countries had put in place laws addressing domestic violence.

“It was important that we could have an Act here, at the level of the European Parliament,” Marie Arena (Socialist Party), the Belgian European MP, said on 24 November 2016. On the same day, the Parliament in Strasbourg assembled to argue in favour of the ratification of the convention by each country in the European Union. For the time being, the Council of Europe’s website records only 15 members, among those counted include Albania, Cyprus, France, and Denmark. The implementation process has only just begun.

Banner photo: the European Parliament. Credit ChequeredInk (Pixabay).

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