By Soffi James
The Istanbul Convention could bring about a drastically positive change in the way that gender based violence cases are handled in our society, yet it has until now lacked the exposure it deserves and even failed to make it into any of the manifestos of the major political parties. Our blogger Soffi tells us more about this important legislation and the group who are campaigning to see it be adopted here in the UK.
The winds of change are blowing as the new UK government settles itself into in the Houses of Parliament. Much disappointment and unrest has seized the country in the weeks after the election, particularly with reference to the reformation of the Human Rights Act. The recent pledge by Justice Secretary Michael Gove that, if the reforms are rejected by Strasbourg, the UK will pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, is an untimely regression for women’s rights. But, in this period of revision and transformation, these winds can be harnessed in the direction of positive change for women. A convention – the first of its kind – was made open for signatures on May 11th 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. Its aim: solely to tackle sexual and gender based violence. Its name: The Istanbul Convention.
It is the first legally binding instrument in the world that creates a comprehensive legal framework to protect women against gender-based violence. If ratified by any government, the convention will prevent, protect and prosecute in the name of victims of attack. The Istanbul Convention goes into fine and necessary detail, categorizing the types of violence women can be victim to, the different preventative solutions and the numerous actions that can be taken after the fact.
Ground-breaking work could be done under this convention. It will prevent further cuts to domestic violence refugees that happened as a result of austerity measures by the previous UK government. It makes it a matter of law that the country must provide sufficient sexual violence shelters and centres for its citizens, alongside psychological and medical support, and legal aid. It outlines preventative measures, such as providing education in schools on domestic violence, healthy relationships and self respect for girls and boys. Issues such as Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages will be criminalized. All this, in an entirely open and inclusive umbrella – this support will be available to women regardless of race, creed or colour, or any other self-identification category for that matter.
Victims will be safer under the protection of this convention. Cases like, Laura’s, whose name has been changed for anonymity purposes, would hopefully no longer be in our headlines. Laura was raped, and went to the police. She was then mistrusted and misrepresented by those who should have been the arms of protection, not prosecution. They failed to properly collect evidence from her T-Shirt, despite her assurance that a DNA test would incriminate her rapist. Article 50 of the Convention may have prevented Laura’s two subsequent suicide attempts:
“Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the responsible law enforcement agencies engage promptly and appropriately in the prevention and protection against all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, including the employment of preventive operational measures and the collection of evidence.”
The UN has called the Istanbul Convention the “gold standard” for reducing sexual violence cases. It all sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. The winds are changing and European countries are taking the helm. At least, some of them are. To date, 18 countries have ratified the Istanbul Convention, including Finland, Monaco, France, Denmark, Spain and most recently, Poland. Most of the nations in the Council of Europe have signed the Convention, but still refuse to embrace its laws into their own legal system.
Sadly, in the UK’s recent election, none of the parties mentioned the Istanbul Convention in their manifestos. The safety of women against sexual violence was apparently not at the top, or even on the agenda. For such an important movement to go unnoticed is worrying, but a group of campaigners have been working to change this, with the hashtag #ICchange.
This campaign urges the UK government to act on the promise it made by signing the treaty on June 8th 2012. Their reasoning is clear and concise, and the statistics shocking. They report that every week an average of 2 women are killed by a partner or ex-partner, and 233 women are raped daily. 112 refugee women and 84 children were turned away on one day this year. Support services are underfunded and overwhelmed, and #ICchange are trying to get countries to invest more resources and effort into reducing these numbers.
This international convention should be included in UK national laws, and the laws of other countries. Those countries that have signed the convention, like the UK, have only provided a handwritten agreement with its premise, not an agreement to do what it says. We need more than promises, we need commitment. Legal commitment. That would mean that each woman would not only be relying on her own government; she could call on higher international powers to ensure her own safety and the safety of other women across the world.
For further information on Istanbul Convention, click here [http://www.stopvaw.org/council_of_europe_-_istanbul_convention}
If you agree with the #ICChange movement, you can sign the petition to ratify this Convention in the UK government here.