Comments for Panel 1 – Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy 2014-2017: taking stock

Hillary Margolis, Human Rights Watch

The impact of the Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy: preventing and combating violence against women

Strategic Objective 2, Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, includes four goals, and largely focuses on the Istanbul Convention. In addressing these goals, I will place particular emphasis on the goal of implementing the Istanbul Convention – because I see this as an area where we face critical challenges and opportunities, and where we must seize the opportunities and address the challenges if we are to ensure that the Convention is indeed as meaningful as possible.

1.    support member States to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention through the provision of technical and legal expertise;

2.    collect and disseminate information on legal and other measures taken at national level to prevent and combat violence against women, providing visibility to good practices;

3.    promote the Istanbul Convention beyond the European Continent, making available expertise and sharing of good practice in the context of co-operation with non-member States and other regional and international organisations.

-       As we are gathered here together today, 22 Member States have ratified the Convention, and 20 additional Member States have signed but not yet ratified the Convention. This is something to celebrate.

-       In addition, the EU has announced a “roadmap” for possible ratification – while many questions remain regarding the EU’s potential ratification, this indicates the EU’s recognition of the significance of the Convention, and that there are remaining gaps in the EU’s own protection measures when it comes to Violence Against Women.

-       There are some positive example of countries bringing laws & policies in line with the Istanbul Convention. For example, Belgium has used it as a reference point for its new and very comprehensive National Gender Strategy. Austria has used it as a reference point for changing rape legislation.

-       Technical expertise has also been deployed and resources have been developed. For example, CoE Violence Against Women Division working with EEA and Norway grants mechanism and with General Inspectorate of Romanian Police to Romania published Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence Against Women: a Learning Resource for Training Law Enforcement and Justice Officers.

-       The Convention has been widely referred to as a leading international standard in addressing violence against women and domestic violence, including at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York and at other international events.

-       Challenges do remain, however:

o   notably with regards to increasing debates over “gender” and the conflation of “gender” rights with prevalence of pedophilia, forced prostitution, and homosexuality. Unfortunately, such debates have been used to fuel hate speech, homophobia, and suppression of sexual and reproductive health education and rights.

§  Example: Latvia – though the country recently signed the Convention, its Justice Minister publicly stated that non-discrimination on the basis of “gender” contradicts the country’s constitution.

§  Example: Poland – resistance to “gender” frameworks and dialogue has created a significant impediment to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. As a result of concerns over “gender,” the government has also threatened to withdraw its ratification of the Convention.

§  Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done.

o   And some countries are simply dragging their feet on ratification

§  Example: UK – while a leader in the international movement against sexual violence in conflict, and despite enacting legislation to come in line with the Convention on both forced marriage and FGM, the government still has not committed to a timetable for ratification. Needless to say, given last week’s events, I think we can all agree that this will not be the current priority. So VAW and services for survivors continue to remain on the backburner.

4.    enhance the implementation of the Istanbul Convention by involving all relevant bodies and entities of the Council of Europe

-       With the Convention having gone into force, it is essential that adequate resources be made available to ensure its monitoring and implementation for it to achieve its true potential

-       On monitoring:

o   The GREVIO has been formed, held its initial meetings, established its questionnaire, and first evaluation of Monaco and Austria is underway

§  Essential that GREVIO is equipped to do its job and has the resources it needs to conduct the important work of evaluating state parties

§  Critical that civil society is able to contribute to the monitoring and evaluation process - NGOs and other civil society representatives need to use the opportunities available to them to submit information to GREVIO, and GREVIO should make sure that civil society – across social, economic, religious, and cultural strata - is well-informed about such opportunities and processes for submissions.

·         If barriers to civil society or NGO participation are noted, these should be urgently recognized and addressed by GREVIO and the Committee of the Parties

o   In future, it will be important for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to play its welcomed role in evaluating the Convention’s implementation (Article 70).

o   It is also essential that National Parliaments engage in monitoring (as invited under Article 70) and that GREVIO engages in information-sharing to this end. 

-          Services for VAW Survivors

§  Decreasing funding for services for domestic violence, GBV survivors

§  Gender-neutral policies are leading to fewer and less specialized services for female survivors of violence.

§  The crimes addressed by the Istanbul Convention are not gender-neutral – nor should the programs and services intended to prevent and tackle such crimes be gender-neutral.

§  Netherlands, UK, others - Policies and services related to them are being re-worked not to have gender dimension;

§  In some cases, gov’t policies are leading service providers to dedicate more of their budgets to gender-neutral or male-focused services than their client population demands.

§  Shelters, for example – a gender-neutral refuge may present real or perceived security risk and prohibit access by women who are in great need

§  UK – SR on VAW commented on danger of localism approach and barriers it creates for specialized local service providers with enormous expertise

§  From Istanbul Convention on both general and specialist support services:

·         General support services (Article 20): “Ensure that victims have access to health care and social services and that services are adequately resourced and professionals are trained to assist victims and refer them to the appropriate services.”

·         Specialist support services (Article 22):

o   “Provide or arrange for, in an adequate geographical distribution, immediate, short-, and long-term specialist support services to any victim subjected to any of the acts of violence covered by the Convention

o   “Provide or arrange for specialist women’s support services to all women victims of violence and their children.”

§  The recently launched WAVE campaign, “Step Up is working to address this – a key demand is better funding for services, including specialist services.

-          Prevention:

§  Governments need to fund NGOs and civil society – in addition to public agencies -  for specialist services but also for prevention

§  This goes hand in hand with Article 11 on data collection and research

§  some valuable research is and has been done – Examples: UK’s Department for International Development is conducting a 5-year multi-part research into what works in preventing VAWG; EU Daphne Program

§  Research and data collection needs to remain a priority, and be applied to both service provision and prevention.

§  Prevention programs are often where we see less investment because, frankly, it is work that is less concrete and often more difficult to measure. But to be serious about changing the dynamics that lead to violence against women, we must be more serious about committing resources to prevention, both by continuing to examine and assess models that are effective, impactful, and feasible in various contexts, and by conducting the practical application of lessons learned from such models.

§  As the Convention notes, a key element of prevention is a change in attitudes – attitudes that foster gender inequalities, power dynamics, and stereotypes that contribute to violence against women and girls.

§  Positive change in attitudes needs to come not only from the grassroots – from civil society actors, activists and service providers – but also from the very top.

§  We need to hold our governments and their representatives to account for perpetuating harmful attitudes

·         Example: Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey making comments about women’s place in society, which reinforces stereotypes about gender roles.

§  Civil society members and NGOs need to be equipped – in terms of both resources and capacity - to hold governments to account and to conduct advocacy in this vein.

-          Migrants, Refugees & Asylum-Seekers – Convention Chapter VII

§  I feel it would be a mistake, in the current climate, not to note the work needed on ensuring implementation of Articles 59-61 specifically, which aim to ensure a gender-sensitive response to all forms of migration.

§  The refugee influx of the past two years has created enormous challenges. Resources and capacity in countries of first arrival are stretched extremely thin. Recognizing this, however, does not mean we can forgo a gender-sensitive response that includes essential steps to identify and support migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers who are victims or at risk of violence.

§  Despite years of hard-won knowledge about the importance of gender-based violence awareness and services in humanitarian crises, there remains an astonishing lack of even basic services and support for survivors of violence in the refugee “crisis.” We have seen a failure to ensure regional and international standards with regards to safety and security (in housing, camps, etc.), screening for gender-based and sexual violence, and critical services for survivors.

§  We need to ensure the development and implementation of gender-sensitive processes for reception, registration and applications for protection for refugees and asylum-seekers, including screening for SV/GBV or risk thereof

§  Countries that have done an enormous amount to take in refugees have nevertheless failed to institute these measures.

§  Italy – has ratified the Convention

§  Greece – has signed but not ratified

§  And other CoE countries have failed to support these countries of first arrival in establishing procedures and services to meet these needs.

§  In an era of greater movement than ever, we need to prioritize the provision of services, support and protection for migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, both on arrival and later in their journeys, including through independent residency permits.

-          Online Abuse

§  I won’t go into detail on this topic, as it will be raised in more depth in other sessions. However, it is worth mentioning, as this is a new area where we are seeing extensive violence against women. Studies have shown that women are much more frequently subject to more severe forms of online abuse such as sexual harassment and stalking.

§  While much has been made about racist hate speech – whether in online, print, or television media or in public – there has been far less attention to sexist hate speech

§  While this is an area that was not well-recognized during the drafting of the Convention – and this is somewhat apparent – Article 17 on Participation of the Private Sector and the Media in prevention of violence, and articles 33, 34, and 40 on Psychological violence, Stalking, and Sexual Harassment are all relevant. We must push both public and private sector institutions to use these aspects of the Convention to guide them in relevant policy-making, and to hold them to account for online violence against women.