It's time for all EU member states to ratify Istanbul convention

It’s time for all member states to ratify the Istanbul convention, so that violence against women can be tackled at EU level, writes Anna Maria Corazza Bildt.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Anna Maria Corazza Bildt

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt is an Italian-Swedish former Member of the European Parliament for the EPP Group

11 Oct 2017

The report on the EU accession to the Istanbul convention on violence against women is a call to action to the member states to ensure that all women in Europe are free from violence and feel safe. Too many women are still abused, raped and killed, both at home and in public places. Now, even online, women are increasingly harassed with new crimes like revenge pornography and extortion.

Violence against women is too often tolerated, even trivialised, seen as a private issue. The Council of Europe’s Istanbul convention is the first and only international binding treaty that criminalises gender-based violence and defines it as violence done to a woman “just because she is a woman”. We are talking about domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, female genital mutilation, child marriage and honour violence.

We should strengthen our action on three fronts. First of all, combatting impunity with more convictions and stricter sanctions. Law enforcement authorities need to be given adequate resources.


We need to break the vicious circle of fear, shame and silence and support women in reporting crimes, especially in cases of domestic violence.

We also need to work on prevention, through combatting gender stereotypes and sexism. It is about raising awareness and building a culture of respect for women and girls.

Promoting equality between women and men is key to prevention and should involve all parts of society, most importantly also men and boys.

We must also work to protect victims, with both health and psychological care, and provide training to police and social workers and support help lines and shelters. Here, civil society plays a key role which should be better recognised, taking women by the hand to recover their dignity and life. We must shift the guilt from the victims to the perpetrators.

It’s a shame that only 15 EU member states have ratified the convention and I call on all the others to do it without delay. 

The Commission must engage in dialogue, together with the Council of Europe, to address member states’ reservations and misunderstandings. Ratifying the convention will not be intrusive. Law enforcement is and remains a national competence.

We already have tools at EU level to combat serious crime, such as the directives on trafficking, on child sexual abuse, on protection of victims and recently even the EU directive to combat terrorism.

It is time for violence against women to be included in the list of crimes that we can address at EU level. Parliament’s report calls on the Commission to propose a legislative act to prevent and combat violence against women.

The EU finally ratified the Istanbul convention in June. This will give us a stronger and comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, combat impunity and protect victims. It means that any future EU policies and legislation will have to be in line with the convention. 

The Commission and Parliament will be able to participate actively in monitoring the implementation of the convention. It will also make the EU stronger as a global actor in defending women’s rights worldwide.

Throughout the negotiations for the EU accession to the convention, we worked closely with the Commission and the Council of Europe to clarify the definition of “gender based violence”. 

It clearly is a misunderstanding of the concept of “gender” that prevents some member states from ratifying. We genuinely reached out to listen and clarify the aim of our work. The Istanbul convention is not against Christian values and traditions. There is no hidden agenda.

We cannot allow violence against women to be exploited by misleading extreme right ideology and false interpretation of religion. In Putin and Trump times, Europe should take the lead in standing up for women’s rights and against all forms of sexism.

In Russia, domestic violence has been decriminalised and in the US the global gag rule was reinstated.

Women’s rights have become the frontline of populism. Paradoxically, those blaming migrants for oppressing women are the ones spreading sexist rhetoric.

Of course, people coming to Europe should respect our laws and women’s rights. Migrants have both rights and duties. Respect for women should be the social norm for everyone. We cannot allow parallel communities where the oppression of women is tolerated. 

However, I refuse the populist rhetoric stigmatising migrants. Men’s violence against women has always existed in Europe, it was not imported through migration. Women and girls fleeing to Europe are often victims of sexual trafficking and modern slavery.

Parliament’s report and the EU signing of the convention is a significant step forward, but it is not enough. We must continue to join forces and put pressure on the member states to enforce the convention. It is about changing mentalities and empowering women and girls. Women’s rights are human rights. The time has come to turn words into action. There must be zero tolerance to violence against women and girls.


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