International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: The Istanbul Convention, Our Convention

The European Commission must act to prioritise the EU’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, argues Dr Sylwia Spurek.
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By Sylwia Spurek

Sylwia Spurek (PL, Greens/EFA) is a member of Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee

25 Nov 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on every area of our personal, social, economic and political life. In its shadow, a second pandemic has developed - that of gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and cyberviolence.

The statistics, most notably from NGOs, indicate that - in some countries - there has been a fivefold increase in the number of helpline calls, with police intervention in domestic violence up by a quarter. Around half of these calls linked to families with no previous cases of violence. 

“As a lawyer and women’s rights activist, I have been explaining for years why the Istanbul Convention is important, why its opponents are wrong, and how they often cynically manipulate opposition against it”

It is the role and duty of governments to ensure that the law fully protects potential victims and provides immediate assistance to those who have already experienced violence. Currently, the Istanbul Convention - adopted 10 years ago - remains the best measure in the European legal system for this purpose.

However, rather than strengthening the Convention and seeking its full implementation, for several years some Member States have questioned the legitimacy of its ratification or implementation and have even threatened to pull out of it.

.For example, in Poland, the government has campaigned for years to discredit the objectives of the Convention. Indeed, last year, the country’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, submitted a motion to the Constitutional Tribunal to declare some of the Convention’s provisions incompatible with the Polish Constitution. 

Back in 2019, when she was a European Commission President candidate, Ursula von der Leyen stated that she would advance proposals to add gender-based violence to the list of so-called euro crimes set out in Article 83(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. She also promised to deliver EU ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. 

More than two years have passed since that statement, and those promises have yet to be fulfilled. During that time, we have heard many assurances over solidarity and commitment and many more announcements and plans.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has clearly supported women and others experiencing gender-based violence. Since the beginning of its current mandate, the Parliament has adopted 50 resolutions calling for action on violence against women and gender-based violence, including issues concerning accession to Istanbul Convention.

“Ursula von der Leyen needs to defend the Istanbul Convention and promote educational and information initiatives aimed at holding off attacks and disinformation campaigns”

Later this month, on 25 November - International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence kicks off. This is an annual international campaign that runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. It was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and is used by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

The campaign is another opportunity to talk - in an evidence-based manner - on the Istanbul Convention. As a lawyer and women’s rights activist, I have been explaining for years why the Istanbul Convention is important, why its opponents are wrong, and how they often cynically manipulate opposition against it, making people believe in fantasies such as ‘gender ideology’.

Therefore, on the tenth anniversary of the Istanbul Convention, I have decided, for the first time in Poland, to publish in book form the full text of the Convention together with an Explanatory Report. Let us start reading more about the Istanbul Convention, let us start talking about it more, let us be proud of it. Then, let us defend it, because it is our Convention (Nasza Konwencja in Polish).

Ideally, the situation requires an immediate and decisive response from the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen needs to defend the Istanbul Convention and promote educational and information initiatives aimed at repelling attacks and disinformation campaigns. In addition, action to ensure EU ratification of the Convention must be prioritised.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, over the last two years of the current Commission, this has only been the subject of assurances and promises. Millions of women and others experiencing gender-based violence don’t have time for more empty words.

Read the most recent articles written by Sylwia Spurek - Gender-based cyberviolence: The new face of an old enemy

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