Because DV is a complex problem, an effective strategy for combating it must address the problem through a multi-level approach...
While recommendations to stop violence against women have been made, we must ensure they are implemented, asserts the WAVE Network's Barbara Stelmaszek...
Domestic violence (DV) against women is still an immense problem in the 21st
Century. For women experiencing violence, the physical and mental consequences can be severe and long-lasting, and in some cases, women may lose their lives at the hands of their abuser. Numerous research and administrative data point to the majority of violence being committed by male intimate partners. DV is gendered, and the victims are overwhelmingly women. Children who witness violence committed against their mothers not only suffer similar consequences, but may also experience violence directly, or become hostages, when the partner threatens to hurt the children as means of exerting further violence against the mother.1
DV takes many forms: physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, verbal and economic. At the same time, the problem remains hidden or is considered a private issue. This results in governments putting forth limited efforts to combat DV or victims remaining in violent situations, unable to reach out for help. Because DV is a complex problem, an effective strategy for combating it must address the problem through a multi-level approach, mainly through involvement of relevant actors and enactment of a broad range of processes.
The Istanbul Convention
The Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention), adopted in April 2011, is a recently adopted instrument that provides a ‘detailed, comprehensive and legally binding framework for state measures to eliminate violence against women’.2-3
The convention covers areas like integrated policies and data collection; prevention; protection and support; substantive law; investigation, prosecution, procedural law and protective measures; migration and asylum; and international cooperation.4
It has been opened for signatures since May 2011 and, as of 14th
February 2013, 27 European countries have signed the convention and three have ratified it; first Turkey, followed by Albania and Portugal.5
The convention will enter into force once it has been ratified by 10 countries.
Despite the convention being an inter-governmental measure, the document was adopted after years of lobbying by women’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the development of such a convention, and involved direct participation of NGOs during the drafting process. Since its adoptions, NGOs have been active in promoting the convention and urging governments to sign and ratify. The women’s movement has always been at the forefront, fighting to bring awareness to the issue of DV and violence against women by pressuring governments to take responsibility to prevent violence, and to protect the countless women and children who suffer from violence daily in their homes. In the last decades, the driving force contributing to positive policy change has been ‘the autonomous mobilisation of feminists in domestic and transnational contexts’.6
WAVE has been active in promoting the convention, with input on drafting the convention, as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO) and by utilising its network of over 100 women’s organisations in 46 European countries to lobby states to sign and ratify the convention. The role of WAVE has been especially to ensure that the gender dimension of violence is translated into the language of the convention and that specific obligations for specialised service provision are included.
Overview of representative studies
WAVE is observing the implementation of the convention in the 46 European countries, more specifically on data collection and services for women survivors of DV. The annual WAVE Country Report 2012 (published in March 2013) addresses the current level of implementation of Articles 11, and 22-25. Article 11 obligates the states to support research on violence against women and to collect data on incidences and conviction rates,7
while Article 22 of the convention calls for states to ‘provide or arrange for specialist women’s support services to all women victims of violence and their children’.8
The research observes the implementation of the convention, with a detailed overview of representative studies of violence against women and/or DV, availability, content and methods for collecting of national police and court data, as well as the mapping of women-specific national helplines, shelters and centres for survivors of sexual violence. This also details the scope of DV and role of law enforcement and justice system in preventing violence and holding perpetrators accountable, as well as making visible the availability of safe places for women to seek protection.
Preliminary findings indicate that women in Europe experience high rates of various forms of violence. Despite this, where police statistics are available, there are significant gaps between the rates of reported violence versus estimated rates of prevalence. There may be numerous reasons for this, including administrative deficiencies on the part of police departments, but it may also be caused by women’s negative experiences with, or general lack of trust in, the police.9
Court statistics are often lacking or do not present information that is useful, missing gender and age of, and relationship between, victim and perpetrator. Where statistics are available, conviction rates are shown to be significantly low10
or result in minor penalties.11
This may point to numerous problems in the judicial system, such as difficulties prosecuting the crime or viewing DV as a less serious offence than other crimes.12
Few of the 46 countries meet the Council of Europe Recommendations13
on service provisions, especially in terms of the recommended women’s shelter places.14
'Basic human rights'
The data paints a picture of women and children living in a world where they are highly likely to experience some form of DV in their lifetime, face difficulties when reaching out to government institutions, and have no safe alternatives for accommodation to escape the violence. All the while, the perpetrators are barely held accountable, and society turns a blind eye to a problem it considers to be private to begin with. As a result, the convention must be recognised as a progressive measure that when signed, ratified, taken seriously by the states and implemented beyond its minimum standards, can be effective and successful in ensuring that states meet their obligations to protect women’s most basic human rights.
Haaland, Thomas. (2005). Couple Violence – different perspectives: Results from the first national survey in Norway. Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, p.18
2 The Istanbul Convention was adopted in April 2011 by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
3 Strengthening Health System Responses to Gender-based Violence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: A Programmatic Package for Health Professionals, Service Providers and Policy-Makers, www.respondgb.veeca.org/training-programme-for-health-care-providers/facts-on.gbv/forms-of-gbv/24#Anker2
5 Council of Europe Treaty Office. Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, www.conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/ChercheSig.asp?NT=210& CM=&DF;=&CL;=ENG
6 Htun, Mala and Laurel Weldon S, (August 2012), The Civil Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975-2005. In: American Political Science Review. Vol. 106. No. 3. p. 548
7 Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence Fagainst women and domestic violence (12th April 2011), Article 11
8 Ibid, Article 22
9 Autonomous Women’s Center Belgrade (17th November 2011), Conference: Monitoring the Effects of Policies and Measures on Combating Violence against Women, www.womenngo.org.rs/english/index.php?option =com_content&task;=view&id;=150
10 Johnson Holly (28th February 2008), Presentation: Getting the Facts to Make the Change: The International Violence against Women Survey. University of Ottawa
11 Voice of Difference: Group for Promotion of Women’s Political Rights et al.
March 2007), Alternative Report to the CEDAW Committee. p. 29
12 SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence Niksic (August 2012). Data provided in WAVE Country Report 2012 Questionnaire
13 Council of Europe Taskforce to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence (27th May 2008), Final Activity Report: Proposals for future action of the Council of Europe and its member states to prevent and combat violence against women
14 See Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence Explanatory Report (7th April 2011), Articles 23-25: The guidelines for specialist service provision for survivors of DV include the Recommendations of the Council of Europe Taskforce to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, also known as Council of Europe Recommendations
Network and Project Coordinator
[This article was originally published on 9th
April 2013 as part of Science Omega Review Europe