Seminar on “Men’s Active Participation in Combating Domestic Violence”

Madam Deputy Prime Minister
Madam Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations
Madam the Vice Chair of the Council of Europe Task Force to combat violence against women including domestic violence
Distinguished Member of the Parliamentary Assembly
Ladies and Gentlemen

Violence against women, including domestic violence is a human rights violation which concerns all of us. Women suffering from violence are not only victims of abuse, they are also victims of indifference and victims of neglect. One of the primary concerns of the Council of Europe, representing 46 member states and their 800 million citizens, is to safeguard and protect human rights. There can be no doubt that violence against women, including domestic violence undermines the core values on which the Council of Europe is based.

Let me give you a few figures on the prevalence of violence: a study published by the Council of Europe suggests that across our member states, one-fifth to one-quarter of all women have experienced physical violence at least once during their adult lives, and more than one-tenth have suffered from sexual violence involving the use of force. Figures for all forms of violence, including stalking, are as high as 45%. More significantly, for women – unlike men, who also encounter a great deal of physical violence - the majority of such violent acts are carried out by men in their immediate social environment, most often by partners and ex-partners. 12% to 15% of all women have been in a relationship of domestic abuse. Many more continue to suffer physical and sexual violence from former partners even after the separation.

Given these figures, it is clear that domestic violence is widespread and can happen to our colleagues, our friends and our family. The Council of Europe has worked for decades to prevent and combat violence against women by undertaking a series of initiatives to promote the protection of women against violence. One of the most important initiatives is Recommendation Rec (2002) 5 on the protection of women against violence which was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2002. This legal instrument was the first international instrument to propose a holistic strategy to prevent violence and protect victims. It covers all forms of gender-based violence and recommends specific measures from detailed legal and policy measures to services and assistance to women victims as well as specific action in the fields of education, training and media

However, despite many positive and significant achievements in policies and practices, violence against women in its various forms remains widespread at all levels of society, in all Council of Europe member states. This is why the Council of Europe is conducting this Campaign. The Heads of State and Government had decided during the 3rd Summit of the Council of Europe in Warsaw to set up a Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence and to conduct a Campaign on this topic in close co-operation with other European and national actors, including NGOs.

The Council of Europe Campaign was launched in Madrid last November. It raised expectations not only about what the Council of Europe will do during the Campaign, but also about actions and measures to be taken by member states.

One of the objectives of the Campaign is to raise awareness about the existence and the extent of domestic violence in our societies. It is also intended to encourage women to seek help by informing them of the possibilities which already exist today.

I want to give here one example of how important awareness raising is. This example actually concerns the European Court of Human Rights. Very few people know that the famous Airey case of 1979, which is a milestone judgment about access to justice and legal aid, was actually about a case of domestic violence. The background of the claim of Mrs. Airey to be entitled to divorcing her husband was that he subjected her to physical violence. Mr. Airey had even been convicted by the District Court of Cork City of assaulting her and….fined. While the Court addressed primarily the access to court issue, I am sure that, if the Court were to judge this case today, the domestic violence element would play a more predominant role in its considerations.

However, awareness raising is an important first step but it is not enough. Our Campaign, after all, is not only meant to change mentalities, it is meant to change the realities of the victims’ daily lives. Personally, I would like the Campaign to end with the launch of a new Council of Europe binding legal instrument – a Convention against Domestic Violence. Such a new Convention should be comprehensive in scope, providing for a complete set of policies to prevent violence, stop and punish the perpetrators, and help the victims. It should also be sufficiently detailed and specific in order to bring immediate relief to the victims. I envisage measures such as the ones allowing the victims to stay in their house rather than flee to escape from a violent spouse, new laws defining domestic violence - both physical and psychological – as a criminal offence, ex officio prosecution against the alleged offenders, and a holistic approach when it comes to dealing with cases of domestic violence from a criminal and civil point of view. This type of legislation may already exist in some member States, but not all of them.

We are here today to participate in the second of five seminars organised this year within the framework of the Campaign. The topic of this seminar, “Men’s Active Participation in Combating Domestic Violence” reflects one of the Campaign’s main messages.

In recent years, the Council of Europe has taken up the topic of men and violence within the family by organising several seminars looking at the multiple roles of men in the context of violence within the family. These seminars have examined the role of men as perpetrators of violence, as victims of family violence, as well as their role in both preventing violence within the family and protecting the victims of such violence.

There is much men can do. They can speak against violence and encourage other men to do the same.

Men can also take an active role in their professional environment. For example, Spain and Croatia among other countries have developed special programmes and training to educate professionals on violence against women.

Today too many women are met with disbelief and even mockery when they tell their story to policeman, social workers, or other public officials. This cannot be accepted: training programmes for all professionals who may end up dealing with women victims of domestic violence must be strengthened in all our member States so that women are met with the care and respect they are entitled to.

Men can also play an active role simply by acting as a role model for non-violent behaviour. In this respect men’s roles as fathers, caretakers and guardians are crucial. Evidence shows that boys who witness male violence towards the mother are more likely to become perpetrators themselves.

This seminar can serve as a forum for exchanging ideas and good practices on raising awareness among men on domestic violence and engaging men to prevent domestic violence. It can also help to identify those men or groups of men who could act as “agents of change” and promote positive roles which men can take in order to challenge prevailing gender stereotypes and discriminatory cultural norms. The role of men as perpetrators will also be addressed in this seminar during discussions on intervention programmes.

To fight domestic violence successfully, we must work together - women and men - and break the silence together. On behalf of the Council of Europe, I welcome you to this seminar and I hope you will return to your countries with many good ideas and initiatives which you can implement to engage men, together with women, to end violence against women in Europe.

Thank you very much for your attention.