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Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention)

The Convention in brief

Prevention - Protection - Prosecution - Monitoring


The Convention has a strong focus on prevention. What does this mean for state parties?

In simple terms, preventing violence against women and domestic violence can save lives and reduce human suffering. Governments that agree to be bound by the Convention will have to do the following:

  1. train professionals in close contact with victims;
  2. regularly run awareness-raising campaigns;
  3. take steps to include issues such as gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships in teaching material;
  4. set up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders;
  5. work closely with NGOs;
  6. involve the media and the private sector in eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect.

Preventing violence against women and domestic violence should not be left to the state alone. In fact, the Convention calls on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to help reach its goal of creating a Europe free from all forms of violence against women and domestic violence. Violence against women is pervasive because misogynistic attitudes towards women persist. Each and every one of us can help challenge gender stereotypes, harmful traditional practices and discrimination against women. It is only by achieving real gender equality that violence against women can be prevented.


How does the Convention improve the protection of victims?

When preventive measures have failed and violence incidents have happened, it is important to provide victims and witnesses with protection and support. This means police intervention and protection as well as specialised support services such as shelters, telephone hotlines etc. It also means making sure that general social services understand the realities and concerns of victims of domestic violence and violence against women and support them accordingly in their quest to rebuild/resume their lives.

Some examples of measures set forth in the Convention include:

Granting the police the power to remove a perpetrator of domestic violence from his or her home: In situations of immediate danger, the police need to be able to guarantee the safety of the victim. In many instances this may mean ordering the perpetrator for a specified period of time to leave the family home and to stay away from the victim.

Ensuring access to adequate information: After experiencing violence, victims are usually traumatised and need easy access to clear and concise information on available services, in a language they understand.

Setting up easily accessible shelters in sufficient numbers and in an adequate geographical distribution: Victims come from a wide range of social realities. For instance, women from rural areas or disabled women need to have access to shelters as much as women from big cities.

Making available state-wide 24/7 telephone helplines free of charge: Specialised helplines for victims of violence against women and domestic violence can direct the victims to the services they need. They are essential in offering immediate expert advice and pointing victims towards safety.

Setting-up easily accessible rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres: These centres provide immediate medical counseling, trauma care and forensic services and are extremely rare across Europe. It is important to make these services more widely available.

It should be borne in mind that it is not enough to set up protection structures and support services for victims. It is equally important to make sure victims are informed of their rights and know where and how to get help.


How does the Convention ensure the prosecution of perpetrators?

The convention defines and criminalises the various forms of violence against women as well as domestic violence. This is one of the many achievements of the convention. To give effect to the convention, state parties will have to introduce a number of new offenses where they do not exist. These may include: psychological and physical violence, sexual violence and rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. In addition, state parties will need to ensure that culture, tradition or so-called “honour” are not regarded as a justification for any of the above-listed courses of conduct.

Once these new offenses have found their way into the national legal systems, there is no reason not to prosecute offenders. On the contrary, state parties will have to take a range of measures to ensure the effective investigation of any allegation of violence against women and domestic violence. This means that the law enforcement agencies will have to respond to calls for help, collect evidence and assess the risk of further violence to adequately protect the victim.

Furthermore, state parties will have to carry out judicial proceedings in a manner that respects the rights of victims at all stages of the proceedings and that avoid secondary victimisation.

Integrated policies

What are integrated policies?

The convention is based on the premise that no single agency or institution can deal with violence against women and domestic violence alone. An effective response to such violence requires concerted action by many different actors. The convention therefore asks state parties to implement comprehensive and co-ordinated policies involving government agencies, NGOs as well as national, regional and local parliaments and authorities. The aim is that policies to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence are carried out at all levels of government and by all relevant agencies and institutions. This can, for example, be done by drawing up a national plan of action that assigns each agency a particular role to take on or task to fulfil.

The experience from countries where this is already being done shows that results are improved when law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, NGOs, child protection agencies and other relevant partners join forces on a particular case.

In addition to addressing governments and non-governmental organisations, national parliaments and local authorities, the convention sends a clear message to society as a whole. Every man, every woman, every boy and girl, every parent, every boy/girl-friend must learn that violence - any kind of violence - is not the right way to solve difficulties and live a peaceful life. Everybody must understand that now and in the future violence against women and domestic is no longer tolerated.


Who will make sure that state parties are living up to their obligations?

The Convention sets up a monitoring mechanism to assess how well its provisions are put into practice. This monitoring mechanism consists of two pillars : the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), an indipendent expert body, and the Committee of Parties, a political body composed of official representatives of the State Parties to the Convention.

Using a report-based procedure, the GREVIO will assess the different measures a state party has taken to give meaning to the convention. In addition to reports received from the state party under scrutiny, it may draw on information from NGOs. National parliaments are also invited to participate in the monitoring. Should the information received be insufficient or should a particular issue require immediate attention, the GREVIO may travel to the country in question for an inquiry.

On the basis of the information at its disposal, the GREVIO may adopt reports and conclusions aimed at helping the state party to better implement the convention. It may also adopt general recommendations addressed to all state parties.

The tasks of the Committee of the Parties will include, among others, electing the members of the GREVIO and issuing recommendations to state parties concerning the measures to be taken in order to implement the conclusions of the GREVIO.