When the government of your country has accepted this convention, they will have to take a comprehensive set of measures to tackle all forms of violence against women and domestic violence head on. Every single measure that the convention contains is meant to help victims or to prevent violence in the first place. For example, your government will have to:
• set up a national helpline to make sure that you get the assistance or information you need;
• make sure that the police treats you with respect and adequately when you report something as traumatising as having been beaten up by your partner, sexually assaulted at a club or sexually harassed at work by your boss – and that they carry out a proper investigation into your allegations;
• grant the police the power to immediately expel your violent (ex-) partner, (ex-) husband or (ex-) boyfriend from the house so that you are safe;
The convention creates a number of criminal offences, for example stalking, sexual harassment and psychological violence. This means that you no longer have to endure this type of behaviour at home or at work or need to feel ashamed about it. Instead, you can go to the police and report this as a crime. Putting a name to it and knowing it is a crime in your country will help you to have it stopped.
Every day in Europe, women are stalked, harassed, raped, mutilated, forced by their family to enter into a marriage, sterilised against their will or psychologically and physically abused in the “safety” of their own homes. The examples of violence against women are endless, its victims countless. Many women are too afraid or ashamed to seek help, often paying for their silence with their lives. Those that do speak out are not always heard. Domestic violence is another form of violence that is far too common and that affects not only women, but also men, children and the elderly.
The human suffering such violence causes is enormous. While most victims will be left with physical and psychological scars haunting them for the rest of their lives, others will in addition continue to live a life of fear and persecution.
On top of this, such violence has severe financial costs for national economies, by draining the resources from social services and the justice system. To give an example, violence against women costs the Danish society about 70 million euros per year, while the United Kingdom reports a loss of more than £37bn. Protecting women and combating this problem not only saves lives, but also comes at a lesser financial cost to our societies.
Putting an end to this violence must be an important policy concern for any government that is committed to ensuring the human rights of all. Over the past 20-30 years many important steps have been taken in a number of Council of Europe member states, but existing legislation is often insufficiently enforced, services for victims remain scarce or inadequately funded and sexist attitudes prevail. Moreover, the legislation and support that are available vary greatly from one country to the next, creating huge disparities in protection. Developing a convention that contains a set of legally binding standards to raise standards of protection and support is an important step towards a comprehensive and harmonised response to violence against women and domestic violence across Europe.
The convention applies to women more than it applies to men because it covers forms of violence that only women experience (forced abortion, female genital mutilation) or that women experience much more often than men (sexual violence and rape, stalking, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced marriage, forced sterilisation). These forms of violence are a result of unequal power relations between men and women. They are a consequence of discrimination against women and are therefore important to tackle in order to achieve real gender equality.
Some forms of violence covered by the convention such as forced marriage and domestic violence are also experienced by men, although less often in numbers and often in less severe forms. The convention recognises this and encourages parties to the convention to apply its provisions to all victims of domestic violence, including men, children and the elderly.
Domestic violence means physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that takes place within the family, within the domestic unit, or between former or current spouses or partners. The perpetrator does not have to live or have lived with the victim to make it domestic violence. This is important because it means that the protection offered by the convention extends to a victim who has separated from a violent partner and lives in his or her own place but who is still under threat from the partner. It also includes violence that occurs between boyfriend and girlfriend.
By accepting the convention, governments are obliged to change their laws, introduce practical measures and allocate resources to create a zero tolerance zone for violence against women and domestic violence. Preventing and combating such violence is no longer a matter of goodwill but a legally binding obligation. For the first time in history, the convention makes it clear that violence against women and domestic violence can no longer be considered as a private matter but that states have an obligation to prevent violence, protect victims and punish the perpetrators. This will help victims all over Europe.
Once a country ratifies the convention, it becomes a party to the convention (or state party). This means that the state commits itself to ensure that all measures contained in the convention are duly implemented.
To give concrete examples, a party to the convention will have to take the following measures:
Put in place policies that are necessary to change attitudes, gender roles and stereotypes that make violence against women acceptable; train professionals working with victims; raise awareness of the different forms of violence and their traumatising nature; co-operate with NGOs, the media and the private sector to reach out to the public.
ensure that the needs and safety of victims are placed at the heart of all measures; set up specialised support services that provide medical assistance as well as psychological and legal counselling to victims and their children; set-up shelters in sufficient numbers and introduce free of charge round-the-clock telephone helplines.
ensure that all forms of violence against women and domestic violence are criminalised and appropriately punished; ensure that excuses on the grounds of culture, custom, religion or so-called “honour” are unacceptable for any act of violence; ensure that victims have access to special protection measures during investigation and judicial proceedings; ensure that law enforcement agencies respond immediately to calls for assistance and manage dangerous situations adequately.
adopt comprehensive and co-ordinated policies that place the rights of victims at the centre of all measures; Involve all relevant actors (government agencies, national, regional and local authorities, civil society organisations and many more) because there is not a single agency that can take on violence against women and domestic violence on its own.
Report to the body responsible for monitoring the convention on the measures taken to implement the convention.
The Convention will enter into force once 10 countries have ratified it. 8 out of the 10 ratifications have to come from Council of Europe member states.
This task will be carried out by a group of independent experts (GREVIO) and the Committee of the Parties representing the governments that have become party to the convention. On the basis of reports and country visits, the experts will monitor compliance with the convention and, where necessary, help governments to improve its implementation in a constructive way. The Committee of the Parties can issue recommendations to the parties under review. If need be, it can also set a date by which the party in question will have to provide information on the action it has taken to comply with the recommendation.
The objective of the convention is not to regulate in any way family life and/or family structures. The convention requires governments to ensure the safety of victims who find themselves in dangerous situations at home or are threatened by family members or partners. Neither does it contain a definition of “family”, nor does it promote a particular type of family setting. Because its aim is to address violence against women and domestic violence wherever it occurs, it does not limit its application to legally married partners but extends it to all partners, married or not, whether these are of the same or the opposite sex. The aim is to avoid excluding certain groups of victims on the basis of their marital status or sexual orientation. The convention does however seek to change mentalities to move away from gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes. Governments will need to tackle social and cultural patterns of behaviour that perpetuate and reinforce violence against women. They will need to do this by promoting a lifestyle of non-violent behaviour, respect for equality between women and men and awareness of harmful gender stereotype and traditional practices. It is only by making people understand how their everyday behaviour factors in violence against women that change can happen.