Violence against women and domestic violence cannot be addressed without looking at gender equality issues. Women may be subjected to violence because of their gender. Certain types of violence, in particular domestic violence, affect women disproportionately.
Consequently, the convention frames the eradication of violence against women and domestic violence in a context of achieving de jure and de facto equality. Its Preamble recognises the structural nature of such violence, which is both a cause and a consequence of unequal power relations between women and men and which limits the full advancement of women. To overcome inequality, the convention requires states to implement gender equality policies and to empower women. It is not about treating women as helpless victims but about making sure they can rebuild their lives.
While the focus of the convention is on all forms of violence against women, which includes domestic violence committed against women, the convention also recognises that there are other victims of domestic violence, such as boys and men. This may include gay men, transgender men or men that do not conform to what society considers to constitute appropriate behaviour. States can choose whether or not to apply the convention to these victims of domestic violence. Applying a gender perspective to these groups of victims is equally important.
Many forms of discrimination, harmful practices and gender stereotypes are the starting point for violent behaviour. For this reason, the convention specifically tackles gender stereotypes in the areas of awareness-raising, education, the media and the training of professionals. It also creates the obligation to ensure that both protective and support measures as well as investigations and judicial proceedings be based on a gendered understanding of violence. The concept of gender is thus firmly embedded in the convention.
Migrant women, with or without documents, and women asylum-seekers are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. Although their reasons for leaving their country vary, as does their legal status, both groups are at increased risk of violence and face similar difficulties in overcoming it. For this reason, the convention prohibits discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status when it comes to implementing its provisions. It also requires that measures be taken to prevent such violence and support victims while taking into account the needs of vulnerable persons.
Moreover, the convention devotes an entire chapter to women migrants and asylum-seekers facing gender-based violence. It contains a number of obligations that aim at generating a gender-sensitive understanding of violence against migrant women and women asylum-seekers. For example, it introduces the possibility of granting migrant women, who are victims of domestic violence and whose residence status depends on that of their spouse or partner, with their own residence permit when the relationship ends. This allows a victim of domestic violence to leave the relationship without loosing her residence status. It also creates, for instance, the obligation to allow migrant victims who left and then did not return to the country they migrated to because they were forced into marriage in another country to regain their residence status.
Furthermore, the chapter includes provisions establishing the obligation to recognise gender-based violence against women as a form of persecution within the meaning of the 1951 Refugee Convention and contains the obligation to ensure that a gender-sensitive interpretation be given when establishing refugee status.
It is important to note that women seeking asylum have specific protection concerns and worries that are different to those of men. In particular, women may be fleeing gender-based violence but may be unable or unwilling to disclose relevant information during a refugee determination process that does not respect cultural sensitivities. Furthermore, unaccompanied women are often exposed to sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and are unable to protect themselves. In order to address the particular issues linked to women asylum-seekers, the convention establishes the obligation to introduce gender-sensitive procedures, guidelines and support services in the asylum process. Introducing a gender perspective into procedures allows for differences between women and men to be taken into account.
Another provision that is included in the convention reiterates the obligation to respect a well established principle of asylum and of international refugee protection, which is the principle of non-refoulement. The convention establishes the obligation to ensure that victims of violence against women, who are in need of protection, regardless of their status or residence, are not returned to any country where their life would be at risk or where they may be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In many member states, the overwhelming majority of services for victims of domestic violence, but also services for victims of sexual violence, stalking, forced marriage and others, are run by non-governmental or civil society organisations. These organisations have a long-standing tradition of providing shelter, legal advice, medical and psychological counselling. They also run hotlines and other essential services. However, many such services experience funding insecurity and operate in small geographic areas only. In most countries, the overall number of available services does not match the demand of victims. Often, this is because the provision of services is not considered a necessity, but a voluntary activity of NGOs.
For this reason, the convention recognises the work of NGOs and seeks to ensure greater political and financial support for their work. It includes provisions that oblige parties to encourage and support their work by tapping into their expertise, involving them as partners in multi-agency co-operation and supporting their awareness-raising efforts. This can help to enhance results of measures taken to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. Supporting NGOs and civil society organisations means enabling them to carry out their work in the best possible way, for example by setting up co-operative structures between law enforcement agencies and shelters, advertising NGO hotlines and services in government information material but also ensuring relevant public and political support. The convention also includes the obligation for parties to allocate appropriate financial and human resources for activities carried out by non-governmental organisations and civil society.
Finally, NGOs will also play a role in the monitoring of the implementation of the convention. The group of experts in charge of the monitoring process may receive information from NGOs on a party‘s implementation of the convention which would complement the information provided by the party itself.
Exposure to physical, sexual or psychological violence and abuse has a severe impact on children. It breeds fear, causes trauma and adversely affects their development. Violence against women and domestic violence in its direct or indirect form can have harmful consequences for their health and lives. In the case of domestic violence it is acknowledged that children do not need to be directly affected by the violence to be considered victims as witnessing domestic violence is just as traumatising.
The convention covers various forms of violence against women and domestic violence. Victims of such violence are typically girls and women of all ages. Boys and men, however, may also fall victim of certain types of violence that fall within the scope of the convention, in particular domestic violence and forced marriage. For this reason, states are encouraged to extend the application of the measures set out in the convention to boys and men.
Furthermore, there are several provisions that deal explicitly with children. They require states to do the following:
1) In the area of prevention:
1. conduct or promote awareness-raising campaigns on the different manifestations of violence against women and domestic violence and their consequences on children.
2. develop and promote, in co-operation with the private sector, skills among children, parents and educators concerning how to deal with violent and harmful content in the communications environment.
3. ensure that preventive measures address the specific needs of child victims.
2) In the area of protection and support:
1. provide specialist support services to women victims of gender-based violence and their children.
2. set up shelters that provide safe accommodation for women and their children.
3. ensure that the rights and needs of child witnesses are taken into account when providing protection and support services to victims.
4. ensure that significant incidents of violence against women and domestic violence are taken into account when determining custody and visitation rights.
3) In the area of prosecution:
1. criminalise the act of intentionally forcing a child to enter into a marriage, or that of luring the child to another country in order to force her or him to enter into a marriage.
2. ensure that criminal legislation covers the incitement of a child to commit crimes in the name of “honour”.
3. ensure that child victims and child witnesses are afforded special protection measures at all stages of investigations and judicial proceedings.
The Council of Europe works extensively on children’s rights and on the protection of children from violence. For more information, please visit http://www.coe.int/children.