Meeting of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly. Hearing on the situation of women in emerging democracies following the Arab revolutions

Paris , 

Dear Ms Saïdi,
Dear Ms Tamzali,
Dear Parliamentarians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Too many women across the world suffer from violence and are obliged to live in fear just because they are women.

The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence makes it an obligation of the state to fully address gender-based violence in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators.

The 10th ratification of the Convention in April this year took our combat one important step forward.  It triggered the entry into force of the Convention on 1 August and the setting-up of its monitoring mechanism (the Committee of the Parties and GREVIO) later this year.

This is very good news indeed but we must keep on advancing until all member States of our Organisation ratify and implement the measures laid down in the convention.

The Istanbul Convention is also open for non-member States to join and one day soon
I hope to see also countries from our South Mediterranean Neighbourhood as parties to the Convention.

We have certainly seen positive developments in the area of violence against women and gender equality in Morocco and Tunisia.

Tunisia is preparing a law on violence against women, as well as an Action Plan on gender issues and violence against women.

In Morocco, 2013 was named “Year against violence against women”, and concrete steps were taken to improve the situation. The Criminal Code (Article 475) and the Family Law were brought in line with international and Council of Europe standards, measures to prevent violence against women were included in the government’s gender equality programme “IKRAM”, and a draft law on violence against women was prepared.

A very positive sign in both countries is the strong mobilisation of civil society on questions related to gender equality.

Both with Morocco and Tunisia, and also with Jordan, violence against women and gender equality are priority areas of co-operation for the Council of Europe for 2012-2014. We are confident that these areas will remain priorities also in the
co-operation documents for 2015-2017, which are currently under preparation.

In its co-operation with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan, the Council of Europe has taken a step-by-step approach, which has helped us build close working relationships with national and international actors and improved our understanding of the local context, needs and priorities.

Activities have ranged from awareness-raising to capacity building and technical assistance.

Moroccan, Tunisian and Jordanian officials participate as observers in the Council of Europe Gender Equality Commission and attend some of its most important activities, such as last year’s conference on Media and the Image of Women and the hearing on Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence.

The right to justice is an important component of gender equality. Several persistent barriers limit women’s opportunities in this area, including fear, shame, lack of awareness of procedures and assistance, economic dependence, concern for children, impact of austerity measures, lack of trust in the justice system, lengthy criminal proceedings, high attrition, corruption and low conviction rates. The Council of Europe works with member States to address such obstacles and facilitate women’s access to the justice system.

We also jointly organised a training seminar on gender mainstreaming in Hamammet in November 2013 and provided legal expertise on the draft law establishing the authority for equality and the fight against all forms of discrimination in Morocco and the Action Plan on gender issues and violence against women in Tunisia.

The Istanbul Convention was presented at conferences in Tunisia, Rabat and Amman to familiarise decision-makers and practitioners with its standards and provisions, and Morocco has announced its intention to become the first Neighbourhood Country to ratify the Convention.

Morocco and Tunisia have also requested Council of Europe expertise and experience to help establish and consolidate their normative and institutional framework on violence against women. The head of the Council of Europe office in Tunis is a member of the steering committee for the preparation of the law on violence against women and has helped provide comments on the National Strategy. The Council of Europe has also been requested to provide its opinion on the draft law on violence against women in Morocco.

By putting our expertise and experience at the disposal of the authorities, we have been able to promote the implementation of Council of Europe principles and standards. Another good example is the National Committee on Human Rights in Morocco, which in its last report on violence against women referred to the Istanbul Convention as the model for its action in this field.

Trafficking in human beings is also a major concern in the region, but is not fully recognised as such by the authorities.

For instance, there is the issue of the “petites bonnes” who are not considered as victims of trafficking or exploitation. These girls are extremely vulnerable to several forms of abuse.

There is a clearly a need to strengthen the legal and institutional framework and offer training to the authorities and professionals. Morocco and Tunisia are currently in the process of drafting laws on combating trafficking in human beings, and an amendment to the existing law on child labour to redefine the conditions of recruitment and employment of domestic workers is underway in Morocco.

Other international organisations and donors, in particular UN Women, the United Nations Population Fund, the European Union and the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo are active in the fields of violence against women, gender equality and trafficking in the region. We try to work closely with all of them and underline the need for co-ordination and synergies by building on the added value and standards of the Council of Europe, notably the Istanbul Convention.

Our future co-operation with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan will build on the results achieved and systematic co-operation to support and consolidate changes in attitudes and behaviour towards violence against women gender equality. Policy and legislative changes are needed to ensure sustainability and ownership in the long term.

Concretely, we will:

  • broaden the range and scope of awareness-raising activities through targeted  action in terms of content and audiences (law enforcements professionals, service providers, parliamentarians);
  • promote our standards and disseminate best practices;
  • develop capacity-building and technical assistance activities to strengthen the general and specific knowledge on women’s rights;
  • Provide ad-hoc expertise upon request.

Dear friends,

I am convinced about the need for the Council of Europe to be present in our Neighbourhood and the effectiveness of our action.

I look forward to the exchanges during this hearing, which I am confident will bring inspiration and motivation for our ultimate goal – gender equality and the protection of women from violence!

Thank you for your attention.