Parliamentary Seminar on Violence against women: Towards ratification of the Council of Europe Convention

Rome , 

Speech by the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

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Violence against women is a violation of human rights. It is also a brutal, sometimes deadly reflection of the inequality that persists between women and men.

Any woman can become a victim of gender-based violence. Hard facts show that at least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. It is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of country, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion.

Women suffering from violence are not only victims of abuse; they are also victims of silence, victims of indifference and victims of neglect. Those who survive are left with physical and psychological scars which plague them for the rest of their lives.

This abominable violence not only affects the women that are ill-treated. Also their family members, friends, colleagues and, ultimately, our societies as a whole suffer. Children who are exposed to domestic violence are taught that violence is a normal way of life and will be marked for life. They are more inclined to mental and social problems and frequently become the next generation of victims and abusers.

Let us make clear that we do not accept this human rights violation affecting half of the world's population. Let us spell out in an unambiguous way that there is no acceptable excuse for this fundamental threat to women and our societies as a whole. Let us all agree to demand zero tolerance for violence against women.

The adoption in Istanbul of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was a serious response to this challenge. With it, the international community made a definitive step towards the effective protection of women's right to live safe from violence and safe from fear.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe contributed actively to the drafting of the Istanbul Convention, and its support for this seminar is yet another expression of our Assembly's firm political stance against all forms of violence against women.

The Assembly recently launched a Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention. I warmly recommend to you this a useful tool to promote the Convention at national level and speed up its entry into force.

I refer to this Handbook for details about the Convention's measures. Let me just underline a few of its main features:

FIRST: Governments which ratify the treaty will have to criminalise and prosecute acts of violence that all too often go unpunished: rape, physical and psychological violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, forced abortion and forced sterilisation, honour crimes.

SECOND: Excuses on the grounds of culture, custom, religion or
so-called "honour" will no longer be acceptable. Introducing specific criminal offences makes it clear that suffering any of these is not a private problem but a police matter.

THIRD: The State has the obligation to provide services for victims of violence. These include shelters, around-the-clock helplines, as well as medical and legal counselling. And these services need to be available to all women, in the countryside and in big cities, and with no strings attached.

FOURTH: Governments have to invest in extensive training for the police, the prosecution services and the judiciary to make sure they treat women victims with respect for their dignity and to avoid secondary victimisation.

FIFTH:  The Convention contains a range of provisions about prevention, protection, provision of services and prosecution to ensure the rights of children that are victims of, or have witnessed violence, are promoted and protected.

SIXTH: The Convention will make our societies a safer and better place for migrant women, women asylum-seekers and women refugees. Its text prohibits discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status when it comes to implementing its provisions.

SEVENTH: The Convention ensures better recognition of the role of, and more support for non-governmental organisations and the civil society. Parties to the convention have the obligation to allocate appropriate financial and human resources for activities carried out by civil society.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, the Convention foresees a monitoring mechanism that will help us to identify shortcomings in its implementation and to provide guidance in order to address the difficulties.

I am very pleased to be able to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by attending this seminar on the ground-breaking Council of Europe Convention. It also gives me an occasion to praise the work of the Italian Parliament in putting the issue of Italy's signature of the Istanbul Convention on the agenda. Your passing of a resolution in June asking the Government of Italy to speed up the process of signature was exemplary.

I am equally pleased by the almost immediate reaction by the Government when, last month, Minister Fornero who is here by my side today signed the Convention in my office in Strasbourg. My warmest gratitude to her for her invaluable efforts.

To date, the Istanbul Convention has been signed by 23 member states. Turkey is the only member state to have ratified it, and nine more ratifications are needed for the Convention to enter into force.

It is my hope that you will keep up your good work and that Italy will begin preparations for ratification straight away. This should be possible since many of the measures required by the Convention are already in place in Italy, including the criminalisation of stalking – a criminal offence that rarely exists on the penal codes of our member states.

But I do not mean to say that the situation in Italy is already perfect and that there is nothing more to do. Also here will the effective implementation of the Convention's measures have a real and tangible effect.

In the report following her visit to Italy in January this year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Ms Rachida Manjoo, pointed out that although "the legal framework largely provides for sufficient protection from violence against women, (…) it is characterised by fragmentation, inadequate punishment of perpetrators and lack of effective redress for women victims of violence."

I am confident that Italy's preparations for ratification of the Istanbul Convention will address all these issues. Not only the women of Italy but the whole country will all benefit greatly from it.

Thank you.