Gender equality is one of the key priorities of the Council of Europe – and of the INGO Conference. Our principle focus at the moment is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (The Istanbul Convention). The withdrawal of Turkey from the Convention has sent a unique and disturbing signal, not only for women´s rights, but also for the whole democratic and human rights structure of the Council of Europe. Civil Society has to give a strong answer to this – and to threats from Poland to withdraw as well as Hungary's stance against the Convention.

For this we would like to see all the countries which have signed but not ratified the Convention until now to finally do so, and for those which have not even signed it to immediately to start the procedure. Only a strong and combined signal from all the countries of the Council of Europe can make a real difference. This is the goal of the Presidents of the Conference of INGOs and of the Parliamentary Assembly who have decided to join forces to start a joint campaign for the Istanbul Convention.

But of course equality goes far beyond the Istanbul Convention and the mere protection for women from violence. It is a fundamental issue for democracy, human rights and social rights. So it is imbedded in most of the new committees of the Conference and in the overall work programme of the Conference. With strong civil rights defenders and human rights defenders in our Standing Committee and – even more importantly – in our membership - we will be able to make a difference.