Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

Domestic violence against women is a rising phenomenon that knows no geographical boundary, age limit or colour bar, and affects every type of family relationship and social class. Statistics show that 12% to 15% of women in Europe face violence in the home every day. It is one of the most widespread violations of human rights worldwide, and must be combated.

Since the 1990s, the Council of Europe has actively promoted the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, namely by adopting Recommendation (2002) 5 on the protection of women against violence and by running a Europe-wide campaign on violence against women, including domestic violence in 2006-2008.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle this serious violation of human rights. It aims at zero tolerance for such violence and is a major step forward in making Europe and beyond a safer place.

Preventing violence, protecting its victims and prosecuting the perpetrators are the cornerstones of the convention. It also seeks to change the hearts and minds of individuals by calling on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to change attitudes. In essence, it is a renewed call for greater equality between women and men, because violence against women is deeply rooted in the inequality between women and men in society and is perpetuated by a culture of tolerance and denial.

2022 Edition
Statement by Marija Pejčinović Burić, Council of Europe Secretary General
Secretary General Strasbourg 24 November 2022
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Ukraine: We must help victims of sexual violence by Russian soldiers

Nine months to the day that war in Ukraine began, we read increasing reports of alleged war crimes, including sexual violence against women and girls. Sadly, history is repeating itself. Rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by combatants during armed conflict are as old as war itself.

We thus mark this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November) on a sombre note. But the tremendous assistance offered by many of our member states to millions of forcibly displaced people also gives us hope. The outpouring of support from national, local authorities and individuals is heartening. Among over seven million refugees so far, 90% are women, girls and children, who are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and human trafficking. For those who have already suffered from such crimes, we must re-double our efforts to improve the assistance they are offered. And we should be prepared for future assistance.

Victims face horrible humiliation and a wide range of risks, from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections to psychological and physical trauma. Hospitals and medical doctors need to be equipped to respond to rape as part of a co-ordinated multi-agency response, and medical and forensic examinations must be ensured, as does immediate and longer-term trauma care. Survivors of gender-based violence among refugees need access to this type of support and counselling in a language they feel comfortable in and understand.

As seen from prior conflicts, specialized counselling will be needed to address enduring trauma to reduce stigma and secondary victimisation that can develop over time. Indeed, sexual violence in conflict zones entails both immediate and long-term consequences, as evidenced for example in reports published this month from GREVIO, the Council of Europe’s independent expert body responsible for monitoring implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention).

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