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“10 years committed to the Istanbul Convention: progress and challenges in the fight against violence against women”

Strasbourg 19 May 2021
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As delivered

 

Your Majesty,

Ministers,

Commissioner Dalli,

Dear friends,

 

Just last week, on 11th May, we marked the Istanbul Convention’s tenth anniversary.

And over the course of these past ten years, Spain’s commitment to that treaty has been clear and absolute:

Signing in 2011, ratifying in 2014, and benefitting from its force in law from the summer of that year –

This has been a central part of the country’s broad and ground-breaking movement towards a zero-tolerance policy on violence against women.

And I am grateful for your personal commitment, Minister Gonzalez Laya.

Something that has been very obvious in our one-to-one conversations.

The treaty itself has always been direct in its aims:

To prevent violence against women;

To protect those who become victims;

And to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators.

It not only encourages integrated policy-making;

It also criminalises specific offences, such as stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

And where it has been implemented, it has worked, with positive changes to national laws.

Spain’s story is testament to this.

In November of last year, the Council of Europe’s monitoring body, GREVIO, published its first evaluation report of your country’s implementation of the Istanbul Convention.

And it outlined the many positive steps that have been taken.

Take, for example, the Organic Law on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence.

Similarly, GREVIO congratulated Spain on its State Pact on Gender-based Violence:

A five-year roadmap to further implementing the Istanbul Convention by means of a staggering 481 individual measures.

And it recognised the efforts that have gone into producing and publicising statistics through which transparency is achieved and progress can be measured.

The report also identified areas where more can be done.

Something that GREVIO has done in all its country reports.

For Spain, examples include widening the approach taken towards intimate violence and applying it to other forms of abuse too;

Closing gaps between policy and service provision between regions;

And ensuring funding for women’s NGOs so that they can provide services to victims and give feedback that is considered in the policy-making process.

In each of these areas and others, I know that work is already underway, and I congratulate the authorities on their positive approach.

Some of this country’s most vulnerable women will benefit directly as a result.

I also want to make special mention of the measures that the government put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March of last year, I warned Council of Europe member states that while lockdowns were necessary, they would expose women to heightened risks.

Living with an abuser is a terrible thing.

But being confined with one is even worse.

The Council of Europe has worked hard to help national authorities to respond to problems like this.

We have created a dedicated website on which governments and other actors can share best practice.

And the fast, proactive measures taken by the Spanish government are featured there.

Among these, the Contingency Plan against gender-based violence featured important measures given the unique and challenging circumstances:

Declaring as essential all comprehensive assistance services for victims;

Launching a prevention and awareness campaign;

And setting up a 24/7 WhatsApp service connecting those in need with psychologists trained in gender-based violence.

This positive approach tells the story of a country that understands both the requirements and the spirit of the Istanbul Convention.

But, alas, it is not like this across all of Europe today.

A decade ago, this new treaty generated justifiable, widespread enthusiasm.

It took just three years to gather the signatures required to enter into force.

It went on to be ratified by 34 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states.

And from outside the Council of Europe, Tunisia and Kazakhstan have requested to join it and are on their way to doing so.

Nonetheless, something has gone wrong.

In some countries, false narratives are being used against the Istanbul Convention.

 

It is being portrayed as a political agenda rather than a human rights tool.

And this in turn is feeding reluctance to join it and, in some cases, support for leaving.

Many of you will know that the Turkish authorities announced their decision to this effect in March.

I have already spoken about this on several occasions.

But it is important to repeat that the reasons given are misleading.

The sole purpose of the Istanbul Convention is to protect women and girls from violence.

It has nothing to do with so-called “gender ideology”.

And whether Turkey – or any other country – has strong domestic laws in this area, there is no substitute for multilateral action on this international problem.

The Council of Europe represents a collective system of human rights protection, of international law, established in the wake of the Second World War.

To undermine this approach would weaken international organisations and strike a fatal blow to the multilateralism that has been so important and effective in protecting Europeans for over 70 years.

The best answer to recent events is to expand the circle of those committed to the treaty.

This means developing the positive and honest narrative that supports the Istanbul Convention.

Highlighting facts, dispelling myths, standing up for women.

This narrative will be based on three clear facts.

First, the standards for the protection of women set out in the Istanbul Convention are higher than national laws in many countries.

Second, it provides a unique, independent and international monitoring mechanism to evaluate the implementation at national level and assist compliance.

Third, by withdrawing, a country can no longer benefit from the treaty’s provisions relating to international co-operation in criminal matters and seek co-operation from other states parties to bring perpetrators of crimes against women to justice.

What we have here is a treaty that provides a level of co-operation and protection that is only possible with a multilateral approach.

Yes, Spain is doing great things, and it is right that we recognise the efforts that are being made, sometimes in the face of opposition.

But you are doing this under the umbrella of an international human rights treaty which promotes progress and shares the benefits wherever it comes into force.

So, we need this country, we need you, we need like-minded people all over Europe to keep the faith and to work together in making the case for the Istanbul Convention:

To stop the backsliding on ending violence against women.

After all, the United Nations describes this as a “gold standard” international treaty.

And in a world where 1 in 3 women has been subject to violence, it has more good work to do.

We have much achieved over the past ten years.

Together, we can achieve more still.

Thank you for your commitment, your ongoing efforts, and for providing this opportunity to celebrate what the Istanbul Convention has done for women, and what more it can go on to do.