5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
The Council of Europe maintains close interactions with, and regularly contributes to the work of UN bodies and fora regarding the achievement of SDG 5, such as the sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women – CSW, and the UNECE Beijing+25 process, making sometimes significant contributions to their work (e.g. Regional Review Meeting, Geneva, October 2019). Also, on the occasion of events co-organised with UN bodies, such as the International conference "Women's rights at the crossroads" (Strasbourg, May 2019)” with the participation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences. These events provide opportunities to share experiences with the design and implementation of pertinent initiatives such as those presented below.
The Council of Europe has three ground-breaking, unique and comprehensive Conventions in the area of human dignity that are all of relevance to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and through them can support and contribute to the implementation, notably of Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) and Goal 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels):
- The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) (CETS 210)
- The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CETS 197)
- The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) (CETS 201)
These conventions have a global outreach. Their provisions can inspire normative and policy changes in all regions of the world and all States can become Party to them. These treaties offer a comprehensive normative framework, a platform for international co-operation and monitoring mechanisms to gather data, assess progress and promote solutions that work. They can thus provide guidance and good practice examples when designing national policies and legislation globally and be used as indicators in the framework of national and international efforts to assess progress in the implementation of Agenda 2030.
The Istanbul Convention frames violence against women as both a cause and a consequence of the inequality between women and men that persists in society. It sets out a comprehensive set of legal obligations to prevent such violence, protect and support women victims and to ensure justice through more effective prosecution. The holistic approach it requires to this end also includes the need to place women victims at the centre of all measures taken and to ensure their empowerment. The reports and recommendations emanating from its monitoring mechanism (GREVIO – Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the Committee of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention) set out guidance to States Parties to the Istanbul Convention as to how to step up measures to improve the prevention and combating of all forms of violence against women. For non-State Parties in Europe and beyond it sets out important benchmarks to better prevent and protect women from such violence. Its purposes perfectly align with targets 2 and 3 of SDG 5: the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres and the elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
The Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is a ground-breaking and comprehensive instrument which is of relevance notably to achieving target 5.2 of Goal 5, target 8.7 of Goal 8 and target 16.2 of Goal 16. While building on existing international instruments, the convention goes beyond the minimum standards agreed upon in them and strengthens the protection afforded to victims. The convention has a comprehensive scope of application, encompassing all forms of trafficking and taking in all persons who are victims of trafficking (women, men or children). The convention makes particular reference to children’s vulnerability in trafficking and requires States to take special account of their need for special protection and assistance. The convention is not restricted to Council of Europe member States; non-members States and the European Union also have the possibility of becoming Party to it. The implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Convention by the State Parties is monitored by the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) and the Committee of the Parties.
The Council of Europe offers member States and other stakeholders guidance and support for achieving targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2 to end human trafficking through the provision of recommendations resulting from the monitoring of the convention by GRETA and expertise on human trafficking issues and activities, such as round-table meetings in the monitored countries. The round-table meetings are a tool for stimulating dialogue between relevant stakeholders in each country and identifying areas where the Council of Europe can support national anti-trafficking efforts.
The Council of Europe supports the implementation of the SDGs that aim to end human trafficking by organising conferences and other events to raise awareness of the provisions of the convention and GRETA’s recommendations. Further, in order to strengthen capacity in preventing and combating human trafficking, workshops and training seminars are organised for different professional groups.
A free online course on human trafficking has been developed by the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals of the Council of Europe. In addition, information and good practice examples are collected for the promotion of the implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Convention.
The Council of Europe furthers the achievement of the trafficking-related SDGs through the financing and implementation of anti-trafficking projects and activities whose results bring along the necessary outcomes at national or regional level, in line with the SDGs 5, 8 and 16 and its associated targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2.
Other legal instruments
In addition to international treaties, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has also adopted since the 1970s a number of Resolutions and Recommendations to member States in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and the above-mentioned SDGs and associated targets, including:
- Res(77)1 on women's employment (with early references to the issue of gender stereotypes);
- Rec(85)2 on legal protection against sex discrimination;
- Rec(90)4 on the elimination of sexism from language;
- Rec(98)14 on gender mainstreaming;
- Rec(2003)3 on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making;
- Rec(2007)17 on gender equality standards and mechanisms;
- Rec(2010)10 on the role of women and men in conflict prevention and resolution and in peace building;
- Rec(2013)1 on gender equality and media;
- Rec(2019)1 on preventing and combating sexism (which provides for a definition of sexism, calls for dedicated action in various sectors of society and public institutions, and to criminalise sexist hate speech).
Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2023
The Council of Europe’s Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2023, the implementation of which is a core responsibility of the gender equality sector of activity, directly addresses many of the targets included in Goal 5, including human dignity and the fight against gender inequality; the promotion of the full participation of women in society; the need to guarantee access to fair justice systems for all and to work in partnerships. The 14 indicators agreed upon at UN level to measure the implementation of the nine targets included in Goal 5 cover priority areas of the Council of Europe work to promote gender equality, such as laws and policies to promote gender equality; legal frameworks to promote and monitor non-discrimination on the basis of sex; women and girls subject to different forms of gender-based violence; and women members of national Parliaments and local government. At the same time, the Council of Europe is effectively mainstreaming gender equality considerations throughout its programmes and working methods. This allows the Council of Europe to promote gender equality when supporting States in their efforts to meet several sustainable development goals (in particular Goals 4, 8 and 16 – notably through specific work on access of women to justice). The Council of Europe Strategy for Gender Equality builds on achievements and continues to address existing challenges, including the promotion and protection of the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker women and girls. The factsheet on the Council of Europe contribution to the UN 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the sustainable development goals, especially Goal 5, provides a comprehensive review of how Council of Europe instruments, standards and activities contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.
The Youth Department has adopted specific Gender Equality Guidelines to pursue gender equality in international youth activities and raise awareness of any form of gender-based discrimination, including gender-based violence. Sexist hate speech on the Internet has been specifically identified as a major issue of concern and addressed, inter alia, through the No Hate Speech Movement Campaign. Gender equality is also promoted and addressed in Euro-Arab youth co-operation as it remains an issue of common concern and potential intercultural polarisation (see also Goals 10 and 16). A Gender Impact Assessment of the Youth for Democracy programme was concluded in 2019; it provided useful indications of areas for further improvement.
The North-South Centre of the Council of Europe promotes gender equality and women's rights by acting as an interface between the Council of Europe and its neighbouring regions. Since 2011, the "North-South process for the empowerment of women", supports the role of women in public and political spaces and promotes regional cooperation, through the promotion of Council of Europe conventions and tools in the field of gender equality and combating violence against women and domestic violence in the Southern Mediterranean.
Since 2018, the North-South Centre has been working with women’s rights defenders from the Southern Mediterranean for the development of concrete ground-based action to combat violence against women. As a result, a handbook for a coordinated action in victims/survivors protection in the Southern Mediterranean region developed by civil society experts will be launched in 2020 as well as two new projects for the period 2020-2021.
Implemented in cooperation with women-led organisations, the first project “WE combat violence against women” is focused on the regional cooperation in the European and Southern Mediterranean regions to strengthen of a common understanding and condemnation of violence against women while supporting awareness and training actions on the victim-centred approach. The second project, “WE promote equality and diversity” done in cooperation with media and education actors, will raise the issue of intersecting discriminations against women in the Euro-Mediterranean region through awareness, educational and inclusion approaches, as well as trainings of journalists. This new project also aims at reinforcing the gender mainstreaming in intercultural dialogue, global educational and youth cooperation.
The European Social Charter, the human rights treaty on social and economic rights, guarantees the right of men and women to equal opportunities and equal treatment in matters of employment and occupation without discrimination (Articles 4§3 and Article 20 of the Charter and Article 1§2 of the 1988 Additional Protocol). This includes, in particular, the right to equal remuneration for equal work or work of equal value. Employees who try to enforce their right to equality must be legally protected against any form of reprisals from their employers, including not only dismissal but also downgrading or changes to working conditions.
The European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) monitors the implementation of the Charter, not only in law, but also in practice. In December 2019, the ECSR adopted decisions in 15 collective complaints, introduced by University Women Europe, an International NGO, against the 15 States who have accepted the Protocol on Collective Complaints, which raise the breach of the principle of equal pay for equal work between women and men in practice, as well as the under-representation of women in boards and decision-making bodies within private companies. The decisions will become public in the course of 2020.
The Committee examined the situation in States Parties with regard to equal pay (Article 4§3 of the Charter) in its Conclusions 2018.
The empowerment of Roma and Traveller women and girls is one of the priorities of the Council of Europe’s Thematic Action Plan on the Inclusion of Roma and Travellers (2016-2019). The reports of the Ad hoc Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues (CAHROM) and CM/Rec(2017)10 on improving access to justice for Roma and Travellers in Europe include gender equality components.
The joint EU/CoE project “Roma Women’s Access to Justice” (JUSTROM3) aims to address multiple discrimination and improve related access to justice of Roma women in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Romania by supporting the empowerment of Roma women through increasing their awareness about discrimination, complaint mechanisms, the justice system and human rights institutions/equality bodies.
The Parliamentary Assembly regularly adopts texts relating to gender equality, which are then sent to member States’ parliaments and governments, mainly based on reports prepared by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, sometimes also coming from the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. Gender equality and women’s rights are covered by the Assembly under various angles, including women’s political representation, economic empowerment, trafficking in human beings and gender-based violence, a severe violation of human rights that affects women and girls disproportionately.
Recent texts adopted by the Assembly include:
- Resolution 2274 (2019) on Promoting parliaments free of sexism and sexual harassment
- Resolution 2289 (2019) on The Istanbul Convention on violence against women: achievements and challenges
- Resolution 2290 (2019) Towards an ambitious Council of Europe agenda for gender equality
- Resolution 2306 (2019) on Obstetrical and gynaecological violence
- Resolution 2233 (2018) on Forced marriage in Europe
- Resolution 2235 (2018) on Empowering women in the economy
- Resolution 2244 (2018) on Migration from a gender perspective: empowering women as key actors for integration
- Resolution 2159 (2017) on Protecting refugee women and girls from gender-based violence
- Resolution 2167 (2017) on The employment rights of domestic workers, especially women, in Europe
- Resolution 2177 (2017) on Putting an end to sexual violence and harassment of women in public space
- Resolution 2111 (2016) on Assessing the impact of measures to improve women’s political representation
- Resolution 2120 (2016) on Women in the armed forces: promoting equality, putting an end to gender-based violence
- Resolution 2135 (2016) on Female genital mutilation in Europe
Reports under preparation will cover issues such as access to contraception in Europe, the gender dimension of foreign policy, preventing discrimination caused by the use of artificial intelligence, strengthening the fight against so-called “honour” crimes and gender aspects and human rights implications of pornography.
As law and policy makers, parliamentarians often carry out the important task of ratifying international and regional human rights instruments and ensuring that national legislation is in line with the standards those instruments establish. They have the responsibility to hold governments accountable for implementing the standards they have subscribed to. They pass enabling legislation and adopt the necessary budgets to turn words into action. All these functions mean that parliamentarians are uniquely well placed to become key supporters and promoters of gender equality legislation and policies. In this regard, the Assembly and its Parliamentary Network “Women Free from Violence” continue to play an important role in promoting signature, ratification and effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The Istanbul Convention is the only international human rights instrument to expressly recognise the importance of involving national parliaments in assessing the implementation of the treaty. Governments are required to invite national parliaments to participate in the monitoring. They must also submit the reports of GREVIO to parliament for consultation. Furthermore, the Istanbul Convention requires the Parliamentary Assembly to regularly monitor how the States parties implement the treaty. This ensures that the issue of violence against women is regularly placed on the political agenda both at the level of member States and in the Council of Europe and appropriate parliamentary follow-up is provided to the evaluation of a State’s compliance with the convention and GREVIO reports.
In 2019, several events were organised by the Assembly at global, regional and national levels to promote implementation of SDG5. Notably, at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Parliamentary Assembly organised a Side-Event, together with the Finnish Presidency of the Council of Europe, on “Sexism, Harassment and Violence against Women Parliamentarians”, focusing on SDG5 (12 March). In addition, the Parliamentary Assembly organised a session during the North-South Centre Lisbon Forum “Parliamentary contribution towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals: special focus on Gender Equality and Children’s Rights” including the participation of representatives of the Assembly’s Partner for Democracy Delegations.
The President of the Parliamentary Assembly launched an initiative #NotInMyParliament, which is in a tangible way contributing to SDG5 (especially targets: End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life).
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities actively supports efforts to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls at the local and regional level through both the adoption of texts and participation by its members in events/conferences. All activities and political efforts are underlined by the fact that the Congress has the first time in its history a female president, Gudrun Mosler Törnström.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted the following texts of relevance:
- Resolution 405 (2016) on ’’Gender Budgeting’’;
- Resolution 404 (2016) on ’’Women's political participation and representation at local and regional levels’’;
- Recommendation 390 (2016): Women's political participation and representation at local and regional levels;
- RES380(2015): Guaranteeing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people's rights: a responsibility for Europe's towns and regions;
- REC370(2015): Guaranteeing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people's rights: a responsibility for Europe's towns and regions;
- Resolution 318 (2010) on ’’Cultural Integration of Muslim Women in European Cities’’;
- Resolution 303 (2010) on ‘’Achieving sustainable gender equality in local and regional political life‘’ adopted in 2010 states that ‘’The Congress considers equality between men and women as an integral part of human rights and as a fundamental criterion for democracy. ‘’;
- REC(2010)288: Achieving sustainable gender equality in local and regional political life;
- Resolution 279 (2009) on ’’Combating domestic violence against women’’;
- REC(2009)260: Combating domestic violence against women;
- REC(2007)211: Freedom of assembly and expression for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons;
- Resolution 176 (2004) on ’’Gender mainstreaming at local and regional level: a strategy to promote equality between women and men in cities and regions.
The work of the Commissioner for Human Rights relating to gender equality focuses, on ensuring that member states have strong human rights frameworks to fight discrimination against women in different areas and raising awareness regarding the importance of ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). In the issue paper ‘Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe’, the Commissioner made recommendations concerning current challenges in this field, stressing the need to strengthen women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights as core components of a wider obligation to protect women’s rights and advance gender equality.
- Thematic webpage on women’s rights and gender equality
- Thematic webpage on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights
- Issue paper ‘Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe’