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):

 

 

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 cooperation 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 state parties to the 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 the Convention. 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.

 

The Council of Europe’s Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2023 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).

 

The North-South Centre of the Council of Europe promotes gender equality and women's rights and acts 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's civil society organisations 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 in the Southern Mediterranean. Gender mainstreaming is transversal to all North-South Centre programmes, namely the Global Education programme and the Youth Cooperation programme.

 

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. There are 15 pending 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 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 Parliamentary Assembly regularly adopts texts relating to gender equality, which are then sent to member States’ 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 and gender-based violence, as well as trafficking in human beings, a severe violation of human rights that affects women and girls disproportionately. 

Recent texts adopted by the Assembly include:

Reports under preparation will cover child maintenance from a gender equality perspective, women’s economic empowerment and the promotion of STEM education and careers. The Parliamentary Network Women Free from Violence has been committed to fighting against violence against women since 2006, contributing to Europe-wide campaigns to stop violence against women and playing an important role in the entry into force of the Istanbul Convention, the implementation of which it continues to follow and promote.

 

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 President of the Congress participated in the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted the following texts of relevance:

 

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.