Violence against women and trans people is widespread. Taking many forms gender-based violence constitutes gender-based discrimination and violation of human rights. Trans people are more vulnerable to violence, because of the compound effects of discrimination on grounds of both, gender and sexual orientation or gender identity, as found by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency’s LGBT survey 2012. Gender inequality, including gender stereotypes and negative notions of masculinity, is at the root of both violence against women and violence related to the gender identity of a person. The Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, short CAHVIO or Istanbul Convention is to date the most comprehensive, detailed and legally binding response to violence against women and gender-based violence.
The Istanbul Convention is a legally binding instrument. Thus, once states ratify, they have an obligation to implement its provisions and they will be monitored to this effect. The Istanbul Convention entered into force on 1st August 2014. It is currently ratified by 14 member states of the Council of Europe (Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Italy, Malta, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. An additional 22 states have signed the Convention, that is signalled the general interest to later also ratify the Convention.
When countries sign it means they agree in principle with the value and the measures of the Convention. But it is only when they ratify that they are bound by the provisions of the Convention. Once ratified, the Convention as international law overrides contradictory national law and requests national legislation to be brought into alignment with the aims and measures of the Convention.
What is the added value of the Convention?
The Convention demands that states have to engage pro-actively with ‘due diligence’ in measures to prevent, protect, investigate and sanction cases. It recognises violence against women and gender-based violence as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. The Convention also contains as a first international document a binding definition of gender and asks for a gender perspective to be taken when implementing the Convention and when evaluating any measures taken (Art 6).
The Convention introduces specific criminal offences (Art. 39) for, physical violence; psychological violence; stalking; sexual violence, including rape; sexual harassment; forced marriage; female genital mutilation; forced abortion and forced sterilisation.
By ratifying governments agree to be bound by the Convention and will have to do the following:
1. train professionals in close contact with victims;
2. regularly run awareness-raising campaigns;
3. take steps to include issues such as gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships in teaching material;
4. set up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders;
5. work closely with NGOs;
6. involve the media and the private sector in eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect.
In about 60 substantial articles the Convention details how to better prevent, protect, prosecute and integrate policies to combat gender-based violence.
Istanbul Convention and Non-Discrimination of trans people:
The specific mention of sexual orientation and gender identity among the impermissible grounds for discrimination was one of the stumbling blocks in the negotiation of the Convention. Article 4, paragraph 3 includes them and asks States Parties to implement all measures in the Convention without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The explanatory report clarifies that in regard to gender identity “transgender or transsexual persons, cross-dressers, transvestites and other groups of persons that do not correspond to what society has established as belonging to “male” or “female” categories” are covered by the non-discrimination provision. Also, migrant and refugee women and those being affected by multiple discrimination are explicitly protected under the Convention.
Making the Convention all practical
Next steps are the setting up the monitoring mechanism and focus on implementation. The monitoring will be implemented by the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), an independent expert body, and the Committee of the Parties, a political body composed of official representatives of the state parties. The Committee of the Parties and GREVIO are expected to meet for the first time in the first half of 2015. Details of the monitoring procedures, such as length of monitoring cycles, will have to be defined by GREVIO. As other international monitoring bodies, GREVIO will collect information on the situation on the ground in the signatory states from official authorities, civil society and independent human rights institutions. Based on this intelligence GREVI will suggest recommendations how the respective state can overcome problems identified.
However, conservative groups feared in particular the necessity to introduce ‘gender’ in national law. Mobilizing against ratification of the Convention they fulminated against ‘gender ideology’ or ‘gender theory’, conjuring up collapse of family and society as a whole.
Find more information on the Istanbul Convention here.