The World of International Organizations Explained

Treaty on violence against women turns 5

The French grassroots movement #NousToutes held nationwide marches to protest violence against women on November 24, 2018 (ARÊTE/Jeanne Menjoulet)

The first legally binding and comprehensive international treaty on fighting violence against women and girls turned five years old, but still lacks participation of more than a quarter of sponsor Council of Europe’s 47 member nations.

The Istanbul Convention, which introduced the first legal standards throughout Europe on gender-based violence, entered into force on August 1, 2014 after it was ratified by 10 COE member nations.

An initiative of COE, the continent’s leading human rights organization, the treaty built on efforts to protect women and girls from violence since the 1990s. It is Europe’s first legally binding treaty to criminalize multiple forms of violence against women and girls.

The treaty also emphasizes that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation and form of discrimination that causes inequality between women and men. Proponents say it addresses a universal challenge.

“Violence against women and domestic violence are serious violations of human rights and they are widespread, including in Switzerland,” the Swiss Federal Office of Gender Equality said last year when the treaty took effect in the Alpine nation. “In this country someone dies as a result of domestic violence every two weeks, and every week murder is attempted.”

So far, 34 nations in the COE have ratified the treaty. The 13 holdouts are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine. All but Azerbaijan and Russia have at least signed it.

Plodding progress in the E.U.

In the European Union, seven of the E.U.’s 28 member nations still have not ratified the treaty: Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. That has held up the E.U.’s adoption of the treaty after signing it in 2017.

Some have opposed the treaty based on sovereignty concerns. In 2018, Bulgaria’s government declined to ratify it after the nation’s constitutional court ruled it contradicted the constitution. Some Bulgarian religious groups also opposed it, arguing that ratification would encourage legalization of same-sex marriages in Bulgaria or young people who identify as transgender.

Ursula von der Leyen, a German politician who is the next leader of the European Commission, said she would push for E.U. ratification.

“If 1-in-5 women have already suffered physical or sexual violence in the European Union and 55 percent of women have been sexually harassed, this is clearly not a women’s issue,” she said. “I will propose to add violence against women on the list of E.U. crimes defined in the Treaty [of Lisbon]. And the European Union should join the Istanbul Convention.”

The world of international organizations explained.

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