International Convention to combat violence against women comes into force, bringing hope for an era of change

On 1 August, the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence comes into effect.

The treaty, commonly known as the ‘Istanbul Convention’, covers violence against women in all its manifestations, and supports policy measures to help victims and supporting organisations that seek to eliminate violence against women.

The Istanbul Convention states clearly that no form of violence against women is acceptable, and that law enforcement agencies need to react to domestic and other kinds of gender-based violence immediately. The Convention also stresses the necessity for coordinated action between policy makers, government agencies and civil society, and emphasises the need to promote the principle of gender equality and legislate against gender-based discrimination. Seven EU Member States have now ratified the Istanbul Convention, helping it to come into effect today, while a further 15 have signed but not yet ratified, and six have neither signed nor ratified.

"Today is a milestone in the fight to eradicate violence against women," said FRA Director Morten Kjaerum. "We are speaking here about human rights abuse on a massive scale, as the Fundamental Rights Agency has clearly documented. It is therefore vital that the signing and ratification process continues. This will send a strong signal to institutions that more action is needed, to perpetrators across the EU that their behaviour is unacceptable, and to victims that their voices are being heard."

FRA’s report on violence against women, published earlier this year, showed that the fear of becoming a victim of gender-based violence has a negative impact on many women, leading them to restrict their movements and behaviour. The biggest ever such comparative study, FRA’s report was based on a survey of 42,000 women in all 28 EU Member States, and revealed the extent of abuse suffered by women from childhood through to old age, at home and at work, in public and online.

The survey found that 33% of women in the EU have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15, which corresponds to some 62 million people. Of those who suffered domestic violence, 67% had not reported the most serious incident to the police or any other organisation, demonstrating that much still needs to be done to increase victims’ trust by measures such as training police to react appropriately and sensitively to victims’ needs.

As FRA has noted in the past, the current lack of comprehensive data hinders the development of targeted policy to combat gender-based violence. The Convention’s stipulation that countries need to collect detailed data on all aspects of violence against women on a regular basis is therefore also to be welcomed.