In this blog for International Women’s Day 2022, Kathryn Dingle reflects on her work outside of NPC on the IC Change campaign—a volunteer-led campaign which calls for the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. Writing in her own capacity as a volunteer on the campaign, Kathryn shares thoughts on how violence against women is a form of discrimination and how the UK has a tool within reach to help eradicate it in our lifetime.
Imagine a world where all women are free to walk home alone when it is dark. Imagine a world where the phrase ‘text me when you get home’ is just a nicety and not a necessity. Imagine a world where women have autonomy over their bodies and their choice. Imagine a world where a women’s outfit or her life choices are not blamed for the behaviour of men. Imagine a world where women are no longer discriminated and are treated with respect. Imagine a world where survivors and their families get the justice they deserve. Imagine a world where bad behaviour is called out and punished rather than normalised or even celebrated.
Imagine a world where all of the above is our reality—because currently, our reality is one of inequality, silence and fear. We are not safe. We are not free. But we can be, if the government seizes the opportunity to break the bias.
A powerful tool within reach
Violence against women and girls is widespread in the UK and takes many forms. It is a complex, structural problem that requires a strategic, long-term solution. In 2011, global experts on gender inequality and violence against women created the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also called the Istanbul Convention, to provide this solution.
The Istanbul Convention is the first international human rights treaty that focuses on violence against women. It has been named the ‘gold standard’ for tackling violence against women by UN Women and ‘ground-breaking’ by Human Rights Watch. Its ratification by a country is a commitment to tackling violence against women, upholding women’s human rights, and increasing women’s freedom and safety. It means that whichever party is in power, women and girls will be guaranteed the right to live free from violence and the threat of violence. More specifically, it holds each country responsible for preventing violence, protecting victims, prosecuting offenders, and coordinating policies.
In 2012, the UK government signed the Istanbul Convention. However, the government has chosen to not ratify it yet, due to the UK not being fully compliant with the convention.
The convention offers protection to all women and girls without discrimination and covers all forms of violence against women. It applies a ‘gendered’ approach to violence against women, including the forms of violence that only women experience, such as forced abortion and female genital mutilation, and that women experience much more often than men, such as sexual violence and rape, stalking, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced marriage, and forced sterilisation.
Such violence is a form of discrimination. Much of which stems, not from biological differences in genders, but from attitudes, stereotypes and widely accepted perceptions of the role of women in society.
We must now break the bias in our society. The convention recognises the unequal power that exists between men and women and seeks to reduce prejudice, stereotypes, and traditions that favour men. Ultimately, it seeks to eradicate the idea that women are inferior to men.
The Istanbul Convention is saving lives across Europe and the UK is lagging behind
In practice, the convention has led to important changes in legislation, new and better services, increased allocation of resources, and better discourses around the violence that women and girls experience.
Iceland, Sweden, Greece, Denmark and others have changed the definition of rape to be based on lack of consent rather than proof of the use of force, as required by the convention. This has seen increased convictions within countries such as Sweden.
Finland’s funding of shelters for survivors of domestic violence is now a state responsibility, where funding was not previously available. Serbia, Montenegro and many others now have national helplines for women needing support.
The convention includes monitoring requirements which has led to better identification of trends and therefore understanding of needs. For example, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (and the Polizia di Stato in Italy) now have a monitoring system for measuring the number of femicides.
Our reality may be one of inequality, silence and fear, but by ratifying the Istanbul Convention the UK can help change this and end this form of discrimination. Take action now and call on government to ratify without delay.
Views are the author’s own.