Istanbul Convention in Eastern Europe

According to the WHO, one of the most common forms of violence experience by women globally is intimate partner violence. Almost one third (30%) of women worldwide reported that they experienced such kind of violence. Any kind of violence, within domestic violence, is a violation of human rights. Every state should combat this violation and also prevent it by challenging gender inequality and gender stereotypes which cause violence. The problem of domestic violence touches not only women, but also has long lasting effects on children who have experienced it. The issue of domestic violence is very serious and a complex approach is needed to change the situation.

The Council of Europe, realizing the scale and complexity of domestic violence, decided to prepare measures that would allow to combat such kind of violence effectively. In 2011 in Istanbul, it opened for signature The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). The Convention is a ground-breaking step and provides a legal framework for prevention of all forms of violence against women (with a strong accent on domestic violence) at European level, as well as for preventing, prosecuting and eliminating it. The convention also provides a special monitoring mechanism of its provisions – “GREVIO”.

The Russian Federation, the country where every month more than 600 women are killed in their own homes, 36,000 women everyday experience domestic violence (according to police statistics, this might therefore be understated), victims are blamed and stigmatized, and the police seems not to care, is together with Azerbaijan, the only member of the Council of Europe to not have signed the Convention.

The RF on numerous occasions was called to without any further delay sign this convention. During the last Universal Periodic Review organized by UN Human Right Council regarding the Russian Federation (May 2018) participating countries and UN Committees had a lot of concern regarding the situation of women in the country. 37 times countries were appealing in cases for women rights, and 9 times in particular about domestic violence or appealed to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were concerned about the persistent patriarchy in the Russian society, which significantly limits women to their socially imposed role, in private as well as in political life. It appeals to the Russian government to apply an exhaustive policy to defeat stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes. The CEDAW raised again a concern of the high level of violence against women, especially domestic and sexual violence and urged the RF to “to introduce ex officio prosecution of domestic and sexual violence and ensure that women and girls who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished.” The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised similar concerns and appealed about criminalization of domestic violence. Moreover,the Human Rights Committee remarked negligence in investigation of domestic violence cases, and that victims do not receive due support (such as psychological help, educational centers, shelters).

Russia dismissed recommendations to ratify the Istanbul Convention and criminalize domestic violence. According to the national report prepared for the session, some of its provisions do not accord with “the country’s principal approaches to the protection and promotion of traditional moral and the framework for the State family policy (…).” The Russian state does not see the negligence and the lack of sufficiency of their legislation as well as executive power in combating the gender-based violence, claiming that it in fully sufficient way combat domestic violence and prevent women against it. The Russian Federation only promised to improve already existing legislation.

These promises however are doubtful. The national experts of violence against women claim that in the last 10 years more than 40 times new legislative initiatives were introduced to the RF Duma, but there is still a lack of federal legislation to combat domestic violence. Alexander Shishlov, the ombudsmen from Sankt Petersburg, during a round table «Domestic Violence – one of the form of discrimination” in November 2018 in Sankt Petersburg said that domestic violence is one of the most common and dangerous manifestations of gender inequality, counteraction to which is one of the priorities of all ombudsmen and again appealed to sign the Convention.

Ukraine has signed the Istanbul Convention in 2011. Although, it is still not ratified, the daylight is already seen. After the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2018, Ukraine accepted the recommendations regarding the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and announced that the ratification is on the agenda of the Parliament of Ukraine. Besides, the law on combating domestic violence came into force in January, 2019, which is a step forward in protection the rights of women in Ukraine.

In Belarus the domestic violence is a pervasive phenomenon as well. Still, it has neither signed nor ratified the Convention. Although the government has implemented some measures to counteract gender-based violence, there is still a lack of profound protection. The UN experts considering a women’s situation in Belarus, have noticed patriarchal attitude which is a significant factor of lack of gender inequality and urged Belarus to implement due instruments to eliminate it.

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus should ratify the Istanbul Convention in order to have a tool to combat and prevent all kind of violence against women. Unfortunately, as it can be noticed on the example of Poland, just a change of a legislation is not enough. The Conventions’ provisions should be implemented and actively supported.

Poland, not without a stormy discussion, has ratified the Convention in April 2015. However, remarks and decisions of the current government, still strongly supported by the Church, in reality seem no to aim combating domestic violence. There were governmental ideas (and already some steps were taken in this direction) to withdraw from the Convention or to change the national law not in favor of women. Fortunately so far the public opinion and medial storm could stop it. Still, the leading Party (PiS) and its proponents seek to keep traditional roles of man and women and even destroyed already achieved progress. The state money is going mostly to organizations supporting the traditional model of family, and at the same time donations for organizations helping victims of domestic violence and promoting gender equality are limited.

One can wonder why some countries, such as the ones mentioned above, have such a negative attitude against the Convention. The key factor is still widespread patriarchy in these countries, and governing political parties which are conservative and mostly male. A significant factor is also the important role the Church plays in the society. Several misconceptions about the Convention prevail, willingly propagated by the above mentioned agents. The Convention talks about the ’famous’ socio-cultural gender. Additionally, it requires, among others, the fight against stereotypes related to the social role of the sexes, recognizing them as a source of violence and inequality. In the opinion of these conservatives, its implementation will undermine the nation’s traditions and history, Christian religion and the binary definition of women and man. The Convention is often seen as an attempt to destroy the family and a to popularize ‘Western’ sexual deviation, such as homosexuality and transsexuality.

Patrycja Pompala

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