Motley Staff Writer Ava Somers delves deep into what the Istanbul Convention is.
Content warning: This article contains discussions of domestic violence, violence against women, gender-based violence, sexual assault and rape which readers may find distressing.
The Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed in May 2011. After many years of a complete policy vacuum in Europe surrounding gender-based violence, in 2014, finally, this was put in place. Its stipulations, its benefits and where it may be amended in the future to better represent civilians are complex in an ever-changing world.
Firstly, what does this Convention actually do? Gender-based violence has been an international issue for time immemorial. For a long time, it was not even recognised as a problem, let alone something which needed to be recognised as illegal. Considering that all women were firstly property of their father, and later property of their husbands once they were married, an offence committed against a woman was not seen to be committed against her, but actually seen to have been an offence against her husband. For example, the rape of a woman could only be taken to court as a damage to property offence. For this reason, marital rape was not recognised until the mid-nineties. For many years, these sorts of violations of a woman’s human rights were not seen as much more than damaging a car. In the past hundred years, women have finally begun to be recognised as individuals, and in my opinion, the adoption of the Istanbul Convention is the epitome of women’s rights in the modern world.
Now, time for some statistics: one in four women in Ireland have experienced violence by a current or former partner. It is widely known that the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women and children, although part of me questions whether this is due to the stigma surrounding male victims of assault (Maybe that is an argument for another issue…). There have been 244 counts of femicide (murder of women) since 1996, 63% killed in their own home, 87% of whom knew their killer. Current or former male intimate partners were responsible for 57% of these murders, and 43 of all the women murdered were between the ages of 18 and 25. 47% of women in Europe between the ages of 18 and 29 had experienced psychological abuse by a partner from the age of 15; While 6% of all Irish women have experienced sexual violence by a partner, 31% have experienced psychological abuse by a partner. 12% of Irish women have been stalked, and 41% of women have someone they are close to who has experienced gender-based violence. Worldwide, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, mainly by an intimate partner, but less than 40% of these women seek help of any kind, and 42% of women who do experience a form of intimate partner violence later report a resulting injury from this relationship.
So, what is gender-based violence? Well, gender-based violence is, you guessed it, gender-based. But what does that mean legally? Gender-based violence is generally perceived to be acts of sexual, emotional or physical violence against a person due to or based on their perceived gender. These new laws are aiming to eliminate this issue, or at the very least drastically reduce it.
One thing I think is very forward-thinking of this convention is that it does not confine “domestic violence” to physical violence. It has taken the liberty to include psychological violence, stalking, physical violence, sexual violence (including rape), forced marriage, genital mutilation, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and sexual harassment.
It has four aims: Prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies. This should secure the safety and empowerment of all women and girls throughout Europe by allowing them to be themselves without the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads as it has been for generations.
So, what does this mean for Ireland? Well, not much… yet. We have signed this treaty, but most of the laws still need to be implemented in Ireland or were already before this Convention. As far as I am aware there has not been any case involving the rights bestowed upon women by the Istanbul Convention. However, it will not be long before these cases come to the forefront, as this is a major issue to be tackled.
In my opinion, this move towards eliminating gender-based violence is a giant leap in the right direction. Prosecuting perpetrators of gender-based crimes will lead to an awareness not previously there. This in itself will lead to a need for further education on behalf of the country, as people will need to be made aware of what these offences are. It will also not only discourage perpetrators, but will support survivors, as their specific experience is now recognised as a crime which occurred against them. This is a realistic and forward-facing law, as it entirely disregards the shame or normative attitude about these crimes being perpetrated against women. Women are edging ever closer to living in a world that is a safe and happy place for us to live out our days in peace without the threat of violence against us simply because of our presenting gender.