On 3 July 2018, the Chamber of Deputies adopted the bill approving the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. This is the first internationally binding convention which, thanks to its integrated and multidisciplinary approach and gender perspective, covers all forms of violence against women and girls.
The Convention is based on the idea that violence against women and girls is a form of gender-based violence in that it is perpetrated against women because they are women. It is the responsibility of the state, under penalty of law, to effectively combat such violence in all its forms by taking measures to prevent it, protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators. According to the convention, it is clear that equality cannot be achieved as long as gender-based violence persists on a large scale, in full view of public bodies and institutions.
Luxembourg is not starting from scratch. Long before the parliamentary ratification of the Istanbul Convention, it had already established an effective legislative mechanism for the benefit of victims of violence, including domestic violence. In addition, the Ministry for Equality between Women and Men regularly organises information, prevention and awareness-raising campaigns (media campaigns, scientific studies, conferences, events such as the White Ribbon Campaign and Orange Week) on the subject of violence against women, often in collaboration with non-governmental organisations. Finally, Luxembourg has a close network of shelters and counselling services throughout the country for both victims and perpetrators of violence.
The implementation of the Istanbul Convention represents our commitment to…
adapt our legislation through the 20 July 2018 law approving the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, signed in Istanbul on 11 May 2011 and amending 1) the Criminal Code; 2) the Code of Criminal Procedure; 3) the amended 8 September 2003 law on domestic violence; 4) the amended 29 August 2008 law on the free movement of persons and immigration;
to raise awareness among both professionals and the general public of the many facets of violence against women and girls;
to inform people about the support and assistance network available and to improve its access and quality;
to bring together and involve all public and non-public actors in the fight against violence against women and girls;
to expand support and assistance for victims.
While the Convention focuses on all forms of violence against women, it explicitly recognises that domestic violence and other forms of violence also affect men. For this reason, the Convention encourages states to apply the text to male victims as well. Since Luxembourg’s legislation is generally gender-neutral, the general approach is to apply the Convention to both sexes.
The Convention in brief
Prevention of violence against women and all forms of domestic violence saves lives and reduces human suffering. Governments that agree to the Convention should take the following measures:
train professionals who are in close contact with victims;
conduct regular awareness-raising campaigns;
ensure that educational materials include topics such as gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships;
establish therapeutic programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and sex offenders;
- work closely with NGOs;
- involve the media and the private sector in eliminating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect.
Preventing such violence should not be the sole responsibility of states. In fact, the Convention calls on all members of society to contribute to creating a Europe that is free of all forms of violence against women and domestic violence. Unfortunately, violence against women continues because of the persistence of misogyny. Each of us can, at our own level, challenge gender stereotypes, harmful traditional practices and discrimination against women. Only by achieving real gender equality can violence against women be stopped.
When preventive measures fail and episodes of violence occur, it is important to provide protection and assistance to victims and witnesses. This includes the intervention and protection of the police as well as specialised support, such as shelters and counselling services. It is also important to ensure that mainstream social services understand the reality and problems victims of this type of violence face and help them rebuild and resume their lives. Below are some examples of measures advocated by the Convention:
Ensuring access to relevant information. Victims are usually traumatised after an episode of violence and need easy access to clear and concise information about the services available to them in a language they can understand.
Making sure there is a sufficient number of easily accessible shelters distributed across the country. Victims come from a wide range of social backgrounds. For example, shelters should be equally accessible to women from rural areas or women with disabilities as they are to women in urban areas.
Creating easily accessible crisis centres for rape and sexual violence. These centres provide immediate medical advice, trauma care and forensic services. They are extremely rare in Europe, and it is important that they become more widespread.
Let us remember that it is not enough to set up protection structures and victim support services. It is also important to ensure that victims are aware of their rights and know where and how to get help.
The Convention defines and criminalises the various forms of violence against women as well as domestic violence. This is one of its many merits. To give effect to the Convention, the participating states may need to introduce new offences, including psychological and physical violence, sexual violence and rape, persecution, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, abortion and forced sterilisation. In addition, participating States must ensure that culture, tradition and/or “honour” are not considered justifications for such behaviour.
Once these new offences have been introduced into national legal system, there is no reason not to prosecute perpetrators of violence. On the contrary, participating States will take measures to ensure that any allegations of violence are effectively investigated. Accordingly, law enforcement agencies will have to respond to calls for help, collect evidence and assess the risk of violence to adequately protect the victim.
In addition, participating States should ensure that the rights of victims are respected at all stages of the process and that secondary victimisation is avoided.
The Convention is based on the premise that no single body can handle violence against women and domestic violence on its own. An effective response to violence against women and domestic violence requires the concerted action of many actors. The Convention therefore calls on participating States to implement comprehensive and coordinated policies involving government agencies, NGOs, and national, regional and local parliaments and authorities. The aim is that prevention and control policies are implemented at all levels of government and by all relevant bodies and institutions. This can be done, for example, by developing a national action plan with a specific mission or role for each agency.
Experience in countries that have already taken such an approach shows that much better results are achieved when law enforcement, the judiciary, NGOs, child protection agencies and other relevant partners join forces on a particular case.
The Convention is not only addressed to governments and non-governmental organisations, national parliaments and local authorities; it also sends a clear message to the whole of society. Every man, woman, child, parent, and partner must learn that violence in any form is not the right solution to difficulties or the way to live a peaceful life. Everyone must understand that violence against women and domestic violence are not and will not be tolerated any longer.
Monitoring the implementation of the Convention
The monitoring mechanism of the Istanbul Convention aims to assess and improve the implementation of the Convention by the Parties. It consists of two separate but interacting bodies:
a group of independent experts, the Group of Experts on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), which was initially composed of 10 members and will be expanded to 15 members after the 25th ratification. GREVIO’s task is to monitor the implementation of the Convention by the Parties. GREVIO may also adopt, where appropriate, general recommendations on themes and concepts related to the Convention.
a political body, the Committee of the Parties, which is composed of representatives of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention. The Committee of the Parties follows up on GREVIO’s reports and conclusions and adopts recommendations addressed to the Parties concerned. It is also responsible for the election of GREVIO members.
Violence against women and domestic violence cannot be combated if gender issues are neglected. Because of their gender, women can be victims of violence. Some types of violence, particularly domestic violence, disproportionately affect women.
Consequently, the Convention establishes the elimination of violence against women and domestic violence within the goal of de jure and de facto equality. In its preamble, the Convention recognises the structural nature of such violence, which is both caused by and the consequence of unequal power relations between women and men, and which hinders the full development of women. To combat inequality, the Convention calls on states to implement gender equality policies and to empower women. This is not about treating women as powerless victims but about empowering them to rebuild their lives.
While the Convention focuses on all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, it also recognises that domestic violence also affects men. States can choose whether or not to apply this Convention to boys and men who are victims of violence.
There are many forms of discrimination, harmful practices and gender stereotypes that form the matrix of violent behaviour. Therefore, the Convention specifically addresses gender stereotypes in the areas of awareness raising, education, media and training of professionals. It also establishes the obligation to base protection and assistance measures, as well as investigations and legal proceedings, on an understanding of gender-based violence. The Convention is thus deeply rooted in the concept of gender.
Migrant women, asylum seekers and refugees
Migrant women, both documented and undocumented, and women asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. While their reasons for leaving their countries of origin and their legal status vary widely, both groups are at increased risk of violence and face similar challenges in responding to it. The Convention therefore prohibits the use of migrant or refugee status as a pretext for discrimination in the implementation of its provisions. It also calls for measures to prevent such violence and to assist victims with special consideration for the needs of vulnerable people.
The Convention also devotes an entire chapter to migrant women and asylum seekers facing gender-based violence. It includes a number of obligations that aim to adopt a gender-sensitive approach to violence against migrant women and asylum seekers. For example, it introduces the possibility of granting migrant women who are victims of domestic violence and whose residence status depends on that of their spouse or partner their own residence permit when the relationship ends. This measure allows the victim to leave the relationship without losing her residence status. It also creates, for example, an obligation to allow migrant victims who have left, but not returned to, the country they had immigrated to due to forced marriage in another country to regain their residence status.
In addition, the chapter includes provisions setting out the obligation to recognise gender-based violence against women as a form of persecution within the meaning of the 1951 Refugee Convention and includes the obligation to ensure a gender-sensitive interpretation in the refugee status determination process.
It is important to note that the protection concerns of women asylum seekers are different from those of men. In particular, women fleeing gender-based violence are often unable or unwilling to disclose relevant information during the refugee status determination process. In addition, unaccompanied women are often exposed to sexual harassment and exploitation and are unable to protect themselves. To address the particular problems of female asylum seekers, the Convention sets out the obligation to introduce gender-sensitive asylum procedures, guidelines and support services. The introduction of a gender perspective in procedures allows for the differences between women and men to be taken into account.
Another provision of the Convention reiterates the obligation to respect a well-established principle of asylum and international refugee protection: non-refoulement. The Convention includes the obligation to ensure that victims of violence against women who are in need of protection, regardless of their status or residence, are not returned to a country where their lives could be in danger and where they could be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
In many Member States, the vast majority of services for victims of domestic violence and those for victims of sexual violence, persecution, forced marriage and other forms of abuse are run by non-governmental or civil society organisations. These organisations have a long tradition of providing shelter, legal advice and medical and psychological counselling. They also provide hotlines and other essential services. However, many of these services have instable funding and operate only in small geographical areas. In most countries, the overall number of services available does not correspond to victim demand; this is often due to the fact that these services are not seen as a necessity but as a voluntary activity of NGOs.
This is why the Convention recognises the work of NGOs and calls for more political and financial support for them. Some of its provisions oblige parties to encourage and support the work of NGOs by drawing on their expertise, involving them as partners in inter-agency collaborations and supporting their awareness-raising initiatives. In this way, measures taken to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence can be more effective. Supporting NGOs and civil society organisations helps to optimise their work, for example by creating cooperative structures between law enforcement agencies and shelters, by better advertising their hotlines and services in government information materials, and by ensuring adequate public and political support. The Convention also requires parties to allocate adequate financial and human resources to the activities of non-governmental and civil society organisations.
Finally, NGOs will also play a role in monitoring the implementation of the Convention. The monitoring expert group may receive information from NGOs on the implementation of the Convention by a party, in addition to information provided by the party itself.
Exposure to violence and physical, sexual or psychological abuse has serious consequences for children. It provokes fear, causes trauma and has deleterious effects on their development. Violence against women and domestic violence, in their direct or indirect forms, can have dangerous consequences for children’s health and lives. In cases of domestic violence, it is recognised that children do not need to be directly affected to be considered victims as witnessing violence is equally traumatic.
The Convention addresses various forms of domestic violence and violence against women. Victims are usually girls and women of all ages. However, boys and men can also be victims of certain types of violence that fall within the scope of the Convention, in particular domestic violence and forced marriage. States are therefore encouraged to extend the application of the Convention’s measures to boys and men.
In addition, several provisions specifically address children. They require States to take the following measures:
In the area of prevention:
– Promote and conduct awareness-raising campaigns on the different manifestations of all forms of domestic violence and violence against women and their consequences on children.
– Develop and promote, in cooperation with the private sector, the capacities of children, parents and educators to deal with violent and harmful content in communication spaces.
– Ensure that preventive measures consider the specific needs of child victims.
- In the area of protection and support:
– Provide specialised support services for women victims of sexual violence and their children. Provide safe housing for women and their children.
– Ensure that the rights and needs of child witnesses are considered in protection and assistance measures for victims.
– Ensure that episodes of high violence against women and/or high domestic violence are considered when deciding on custody and visiting rights.
- In the area of prosecution:
– Criminalise the act of intentionally forcing a child into marriage and/or taking the child to another country to force them into marriage.
– Ensure that criminal legislation covers incitement of the child to commit honour crimes.
– Ensure that child victims and witnesses are provided with special protection measures at all stages of the investigation and judicial process.