How will the Istanbul Convention help combat gender-based and domestic violence?

How will the Istanbul Convention help combat gender-based and domestic violence?

Ukrainian human rights defenders have been waiting for 11 years ratification of the Istanbul Convention (full name – Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence).
Finally, already during the full-scale war with Russia, namely on June 20, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine ratified it. 

Why is this important and how exactly will it help to combat gender-based and domestic violence? Tells Kateryna Borozdina, vice president of the public organization "La Strada - Ukraine". 

The main reason why Ukraine has not ratified the Istanbul Convention for 11 years is related myths and prejudices, incorrect interpretations of the text of the convention, its content and goals. In particular, due to the distorted perception of the concept of "gender". However, the norms of the convention are extremely important both in peacetime and in times of war. Therefore, its ratification is a significant event from the point of view of the formation of Ukraine as a state that cares about people's rights.

The ratification of the Istanbul Convention during Russia's war against Ukraine is extremely relevant also because the risks associated with domestic violence have intensified in Ukraine. This is a consequence of stress in social and economic life (for example, forced displacement, staying in the territories of active hostilities and temporary occupation, loss of work and housing, etc.).    

What myths are associated with the Istanbul Convention?

Myth 1. The Convention destroys the traditional Ukrainian family and the institution of the family in general

The Istanbul Convention does not oblige to introduce changes in the national legislation on marriage, adoption, child rearing, same-sex relationships, etc. It applies exclusively to those concepts that are fixed in the title - prevention of violence against women and domestic violence. It is women who mostly suffer from domestic violence. But the convention applies not only to women, but also to men who may also be victims of domestic violence. 

The concepts of "gender" and "gender equality" do not refer to issues related, for example, to sexual orientation. Moreover, sex (biological status) and gender (social role) are different things. Gender and gender equality means acceptance and implementation of equal rights and opportunities of women and men in society. And also girls and boys - it is important to talk about this from childhood in order to avoid the formation of gender stereotypes.  

Myth 2. The Convention is an "imposed foreign document"

In fact, Ukraine was one of the developers of this convention - our representatives were in the working group. Before Ukraine's ratification, it was already signed by 36 European countries. Since Ukraine chose the European vector of development and received the status of a candidate for joining the EU, this step is more than balanced and timely. 

Myth 3. The Convention aims to "eliminate differences between women and men"

The Istanbul Convention does not deal with these issues in any way and does not contain any distinctions between men and women. Gender equality and the fight against violence do not affect this. But people had and will continue to have the right to self-identification. 

The convention deals with protection against violence in the family, the victims of which are mostly women. However, not exclusively - men have the same rights to protection. Children, boys and girls - the same. 

Myth 4. The Convention affects "religious values" 

In fact, the Istanbul Convention does not concern the realization of the right of citizens to freely choose their religion. However, she emphasizes that certain religious and cultural traditions can influence manifestations of violence in a certain state or community, in particular in Ukraine. And modern society should abandon such norms. Not only in a religious context, but at the level of culture in general. A simple example: the centuries-old proverb "Hit means love" should receive a new reading: "Hit means he will be punished according to the current legislation." 

Myth 5. The convention legalizes same-sex marriage

The Istanbul Convention does not in any way concern the legalization of same-sex marriages, as well as sexual orientation in general. 

What exactly will the Istanbul Convention change?

Since 2017, Ukraine has begun to change national legislation in matters covered by the Istanbul Convention. In particular, entered into force Law "On Prevention and Combating Domestic Violence", changes were made to criminal and administrative legislation regarding punishment for committing domestic violence, etc. However, this is not enough - and the Istanbul Convention provides for additional changes to the legislation. It is important to understand, and it is clearly stated in the ratification document: the changes will only concern issues of protection against violence and its consequences. 

The Istanbul Convention establishes criminal liability for psychological, physical, and sexual violence, including rape, stalking, sexual harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion, and forced sterilization. Not all phenomena from this list imply responsibility in Ukraine. 

In particular, persecution, or the so-called stalking is a fairly common phenomenon in Ukraine: men often resort to stalking women, for example, after the end of a relationship. It is difficult to identify and prove, and neither the reaction algorithm of law enforcement agencies nor the responsibility for these actions is recorded in Ukrainian legislation. 

There is also an acute problem sexual harassment. The national legislation currently in force in Ukraine is not comprehensive and limits both law enforcement agencies and victims. Changes in the legislation should provide mechanisms for the protection of rights in this area.  

Also, the Istanbul Convention will expand the possibilities of protecting the rights of victims in international courts regarding crimes that are gender-based or related to domestic violence. 

The Istanbul Convention obliges states not only to respond to gender-based and domestic violence, but also to take preventive measures (in particular, through information campaigns). And also conduct training of specialists who work with victims of violence and risk groups. It is necessary to fight not only with the consequences of violence, but also to prevent it, to reduce the risks of committing it. 

In order to confirm its readiness to follow the path of development and respect for equal rights, Ukraine needs to review many aspects of violence at the level of both legislation and ideology in general. 

Gender inequality is the primary basis for the emergence of violence as a phenomenon. For example, the stereotypes of the "stronger sex" and the "weaker sex". That is why the formation of gender equality as a social norm is important - it is the first step in combating violence. We must raise awareness of what violence is, why responsibility is provided for its various manifestations, and how to protect ourselves from falling into such situations.

Recently, the National Hotline for Prevention of Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking and Gender Discrimination conducted a survey of female subscribers affected by domestic violence. Only 40 of the 202 women experienced domestic violence for the first time during the full-scale war. That is, the risks of domestic violence are increasing, but the problem is systemic and rooted in society. The fight against domestic, gender-based and any other types of violence is always timely, during the war and after the Victory of Ukraine. The Istanbul Convention is one of the effective tools and guidelines in this regard. 

Text: Kateryna Majevska