PES Women: the Istanbul Convention saves lives - 10 years on, it is more important than ever

11/05/2021 - Statement by PES Women President Zita Gurmai

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, opened for signatures on 11 May 2011.

Today PES Women is celebrating the ten-year anniversary of this Convention, which remains the gold standard instrument for ending violence against women and girls.

The Istanbul Convention is an internationally agreed zero-tolerance standard for combatting gender-based violence and therefore a guarantee for women’s human rights, not only in Europe but worldwide. It sets out an international legal commitment to prevent violence, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators. The Convention contributes concretely to making women safer and has led to positive national legislative changes towards gender equality. With the Convention, violence against women is no longer a "private matter" – the state has an obligation to act. Talking about the Convention also contributes to raising awareness about the importance of stepping up action to protect women from violence.

In the current climate, it is more important than ever to promote and protect the Convention. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in three women in Europe experienced physical or sexual violence. Since lockdown, gender-based violence has increased and women have become more isolated, facing exacerbated threats to their physical and mental safety at home, online and in the streets. Calls to helplines and requests for help in shelters have increased in many countries.

At the same time, we are seeing a backlash against women’s rights and gender equality from conservative, right-wing, forces in Europe and globally, many of whom oppose the Istanbul Convention and encourage misconceptions and myths about its contents. While most European countries fortunately remain committed to the Convention, too little progress has been made in the last decade. Many EU countries have not yet ratified it and others, like Poland, are threatening to withdraw. Turkey’s President Erdogan, whose country hosted the 2011 meeting where the Convention was launched, announced a few months ago that his government is withdrawing from the Convention.

Personally, as the rapporteur for the 2019 Council of Europe report on the achievements and challenges of the Convention, and as PES Women President, I am deeply concerned and angered by the shameful attacks on women’s rights committed by right-wing extremists. Opposition to the Istanbul Convention is the opposite of “family friendly” policies. It places women at great danger of gender-based violence and risks backtracking on decades of gender equality progress. All right-wing myths about the Convention can be easily debunked, as this PES Women briefing shows.

PES Women and the Party of European Socialists family are pushing for the full ratification of the Istanbul Convention and implementation by all EU Member States. We stand in solidarity with the women of Turkey, Poland and every other country where gender equality is treated as a secondary concern and women’s safety is ignored. PES Women members are sending today their support through a short video clip.

Ten years on, the Istanbul Convention has saved many lives and will continue to do so. The future of Europe must be a future free from violence and free from fear. PES Women is fighting for a feminist Europe, and the Istanbul Convention is an integral part of that.