Why we need to ratify the Istanbul Convention – a view from Wales

Tuesday December 6th, 2016

By Eleri Butler, CEO, Welsh Women’s Aid

Wales’ groundbreaking Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 legislates to ensure public services take action to prevent violence against women in all they do, as well as protecting and supporting survivors through improved public services, and this provides the foundation to make real lasting change in Wales for current and future generations.

The recently published national strategy to prevent violence against women (National Strategy on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence – 2016 – 2021) accompanies this legislation, and sets out Welsh Government’s commitment to the principles of the ‘Istanbul Convention’ (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence).

We welcome our Government’s commitment in Wales to take action through the strategy in ways that support the Convention’s articles. This includes, for example, teaching and educating children and young people about healthy relationships; training professionals and other public sector workers via the National Training Framework on violence against women; raising public awareness; supporting and encouraging collaborative approaches and publishing commissioning guidance, and providing immediate, short and long term support services to victims and their children based on local and regional needs.

But despite this significant progress, this is not enough. For survivors and specialist services in Wales, as elsewhere in Europe, the Convention offers a legal framework of minimum standards and detailed measures in areas of policy, prevention, provision and prosecution, which aligns with and strengthens the legislation and strategy here in Wales.

Importantly, the Convention sets out fundamental principles relating to the provision of specialist support services, including refuges. Where these life-saving and life-changing specialist services are available, they carry out vital work in local communities to prevent violence and abuse happening, as well as supporting survivors in crisis and through to recovery, independence and freedom. We need to ensure these services continue so that anyone can access help and support if they’re experiencing domestic abuse, sexual violence, harassment, stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, including through the sex industry. Their sustainability is critically important in areas of Wales, where survivors living in rural communities have raised concerns with us about their abilities to access and engage with services ([1]).

The Convention, which came into force in August 2014, represents best practice and was produced over a number of years, by experts from several countries. If the UK is serious about prevention, protection and support, we need to ratify the Convention without further delay, to make sure all UK countries are legally bound to comply with its provisions.  Because without ratification, the UK and Welsh Governments are not legally bound to comply with any of the Convention’s critically important measures that act to prevent violence, protect survivors and prosecute perpetrators.

Welsh MPs now have the chance to take us one step closer towards a legally binding comprehensive and coordinated approach to addressing all forms of violence against women.[2] On the 16 December a Private Members Bill on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is scheduled in the House of Commons. This debate will provide MPs with the opportunity to take a historic step towards a society in which every woman and child lives free from violence.

Ratification would mean that any commitments made in the Wales strategy would last beyond its five-year lifetime, and we all know that long-term commitments are crucial to the survival of specialist services and the women and children that depend on them. As the national organisation in Wales working to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women, we urge every Welsh MP to attend this debate and to change #HERstory.

Support the work of Welsh Women’s Aid by emailing info@welshwomensaid.org.uk. You can also follow us @WelshWomensAid or Facebook.

[1] Are you listening and am I being heard? Survivor Consultation March 2016

[2] https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=090000168008482e