British women deserve the protection of the Istanbul Convention

The government has failed to ratify the treaty, which combats violence against women

Image: Devon Buchanan

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, designated by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence against women.

The UN defines the level of violence against women across the world as a pandemic. In the UK alone, 45 per cent of women have experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.

Women are all too often the forgotten victims in their own homes and workplaces, and I, with my colleagues in the European Parliamentary Labour party, am passionate about trying to better the lives of millions of women.   

In view of these terrible statistics, the EU has adopted the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more widely known as the Istanbul Convention.

It is the first European treaty which specifically addresses violence against women and creates binding obligations on countries. These include tackling gender stereotypes, training professionals who work with survivors, and providing specialist, adequately resourced support services.

To date many states across the EU have ratified this convention, but the UK has not. It has been ratified by many of our closest allies, including France, Spain and Sweden, but progress on it here has been slow.

A Private Member’s bill is in fact the only reason that we’re attempting to ratify this EU convention at all, despite the fact that four years have passed since we signed up to it and two yearssince it came into force. The bill is due its second reading on 16 December, and it will be a long, slow process for it to make its way into law, if, indeed, it even makes it in this form at all.

It seems absurd that a full year after me and my colleagues called for the government to ratify this resolution, it still has not come to pass.

It is particularly absurd because our exit from the EU comes with risks to women’s rights. A Europe-wide strategy has been set up to combat violence against women, with EU institutions dedicated to gathering better information on female-targeted crime in order to form a more targeted response.

Victim support is a priority and member states are obliged to provide minimum standards of rights, legal recourse, support services and protection from further violence.

If this government cares about women, it has the opportunity now to show it. The EU has been a powerful force for good in women’s lives, and even though we are leaving, the Istanbul Convention will continue to protect women long after we have left the EU.

That protection is one the women of the UK deserve.

Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England. Follow her on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.