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On 15 February 2023, an overwhelming majority of MEPs urged the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention is an international treaty on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. Written in 2014, it’s been signed by all EU Member States, but only ratified by 21 Member States, with the usual suspects just paying lip service to women’s rights. 

Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have not included the minimum standards the Convention sets in their national legal systems. In July 2020, the Polish government threatened to withdraw from the Convention, but this has not happened yet. 

The EU was supposed to ratify the Istanbul Convention in 2017 – but progress has been stalled. 

This week in the European Parliament another vote took place calling on the EU to speed up the ratification process.  

Here are four reasons why we need the Istanbul Convention, and why we need it now:

1. One in three women

One in every three women will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime. After a spike in domestic violence during lockdown, 77% of women in the EU think that violence against women has gotten worse. Attitudes from men are also worrying. For example, a recent opinion poll in the Netherlands found that one in six men think violence against women is acceptable. These are turbulent times for women living in the EU.

2. We need to fight the backlash against women’s rights

Women’s rights are under attack. We’ve seen this in the case of abortion rights in countries like Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Spain. While gender-based violence is a crime in all Member States, there are differences in what constitutes violence. For example, while rape is criminalised across the bloc, 18 countries still require the use of force or threats for the offence to be punished whereas some Member States have consent-based laws where “only yes means yes”. The current backlash against gender equality highlights how we urgently need new rules to improve the situation for all. 

3. The right and the far right are using every opportunity to undermine women’s rights

In the European Parliament, every attempt was made by EPP and ECR to delete all reference to the right to abortion. While EPP tried to remove any wording that expressed either praise or concern about Member States’ efforts to protect the right to abortion, ECR went for the jugular and tried to eliminate the wording that “women and girls must have full control over their bodies and sexualities”. ECR and ID also opposed the idea to have gender sensitive education programmes as a form of prevention of violence against women.

4. A strong law is a good start

The right and the far-right are threatening women’s rights globally. The Member States that have so-far failed to ratify the Istanbul Convention are all governed by right or far-right political parties. We know that the law is not perfect and can still be manipulated or destroyed by politics – like in the case of Roe v Wade in the US – but a strong law is a good start. The EU must ratify the Istanbul Convention so that all women in the EU have equal rights. Meanwhile, we’re continuing the work  to ensure a strong EU directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence.

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