image_pdfimage_print (07.11.2016) – – Combatting violence and domestic violence against women and girls is a big issue, not just in the UK, but internationally. In England and Wales, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former partner. That’s 1 woman every 3 days.


Internationally, global figures currently indicate that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced sexual or physical violence by a partner or non-partner in their lifetime.


When we look at these worrying statistics, and see the state of current issues within the world, through news stories about the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls, or the attitudes one presidential hopeful has towards his female opponent, we begin to truly understand the plight of women and what women still suffer with in such modern times.


So, what are the UK government doing about gender based violence?


In 2011 The Istanbul Convention (or The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was opened for signature in Istanbul. The convention aims at preventing violence against women and girls, protecting the victims of violence, and prosecuting the perpetrators. It has currently been signed by 42 countries, and ratified by 22. Signing the Istanbul convention was a sign that the UK was stepping up the measures it takes to prevent gender based violence, it was a symbol of great things to come for women, and for the survivors of domestic abuse.


However, the UK has since failed to ratify the document, meaning it is not legally bound to its provisions. Provisions included in the convention include education to boys and girls about equality and non-violent resolution in interpersonal relationships, the criminalisation of things such as honour violence and Female genital mutilation, ensuring professional services are provided for victims of domestic violence and providing safe accommodation for victims subjected to an act of violence, especially for women victims of violence and their children.


The UK government to their credit, has already criminalised most of the offences the convention outlines, forced marriages being the last offence on the list to be criminalised, with the government banning forced marriages in June 2014. David Cameron’s promise to ratify the agreement in the coming months after the banning of forced marriages however, never came into effect.


If the government has already criminalised the offences the convention asks it to, then why, almost five years after the UK signed the convention, has the government not set out a committed plan to ratify it?


In February 2016 the government answered that question in Parliament by stating an issue with article 44 of the convention. This article discusses jurisdiction and international law, and deals with territorial issues, such as the measures to take when a perpetrator is in UK territory, and deciding jurisdiction when dealing with an offence. The government stated its aim to investigate this article, and until that investigation is over, they would not ratify The Istanbul Convention.


However, it has still been over four years since we have signed the convention. A government who promised outcomes for women and girls since 2012, a government who promised to ratify the convention in June 2014, a government who gave their excuse in February 2016, is edging closer to 2017 with no sign of progress and with no timeline of when they will finally ratify the convention.


Is article 44 the real issue? Or are the government holding back on the ratification for other reasons?


Since 2010, 17% of women’s refuges have been cut. Nearly a third of referrals to women’s refuges were turned away in 2013-2014 because of lack of space. Recent cuts to mental health support services have left an estimated 10,000 victims of sexual abuse victims waiting more than a year for vital counselling services.


Is it article 44 of the convention that is stopping a tory government from implicating change, or are the other articles of the convention, such as providing support and accommodation for victims, that are stopping the tory government from ratifying it, are their own cuts to these services preventing the UK from carrying out its promise to women and girls?


Whatever the case, the government needs to act now to ratify the Istanbul convention, this isn’t just about politics. I echo Angela Crawley MP the SNP Member of parliament who asked in February of this year why the UK government hadn’t signed the convention, when I say, this issue is a human rights issue.


The politics of the convention and its articles may sound confusing to you or I, but it is a short, and relatively easy to read agreement that the government has had over 4 years to debate and investigate.


Women are dying in their hundred’s; children are being subjected to abuse and neglect because of gender based and domestic violence. What the government is doing in terms of cuts to services for domestic abuse victims is dangerous, The Istanbul Convention could have prevented these cuts, and if ratified, could mean that the government is legally obliged to spend more money on support services. It’s no wonder that a tory government throwing out cuts to the most vulnerable members of society, will not ratify a document that may prevent them from doing so.


We must put pressure on the government to ratify the convention, and we must do so with haste.

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