Friday

18th Jan 2019

Opinion

Istanbul Convention: clearing away the fog of misconceptions

  • The Istanbul Convention does not 'promote' same-sex marriage, legally-recognise 'third sex' status, nor give 'refugee' status to transgender or intersex people (Photo: Grzegorz Żukowski)

As we mark International Women's Day, we notice with some dismay that several Council of Europe member states are showing 'cold feet' in moves to ratify the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention).

Almost every single member of the Council of Europe has signed the treaty. As of this writing, 28 have ratified it.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But recent misconceptions about its purpose as 'ideologically biased"' or against 'traditional family values' are spreading like fog in some countries.

This fog needs to be cleared because the stakes are too high.

Our treaty – considered a gold standard by the UN – provides essential tools to uphold the basic human right of women to live a life free from violence.

It forces no 'gender ideology' on states. It does differentiate between the terms 'sex' and 'gender'.

Sex refers to biological characteristics that define humans as female and male, while gender encapsulates socially constructed roles, behaviours, and activities that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

Thus, gender refers to expected roles for women and men – and how too often these roles are defined by out-dated stereotypes that can make violence against women, intimidation and fear more 'acceptable'.

Does that mean that our convention opposes traditional gender roles? Of course not.

If women want to be stay-at-home mothers while their husbands work, the convention raises no objection: it was never designed to force women or men to live in certain ways.

The education that the convention does require is to end stereotypes based on the idea that women are inferior to men – and that it is okay for them to be beaten.

For instance, Article 14 of the convention requires states to include teaching material on non-stereotyped gender roles in formal curricula and to empower girls and boys to pursue options in life not limited to traditional roles for men (for example solely as breadwinners) and for women (solely as mothers and carers).

We must refute other related misconceptions that thicken the fog.

For example, the education obligation does not imply that states should include teaching material on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A common misconception is that the Istanbul Convention obliges states to have lessons at schools about sexual orientation. It does not.

Some claim that our convention promotes same-sex marriage, but it makes no reference to the legal recognition of such marriage. Certainly the Council of Europe supports LGBTI rights. The convention opposes any form of discrimination. But the subject of same-sex marriage is outside the legal scope of the Istanbul Convention.

Nor does the convention oblige states to legally recognise a third sex under domestic law, as some people mistakenly believe.

The term "third sex" – sometimes referred to as third gender or intersex – refers to people who do not identify as either male or female.

Yet another misconception is that the convention calls for a new "refugee status" for transgender or intersex persons, as has been sometimes erroneously reported. This is not true, either.

It asks for asylum procedures to be carried out in a way that allows women to explain the reasons why they are fleeing.

Whether this is because of rape to silence political expression, or because of the fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation, it takes time to say so.

All the convention wants in this regard is to offer the space to women to open up, because their stories and experiences might qualify for refugee status under the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees.

Bridget O'Loughlin is executive secretary of the Istanbul Convention at the Council of Europe. More on her work about the Convention in this video interview.

Brussels and Madrid clash over domestic violence bill

In a rare display of public disagreement with the EU presidency country, the European Commission on Friday refused to back a legislative proposal providing EU-wide protection for victims of domestic violence.

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Germany led way on EU human rights protection
  2. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  3. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  4. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  5. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  6. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  7. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  8. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us