Wednesday

28th Sep 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

Five Istanbul Convention myths - and why Poland is wrong

In recent weeks, we have seen worrying news that Poland is now planning to withdraw from the Convention. There is an ongoing debate in Turkey which might lead to withdrawal. This development puts women's safety at high risk.

The Nordics unite to support the Council of Europe and ECHR

The foreign ministers of the five Nordic nations – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – express deep concern that Europe's common core principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are increasingly contested.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  2. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  3. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  4. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  5. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  6. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap
  7. EU: Nord Stream explosions 'result of a deliberate act'
  8. EU okays €21bn Covid-recovery funding for Italy amid concern

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. New EU rules to make companies liable for their AI failures
  2. Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?
  3. Meloni's navy-blockade plan to stop Libya migrants 'unlikely'
  4. Underwater explosions were detected near Nord Stream leaks
  5. EU countries stall new pesticide rules, blame Ukraine war
  6. The UN's Uyghur report must push EU into China sanctions
  7. Russian diamonds ban 'would cost 10,000 jobs', Antwerp claims
  8. EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us