Thursday

26th Nov 2020

Opinion

Five Istanbul Convention myths - and why Poland is wrong

  • Four years ago, all EU member states chose to sign the Istanbul Convention, which marked a milestone in combating violence against women and domestic violence (Photo: Grzegorz Żukowski)

Myths about the Istanbul Convention have strengthened forces that want to withdraw from it altogether.

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.

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  • Several EU countries still refuse to ratify the convention, often based on misinterpretations and myths (Photo: Kayla Sawyer)

These developments puts women's safety at high risk.

Four years ago, all EU member states chose to sign the Istanbul Convention, which marked a milestone in combating violence against women and domestic violence.

But still, several EU countries refuse to ratify the convention, often based on misinterpretations and myths.

It is high time we impugned such views.

According to data, many women face daily threats to their physical safety, not only from strangers, but also from their partners and families.

Every third woman in the EU has suffered physical or sexual violence, not taking into account the hidden statistics. In the wake of the Corona crisis, alarming data on increased levels of violence against women has emerged.

The Istanbul Convention is the first instrument in Europe to set legally binding standards to combat gender-based violence. It calls for action to fight violence against women, together with prevention, protection and prosecution measures.

Here are the five common misconceptions about the convention, which some member states use as arguments for not ratifying it, and how to counter them:

One. The convention supports a "destructive gender ideology". Untrue. The treaty does not force any "gender ideology" on the states. The text just separates the terms "sex" and "gender". Gender refers to how social structures can lead to a lack of respect for women's rights, resulting in increased violence, thus serving as an interpretation tool. Regardless, it does not force the countries to adopt that position nor does it replace any biological definition.

Two. The convention legitimates illegal migration. Also untrue. The convention does not call for a new refugee status. Instead, it is about women's right to a due asylum procedure, taking into account why they are seeking protection, adopting a gender-sensitive approach and additionally considering the violence aspect.

Three. Some countries claim that they already have sufficient legislation and that there is no need to join the convention. That is not a fair reason to not ratify or implement it. The convention covers the elimination of all types of violence, and no country is free from violence against women. It is also primarily a complementary legal document bringing a specific added value in this area, compared to previous international texts.

Four. The Istanbul Convention legally forces countries to introduce a third gender. No, the convention does not oblige states to recognise a third sex under domestic law. The term "third sex" does not even appear in the text.

Five. The Istanbul Convention threatens the nuclear family and traditional family values. This is not true. The convention does not stipulate any such views and ratification does not lead to forcing men or women into a certain lifestyle. It merely stipulates that women who are subjected to domestic violence have the right to receive protection and the support they need to leave a violent relationship.

ECJ ruling postponed

The European Court of Justice was ready to present a legal opinion on the Istanbul Convention, with the purpose of clarifying the legal uncertainty about the accession and resolving how EU ratification can be possible.

It has unfortunately been postponed until 2021.

Of course, the ruling will be vital but important work must not cease in the meantime. Both the EU and all the member states need to ratify the Istanbul Convention immediately.

All around Europe, hundreds of thousands of women have been demonstrating in the streets. It is about time that member states listen to them, recognise the problem and finally guarantee basic human rights through establishing a women's right to live a life free of violence.

Author bio

Arba Kokalari is a Swedish MEP with the EPP group and lead rapporteur in the parliament for the Istanbul Convention.

Disclaimer

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

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