UK Fails To Ratify The Istanbul Convention Prioritising Violence Against Women

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In the U.S, Israel, Australia and Canada, between 40 and 70% of female murder victims are killed by their intimate partners. Approximately 130 million girls and women have experienced worldwide female genital mutilation, and over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, with some states in America still failing to criminalise such practice.

Women and girls are 80% of an estimated 800,000 people who are trafficked across borders, with 79% being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Domestic abuse affects 1 in 4 women, which projects as 2 women being murdered each week, and domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent crime. On average, there will be 35 assaults before a victim calls the police, but it is also one of the highest repeat offender crimes because of lack of police resources to keep victims safe once reached out.

Violence against women is a worldwide problem, but it is not homogenous. The violence women face in the U.S and the UK is different to the violence women face in Israel, Saudi Arabia or even Mexico. Cultures, religions, traditions, norms and attitudes all account for factors in those incredibly high numbers. There is clearly a serious problem worldwide in tackling domestic violence, both legally and socially, which leads to so many women being targeted.

Some argue that misogyny is globalised, that misogyny is profitable with sex trafficking, that a woman’s dignity is ignored in many cultures and religions. It’s hard to accept that an entity, like the UK, which is supposed to be this epitome of modern and progressive ideals, still suffers from major violence against women issue.

It is worth noting that although men do also experience domestic violence, it is not to the same extent and does not carry the same internalised misogyny that comes with violence against women. This is not saying that this is not an important issue to face as well. For specific issues, there are specific responses. Just as men are more affected by suicide, and thus there is a dedicated campaign, being the biggest killer of men under 45, domestic violence affects women drastically more, which is why we have to question: why is the UK falling behind?

The Istanbul convention is the ‘convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’, and is currently the most ‘comprehensive legal framework…that sets minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women’. The UK has signed this convention in 2012 but has since failed to ratify it, meaning they are still not legally bound to these rules. 26 countries, including Germany and France, have ratified this already.

The convention requires the government to do many things to prevent and tackle this issue, including ‘provide support and protection services to victims’, ‘co-operate with other states to eliminate violence globally’ and ‘effectively prosecute and rehabilitate perpetrators’. Amnesty has recently accused the UK of ignoring fundamental human rights, such as the right to protection and safety when VICE reported that 49 British women had been killed by the same men they had previously reported to the police. Amnesty has also criticised the UK’s Domestic Abuse bill for ‘failing migrant women’, where the bill fails migrant women who are ‘further trapped by their immigration status’ and could lead to deportation, since the Police Force have to share victim information with the Home Office for immigration purposes, which ‘allows perpetrator to use the threat of immigration enforcement as a weapon to control and abuse their victims’.

The SUMW coalition agrees that women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds have had their access to support services ‘decimated‘ by further funding cuts, and the domestic abuse bill fails to provide assurance to ALL women, the Southall Black Sisters organisation noting that ‘immigration enforcement is the overriding priority for the Government’. Not to mention in 2018 the Government doubled the charge for temporary migrants to access the NHS, putting a major financial burden on women who are being abused and do not have the financial or opportunistic means to escape.

Despite this, and despite the failings of the UK Government, there has been some progress in changing culture and attitudes towards women who experience domestic violence in the UK. May has actually done quite well in recognising many other forms of domestic abuse, such as economic, coercive control and psychological abuse. The recent draft of the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill introduces economic abuse within the updated definition of doemsitc abuse. Economic abuse is, for example, if your partner controls what job you’re allowed to have, or what you spend your money on. Controlling behaviour such as demanding to view bank statements or not giving you access to your bank account without express permission is forms of economic abuse. The new legislation recognises this, with May noting that ‘the bill will provide a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes economic abuse, alongside other forms…[and]provide victims with a new domestic abuse protection order, allowing the police to intervene earlier’.

The Istanbul convention has explained the need for the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention regardless of the progress being made, because until we do, there is no ‘legal obligation to meet all of its requirements’, including the global partnership element, which the UK Government has agreed to do in the Sustainable Development Goals. When we consider that the UK still has a promiscuous trading partnership with Saudi Arabia, a famous human rights violator and regressive against women’s rights, (there were no women in their gender equality awards…), or their lack of commitment to keeping the NHS free and accessible to all, it is a scary time for women to be literally placing their lives in the hands of a government that LOOKS like it is delivering, but refuses to be held legally accountable for doing so.

‘I want everyone to live free from that threat, and every child to grow up safe and protected, just as I did. I hope that our work will provide an important step change in bringing that about.’ May, 2019.

If you have been affected by this topic, here are some support networks you can reach out to:
  • https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/helpline/
  • https://www.southamptonwomensaid.org.uk/
  • Enabling Services, Building 37
  • Yellow Door Helpline, https://www.yellowdoor.org.uk/helpline
  • Pippa, http://www.pippasouthampton.org/
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