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12. August 2020 - Interview

The Istanbul Convention: An agreement on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence

The Istanbul Convention is mentioned occasionally in newspaper articles on the issues of femicide, domestic violence, a shortage of safe houses for women or sexualised violence. But what exactly is the Istanbul Convention? Why does it have that name? And to what extent can it change the situation of women in Europe? Answers to these questions and more are provided by Jessica Mosbahi, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer at medica mondiale.

What is the Istanbul Convention?

Jessica Mosbahi: The Istanbul Convention is an internationally binding document from the Council of Europe on the combatting of all forms of violence against women in Europe. On May 11, 2011, the convention was signed by thirteen member states of the Council of Europe. This took place in the Turkish city of Istanbul – hence the short, informal version of its name.

The formal, correct name is: The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Worldwide, this is the second convention on protecting women from violence that has a legally binding character.

What are the commitments arising out of the Istanbul Convention?

Jessica Mosbahi: The convention covers four areas relating to the issue of violence against women:

  1. Prevention of violence
  2. Protection against violence
  3. Prosecution of perpetrators
  4. Coordinated policy on the implementation of the abovementioned areas

It is particularly worth noting that protection and prevention have been considered together, so the Istanbul Convention can be seen as following an integrated approach. So there is the opportunity and possibility of developing both protection networks for women affected by violence and also strategies to prevent future violence.

Does the Istanbul Convention also apply in Germany?

Jessica Mosbahi: On February 1, 2018, the Istanbul Convention came into force in Germany. This means that since then all political and governmental bodies in Germany are obliged to implement the convention.

However, this implementation is actually still just beginning. Looking at the national level, positive signs include the provision of 120 million euros in additional funding over four years from 2020 for the expansion of counselling points and women’s safe houses, agreed by the Federal Family Ministry (BMFSFJ) in the programme “Combatting violence against women, together”. Further, a monitoring body is to be established.

However, measures for violence prevention are still lacking. This is another area where the national government has to enable both funding and the practical development of the measures. Lasting success in dealing with violence will not occur without measures to prevent violence.

What does the Istanbul Convention mean for the situation of women?

Jessica Mosbahi: The truly revolutionary aspects are that the text of the convention defines violence against women as a violation of human rights and as discrimination against women, and that it traces these back to power inequality between men and women. This recognition of the causes of violence and the internationally binding character of the convention can both be usefully cited by medica mondiale during its political women’s rights work.

The convention is also significant with regards to the strengthening of the rights of refugee and displaced women: they are explicitly included in the protection of the convention, and signatory states are called on to introduce gender-sensitive procedures for considering asylum applications and to ensure the protection of female refugees from violence.


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