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Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

“Effective ways to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence”

Bratislava, 29 November 2011

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Deputy Prime Minister Chmel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Whatever form it takes, violence against women is an appalling violation of human rights. It is a brutal, often deadly reflection of the inequality suffered by far too many women in our societies.

The topic has been discussed on numerous occasions before. But the hard facts behind our discussion – that at least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime – call more than ever for a serious response.

Everyday, there is a new incident, and each is more appalling than the one before: ex-husbands who shoot their ex-wives in front of their children, abusive husbands who come back to kill, boyfriends or fiancés who cannot forgive being dumped and seek revenge.

Domestic violence is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of region, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion. It is a reflection of the inequality that persists between women and men.

How can we accept that this appalling human rights violation affecting half of the world’s population remains ongoing and so widespread?

How can we accept this fundamental threat to women and our societies as a whole?

How can we accept that in the 21st century the world has not been able to end this heinous crime?

The answer is that we cannot.

So let us start today’s discussion by agreeing that there must be zero tolerance for violence against women.

The truth is that there can be no real equality between women and men if gender-based violence continues. And the truth is that there can be no excuse for abuse – we must not ignore or tolerate any form of violence against women either!

I know this has been said before.

And I know that on 25 November each year world leaders have continued to condemn gender-based violence on the international day for elimination of violence against women. So did I.

But this year, I did not only condemn. I also offered a way forward: 2011 has provided us with an opportunity we cannot miss: in May this year, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention – was opened for signature.

With the Convention we, for the first time, have a real international tool for change. A tool that will make zero tolerance a reality for thousands of women around the world.

This Convention places the issue in the context from which it originates: gender inequality and a basic lack of respect of a woman’s human rights and dignity.

It is the first legally-binding international instrument in Europe on preventing violence, protecting victims and punishing perpetrators, and let me add, the most far-reaching international legal text in the world within this field.

And it recognises the state’s responsibility to proactively act against any form of violence against women and to end impunity for perpetrators.

The Convention has two overarching purposes:

It introduces a whole new approach to violence prevention and victim protection by requiring all relevant actors to co-operate and
co-ordinate in order to weave a net of safety around the victim.

And it seeks to change the hearts and minds of individuals by calling on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to change attitudes.

To make this happen, we also need financial investment. The direct and indirect costs of violence against women place huge financial burdens on countries, States, civil society and international donors. Increased financial investment in relevant structures will certainly reduce that cost.

A study carried out in Denmark found that violence against women – based on reported cases only – costs the Danish society approximately 70 million Euros each year.

This of course refers to direct costs only.

But how can we measure the human costs? The pain, the fear, the psychological trauma, the life-long health problems, the physical and emotional suffering of those around and close to the victim - including children – who witness and bear the brunt of violence?

And, ultimately, the loss of life?

So what will the Convention change for women?

Firstly, taboos will have to be lifted. Governments ratifying the treaty will have to criminalise and prosecute acts of violence against women which all too often go unpunished. This will go hand in hand with prevention activities aiming at changing mentalities: awareness- raising campaigns or the preparation of adequate training material.


Yesterday, in Strasbourg, in the Youth Centre of the Council of Europe, I met with a group of adolescents aged between 12 and 14. They were participating in a workshop aimed at raising their awareness on violence against women and how to combat it. Most of them were of the opinion that not much could be done to fight violence against women, that it was a rule of the game. My exchanges with them made me realise that adolescents should be a priority target group of awareness-raising activities.

Secondly, women will be treated with empathy and professionalism. The Convention calls for investment in extensive training for the police, the prosecution services and the judiciary to make sure that women are treated as victims with respect for their dignity.

Thirdly, for women who are victims of violence, whether it is rape, forced marriage, domestic violence or any other type of violence, a number of services such as shelters, around the clock helplines as well as medical and legal counselling will be set up. These services will be available in the countryside as well as in big cities.

Violence against women and domestic violence has also a direct and indirect impact on children. Witnessing violence amongst adults is traumatising and has a lasting effect on them. The Convention provides them with protection and support services as well as with counselling.

Special attention is also being paid to women who are in a particularly vulnerable situation when it comes to the consequences of violence on their private life and legal status: migrant women, women asylum seekers and women refugees.

There is no doubt that non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) and civil society are at the forefront of providing support services for victims of violence. Therefore, the Convention includes provisions which oblige parties to encourage and support NGO’s work by involving them as partners in multi-agency co-operation and supporting their awareness-raising efforts.

The Istanbul Convention provides the necessary tools for governments and our societies to assume these responsibilities.

So far, 17 member states have signed this Convention. On 24 November, just ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Turkish Parliament was the first to approve the ratification of the Convention. It is my hope that the instrument of ratification will soon be deposited. It is also my hope that ratifications by Slovakia and Norway will follow soon.

The fact that this event is organised by the Slovak authorities with the help of the Norway grants is certainly a good omen, and I should like to thank both for this important initiative.

10 ratifications are needed for the Convention to enter into force and to set up the monitoring mechanism to make sure state parties respect the obligations and provisions of the Convention.

I am confident that we will reach this target soon. Simply because every woman and every girl has the right to live in an environment free from fear, free from threats, free from the risk of abuse, free from violence.

This year the Nobel Peace Price for 2011 was awarded to three outstanding women from Africa and the Middle-East for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s right to full participation in peace-building work.

As the statement on the Nobel Committee’s website reads: “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

Bringing an end to violence against women is a crucial part of peace anywhere in the world.

Implementing the Istanbul Convention in Europe will be an essential step in the right direction. Let’s see to it.

Thank you.