A binding treaty to eradicate violence against women: from Europe, to the world?

In a previous IntLawGrrls post in this blog, Noelle Quenivet mentioned Renee Romkens’ concern about gender neutral approaches to domestic violence. Certainly during the negotiation of the treaty that became the Istanbul Convention, I shared those concerns – at the time I was representing Amnesty International, and I was present in the negotiation room and able to participate in discussions, albeit with a much lower status than state representatives. While these concerns about gender-neutral approaches to domestic violence remain, I would like to think that this was an anomaly in the negotiation, a view of a small number of delegations, unsubstantiated by clear research, that there is a symmetry between women’s violence against men, and men’s violence against women. I would like to think that this anomaly can be clarified and rectified by GREVIO practice.

To counterbalance this real concern, there are markers throughout the treaty that a gendered understanding and policy approach which recognizes the preponderance of male violence against women and girls is the appropriate road to take (see Article 6, Article 18(3) and Article 49(2)).

The research base supporting a gendered approach is extremely robust – particularly in the research of Professors Dobash and Dobash (particularly Women’s violence to men in intimate relationships: working on a puzzle).

In a recent Council of Europe conference on women’s access to justice, Professor Sylvia Walby noted that statistical flaws may account for the alleged symmetry between women’s violence against men, and men’s violence against women: a man’s lengthy course of conduct of domestic violence, involving coercive and controlling behaviour and psychological, physical, sexual and/or psychological violence will be counted as one episode of violent behaviour, whereas a single act of violent self-defence by the woman will also count as one event of violence: hence the apparent symmetry. [Further details, including Professor Walby’s PowerPoint presentation, can be found here.]

In Noelle Quenivet’s post, there was a detailed and interesting discussion of the possibilities for a global legally binding treaty. The Istanbul Convention is technically open to ratification by any state, not just states within the Council of Europe, so there is the technical possibility that the Istanbul Convention may become a global standard: as it is grounded in CEDAW requirements, this could be an effective response to violence against women.

A global treaty – drafted in negotiations where representatives of every region of the world participate – would be a handsome goal to aim towards, as long as it maintains the detail of existing human rights protections. Work on the upcoming CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation on gender-based violence promises to be a good opportunity to appraise and recognize the detail of the existing standards and jurisprudence, for example, on definitions of crimes, survivor services, and the due diligence duty on states to prevent violence against women who are known to be at risk. As an observer in the negotiation of the Istanbul Convention, I hope that every delegation which participates in the negotiation of a global treaty on violence against women is led by a woman, and includes representatives of women’s organizations: and most importantly of all, is informed by women survivors. Taking as a benchmark the requirements in the Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security, for women’s participation, it would be really progressive to explore various mechanisms to facilitate survivor participation – for example, either as members of delegations, or if they prefer to remain anonymous, through consultations which take place alongside the treaty negotiation sessions. These ideas could be explored from now on.

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