We are currently in the midst of the UN's 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls. The UK has the opportunity to take concrete action in the fight against gendered violence on 16th December, 2016 by passing the Istanbul Convention into UK law. But what is the Istanbul Convention, and how can you help ensure that our MPs vote to validate it next week?
What is it?
The Istanbul Convention is the strongest move that has ever been made to combat violence against women and girls globally. It represents a comprehensive legal framework that outlines minimum standards for a State's response to violence against women and girls, and would guarantee urgently needed change in the UK in the prevention of, and response to, such violence. For example, it would require the signatory states (of which the UK is one) to protect funding for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, 24/7 helplines and to offer counselling for domestic abuse survivors. Further, it would ensure the provision of education on healthy relationships in schools, something that is desperately needed in the UK.
The UK helped to draft the Istanbul Convention, and has signed it. Over half of the signatory states have now ratified it into their own domestic law; France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Portugal have all done this and yet the UK Government, who signed the convention in 2012 and has been promising to make it UK law ever since, have not.
Why is the Istanbul Convention necessary?
Gender-based violence is prevalent in the UK: 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 have experienced sexual assault, 2 women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner, and 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. In the face of this, the UK's domestic violence services are woefully inadequate. Last year 66% of women and children who were referred to domestic violence refuges were turned away, for the most part because there is not enough bed space.
The Istanbul Convention would tackle this by ensuring that the UK complied with its minimum standards for fighting gendered violence. Without legal protection, funding for services that provide vital help and support to victims of domestic or sexual violence will continue to diminish, as the UK Government pursues its relentless cuts in this area. Gendered violence is real; the UK needs to acknowledge this by supporting legal frameworks that fight it.
What's happening now?
On 16 December 2016, a Private Member's Bill on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence will be voted on in the House of Commons. If successful, this Bill would require the UK Government to fulfil its promise ratify (make officially valid) the Istanbul Convention and pass it into UK law. A Private Member's Bill is a proposal to change the law, and thus needs to be agreed by Parliament; other MPs need to vote to support it. The Bill was first presented to Parliament in June, and now at the stage of its second reading, it will be debated and voted on. If 100 MPs turn up and vote on 16 December, it will pass to the next stage.
This is an opportunity for concrete action to combat gendered violence, an opportunity to move forward in the fight to make sure that all women and girls live free from violence in the UK. We must all ask our MPs to be there, and to vote to ratify the Convention.
What can you do?
Will your MP show up to support the fight against gendered violence by voting on 16 December? Contact them to find out, and to outline the importance of the Istanbul Convention in the efforts to free women and girls from violence in the UK.
Find out who your MP is here and then tweet them, write to them or show up at their surgery. The more personal requests MPs receive from their constituents about attending this vote, the more responsive they will be and the higher the impact of these interventions will be.
For more information on the Istanbul Convention and what you can do to support it, visit IC Change.
We continue to work for a world where women and girls are free from violence. The UK has the opportunity for concrete action towards this goal on 16 December 2016; let us hope that our MPs rise to the challenge.