This week Greece became the 32nd state to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, including domestic violence. The list of states to have ratified the Convention to date includes France, Germany and Sweden. The UK has still not ratified the Convention, despite signing a commitment to do so six years ago, and being one of the instigating countries to the Convention.
The Istanbul Convention is a comprehensive legal framework that requires any government that ratifies it to take all necessary steps to prevent violence against women, to protect women who are experiencing violence, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure monitoring of violence against women.
We know that domestic violence in the UK is serious problem. According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, an estimated 1.2million women experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017, and an estimated 4.3million women aged 16-59 have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. Shockingly, on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. Despite its well publicised commitments, the UK has a long way to go in keeping women and children safe from violence and abuse.
The Istanbul Convention would set minimum standards for the UK to meet. Other states have met their obligations in a number of ways: by running regular national awareness and prevention campaigns; establishing treatment programmes for perpetrators; providing sufficient refuges and support services to survivors; defining and criminalising forms of violence against women (including psychological and sexual violence, female genital mutilation and stalking), and then investigating and prosecuting offenders. Once ratified, the Government could then be held to account over the requirements contained within the Convention.
Perhaps part of the Government’s reluctance to ratify is that it is not currently clear that the UK would meet the minimum requirements of the Istanbul Convention. The UK’s support services and refuges are insufficiently funded for demand. A report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) in October 2017, found that Local Authorities have cut their funding of domestic violence refuges by 24% since 2010. Last year the Government announced £20million of funding for domestic violence projects, yet BIJ’s report found that 50 Local Authorities received no allocation of this funding, affecting 15% of the adult female population. The latest Women’s Aid survey found that one in five referrals to refuges were turned away due to a lack of space. On top of this, many women find there are significant obstacles on the path to justice and treatment programmes for perpetrators are too often poorly resourced and ineffective.
The Government has stated that it intends to address major judicial obstacles to full ratification in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill. This is welcome, however the Domestic Abuse Bill is now not expected in the House until spring 2019. The Government must act now to recognise its duty to women and children in our country. It must act to reverse funding reductions for refuges and specialist support services. It must act to change attitudes towards domestic violence in regular national campaigns. Fundamentally, it must act to ensure that women and children in all areas of the country can access the support they need, and thereby end the current postcode lottery. I urge the Government to ratify the treaty without further prevarication and delay.
Sarah Champion is the Labour MP for Rotheram