Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the outgoing chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE, became the first official to sign the treaty ahead of the opening of a meeting of the committee. I remember that he also did his best to participate in meetings concerning women’s issues in the United Nations.
The treaty, called the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, is to protect women against all forms of violence.
The convention is like a dream, at least in its content, and we will see how long it will take to implement it fully.
The convention applies to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, which it describes as a violation of human rights. It requires the signatories to criminalize the practices of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilization, sexual harassment and stalking as Today’s Zaman reported this week.
It also stipulates that the parties to the convention should take the necessary legislative and other measures to combat honor killings, which refers to the killing of women usually by family members for “staining the family honor.” The parties will make sure that “culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called ‘honor’ shall not be regarded as justification for such acts,” says the convention. “This covers, in particular, claims that the victim has transgressed cultural, religious, social or traditional norms or customs of appropriate behavior.”
One of the issues noted in this convention is the importance of accountability for perpetrators of crimes against women. This is not just about services for victims but about genuinely trying to solve the problem. Treatment for perpetrators is expected.
This is extremely important. For many years activists concerned with women’s issues in this country have been pointing out that to train people who are supposed to give services to victims of violence is important but not good enough because as long as perpetrators are not held accountable and rehabilitated, they repeat their actions towards other women.
The convention also strongly points out that “parties shall take the necessary measures to encourage all members of society, especially men and boys, to contribute actively to preventing all forms of violence covered by the scope of this convention.” This very progressive document also says school textbooks should be revised to remove all instances of sexism from them. If this is accomplished, women of this country will feel safer and confident.
When I looked more closely at the convention I saw that there was a more recent revised version that eliminated a sanction against states contained in the draft version.
But of course to educate men and boys and revise school textbooks is not enough, and the violence will continue. But according to the convention, “Integrated services and coordinated services for victims and perpetrators and their families are encouraged,” which is just another dream for women. It envisages free services for the victims of violence and all kinds of support especially for victims of sexual harassment and attacks. We all know that due to the lack of such services most women are even reluctant to take legal action. The idea of going from the police station to the hospital, from there to the public prosecutor, then to a forensic institute most of the time turns into another form of harassment. If this convention is implemented, women will know that they would be received by understanding institutions they can trust and that they will be treated by educated service providers.
There is a provision in the convention foreseeing civil penalties against the police or other government agencies that do not do their duty. This is an important and very useful form of accountability for governments and their agents. From now on, when a woman enters a police station she will not hear “Go back to your house, forgive your husband.”
Another important thing is that governments are urged to promote cooperation between government agencies and civil society organizations. This is generally not the practice in Turkey now.
Civil society organizations working in this field usually encounter many problems when it comes to their relations with government bodies. The strength of support for civil society organizations is very strong in this document, which increases hopes for the future.
One of the most important aspects of this convention is that it envisages sanctions and monitoring control over countries. The draft was stronger on this issue, but the actual document is softer. Still it is important.
On the other hand, for a while women’s organizations in this country have been pointing out that legislation regarding the problems of women is not bad at all, but the mentality is not changing. So from now on hope for changing the existing mentality can be higher.
One thing is very obvious, women will carefully monitor whether this convention is implemented. A new hope, but a new fight starts now.