The necessity for Cyprus to ratify the Council of Europe “Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence”
The EU Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the “Istanbul Convention”, was adopted in May 2011 in Istanbul and entered into force in August 2014.
Its crucial significance lies in the fact that it is one of the two Treaties, existing today in the world, that focus exclusively on the elimination of all forms of Violence against women, the second one being the Convention of Belem do Para. The “Istanbul Convention” identifies as criminal offences actions of physical and psychological violence against women, such as stalking, sexual violence including rape, forced marriages, acts of female genital mutilation, forced abortions and forced sterilizations, sexual harassment etc.
By listing and establishing as criminal offences all the forms that Violence against Women may take, the Convention creates an advanced and comprehensive legal framework on three significant aspects aiming at the elimination of Violence against women, which are:
- Prevention and combat of all actions of violence against women,
- Protection of the victims of these actions, and
- Prosecution of those accused to commit such actions.
The “Istanbul Convention” is based on the mutual understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence, a brutal form of discrimination and violation of fundamental human rights that is committed against women because they are women.
According to the EU statistics, 1 in 3 women in the EU has been a victim of physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15, 1 in 20 women have been raped, over the half (55%) of women have experienced sexual harassment, 1 in 3 women has suffered abusive behavior by a partner and 1 in 3 women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence by an adult during childhood.
These statistics are truly sad and frustrating. Unfortunately, the vast majority of actions of violence against women never come to the attention of the police because most of the victims are too afraid and embarrassed to report them.
In Cyprus, although the Government signed on the 16th of June of 2015 the “Istanbul Convention”, it has not proceeded to the Ratification of the Treaty yet, as significant funding and resources are required in order for the Treaty to be effectively implemented and to serve its purpose. More precisely, the Treaty provides for the immediate creation of accessible shelters for women-victims, of specialized help-centers with professionals offering the relevant assistance to the victims and specific telephone helplines that help the victims contact all the relevant authorities.
Furthermore, the new domestic legislation and measures that the Cyprus Government has to pass in order to ratify the Treaty must assure that all the State authorities such as the Police and state hospitals in Cyprus as well as other non-state actors, such as private clinics and/or non-governmental organizations helping women, are provided with all the power and means needed to protect the victims and bring the persons accused of committing these criminal actions to justice.
The Cyprus Government can and must take examples from other EU Countries that have successfully ratified the Treaty such as France, Italy and Spain.
For instance, a major step that Italy has taken right after the Ratification of the Treaty in Italy in 2013 was the creation of a web-series program on violence against women, focusing on how men can choose non-violent behavior towards women. The web-series was used in schools with the objective to educate and prevent young people – as future adults – from abusive and violent acts against women and teach them how to respect women from a young age.
Spain, which ratified the Treaty in April 2014, has established specialized bodies in the police department as well as the judiciary dealing exclusively with violence against women, providing the staff of these bodies with appropriate training and education.
France, which ratified the Treaty in July 2014, launched a massive campaign on sexual harassment in public transport with the aim to raise awareness and to encourage reporting of such actions and prosecution of the perpetrators.
The aforementioned examples should be taken into consideration by the Cyprus Government in order for the Ratification of the Treaty to take place and to be successfully implemented in the Cypriot society and environment. Cyprus, despite its relatively small size and population, has a major problem of violent actions against women, since according to statistics between 2005 until 2015 there have been reported 9,793 incidents of violence against women.
Dealing with acts of violence against women is not an easy thing. It requires determination and funds from the Cyprus Government, and a strong co-operation between state authorities and non-state actors. Furthermore, it requires a deep change in the culture, the educational and legal system in a way that it will empower women, in order to successfully protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
The Minister of Justice in Cyprus, in recent declarations in the Media in February 2017, stated that the Cyprus Government is currently working hard to implement the basic provisions of the Treaty, in order for its Ratification to finally take place at the end of the year 2017.
Hopefully this will be the case, and a new brighter era for the prevention and combat of violence against women will come in Cyprus.