Words can’t halt this violence – actions will

Last week, men and women from around the world marked International Women’s Day and hardly a politician missed the opportunity to tweet some platitude about the fairer sex. Many then settled back to forget about equality for another year.

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Published in The National 16 March 2015

Scotland expects better, and this week I’ve called for action on something that could make a huge difference to the lives of women across the EU. In Scotland we’ve got a lot of good stories to tell, reflected in a proportionate representation of women in our government, yet being part of the UK means that we’re yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

Yes, the Council of Europe’s award-winning and standard-setting treaty is yet to be implemented in the United Kingdom. It has signed up, but that was the best part of four years ago and implementation has not followed. It is in the longest of long grass, and it is high time we saw not just fluffy tweets but action.

The convention, adopted by all 47 Council of Europe Member States on May 11 2011, came into force on August 1 2014, marking an important step towards eradicating violence against women and providing protection for victims. It sets out minimum standards on prevention, protection, prosecution and the development of integrated policies. Countries ratifying the treaty are obligated to protect and support victims. They must also establish services such as hotlines, shelters, medical services, counselling and legal aid.

The Istanbul Convention is notably comprehensive and robust, mandating protection from all forms of violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence, stalking, harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced sterilisation.

Gender inequality is and should be seen as the root cause of violence against women and needs to be faced within our society and no less within the UK power structures. The modest levels of female representation at Westminster stand in sharp contrast to the Nordic levels achieved in the Scottish Parliament. No wonder more than half on women living in the UK do not feel the Government represents them!

UK Government ministers say they are committed to tackling inequality and violence against women, yet just last week a UK minister described the SNP suggestion of establishing an LGBTI Envoy in the Foreign Office as “tick box”; the UK still has the odious anti-Catholic Act of Settlement on the statute book; and by not actually ratifying the Istanbul treaty calls into question all the fine words.

The Istanbul Convention can save lives in countries that ratify and implement it. It’s therefore disappointing to see that only nine EU countries ratified it and I have written to the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini asking for her support for the EU-wide adoption of the treaty. 

It’s with shame that we must admit violence against women and girls is a vast problem across the European Union and that support services for women who suffer abuse are inadequate in most 

EU member states. 

One in three women in the 

EU has experienced some form of physical and/or sexual assault since the age of 15, according to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

It’s not only right that member states stand united in condemnation of any act of violence against women. The EU can lead by example if it begins the process of ratifying this convention.