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Treaty on violence against women turns 5

The Istanbul Convention, which set legal standards on gender-based violence, is five years old but includes just a quarter of all Council of Europe nations.

The Istanbul Convention, which introduced legal standards throughout Europe on gender-based violence, has turned five years old but still lacks the participation of more than a quarter of sponsor Council of Europe's 47 member nations.

The first legally binding and comprehensive treaty to fight violence against women and girls entered into force on August 1, 2014, after it was ratified by 10 COE member nations.

“As a Turkish woman and a feminist, Istanbul Convention’s wording strikes me even more than its content. The fact that it refers to historical inequality between men and women is a step forward in getting to the root of the problem, which is patriarchy," said Zeynep Gurcan of Turkey's Human Rights Association, or IHD.

"The resistance and sisterhood that women in my country portray against such backlash also makes me think Istanbul Convention as not merely a legal document but rather a powerful tool for the feminist movement," she said.

An initiative of COE, the continent's leading human rights organization, the treaty built on efforts to protect women and girls from violence since the 1990s. It is Europe's first legally binding treaty to criminalize multiple forms of violence against women and girls.

So far, 34 nations in the COE have ratified the treaty. The 13 holdouts are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. All but Azerbaijan and Russia have at least signed it.

The treaty also emphasizes that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation and form of discrimination that causes inequality between women and men. Proponents say it addresses a universal challenge.

"Violence against women and domestic violence are serious violations of human rights and they are widespread, including in Switzerland," the Swiss Federal Office of Gender Equality said last year when the treaty took effect in the Alpine nation. "In this country, someone dies as a result of domestic violence every two weeks, and every week murder is attempted."

Plodding progress in the E.U.

In the European Union, seven of the E.U.'s 28 member nations still have not ratified the treaty: Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. That has held up the E.U.'s ratification of the treaty after signing it in 2017.

Some have opposed the treaty based on sovereignty concerns. In 2018, Bulgaria's government declined to ratify it after the nation's constitutional court ruled it contradicted the constitution. Some Bulgarian religious groups also opposed it, arguing that ratification would encourage the nation to legalize same-sex marriages or the rights of young people who identify as transgender.

Ursula von der Leyen, a German politician who is the next leader of the European Commission, said she would push for E.U. ratification.

"If 1-in-5 women have already suffered physical or sexual violence in the European Union and 55% of women have been sexually harassed, this is clearly not a women's issue," she said. "I will propose to add violence against women on the list of E.U. crimes defined in the Treaty [of Lisbon]. And the European Union should join the Istanbul Convention."

The Treaty of Lisbon, signed in 2007 and effective in 2009, specifies the European Union was founded on values such as freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, human dignity and rights.