When we were starting the campaign we were asked: “What do you see in the Istanbul Convention (IC)?” And the simplest reply was (and still is):
“I see change”.
This change is substantial. It is the first time in the UK that violence against women will be seen as a whole in law. The Istanbul Convention provides a clear framework for change across multiple issues; from FGM to rape, forced marriage to psychological violence, stalking to consent. However, it is not simply amending one issue. Rather, the Istanbul Convention recognises violence against women as more than individual issues, but instead a wider epidemic of violence and ensures a co-ordinated response.
The change is along a pathway. The Istanbul Convention starts with the prevention of violence, moving onto protecting women and girls who are experiencing violence, through to prosecution of violence. It also ensures that vital data on violence against women is collected and responded to.
The change is practical. Some of the practical responses that the Istanbul Convention ensures are:
- An adequate number of refuges, including specialist services.
- Sufficient provision of rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres
- Psychological support for victims of violence
- Free 24/7 helplines for all forms of violence
- Education in schools on topics such as violence against women and girls, equality between men and women, the right to personal integrity, and healthy relationships
The change is happening. Some changes have already happened, with the UK Government criminalising FGM, forced marriage and psychological abuse in order to comply with the Istanbul Convention.
The change is needed. However, some change is not enough. We need ALL of the changes set out in the Istanbul Convention to tackle violence against women in the UK. We need the full infrastructure set out to allow women to thrive, rather than fight to survive.