Europe Puts Violence Against Women on Agenda

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska

The Council of Europe's recent campaign fighting violence against women has successfully reframed domestic violence as a human rights violation, not a private matter.

In June
2008 in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe closed its 18 month Campaign to Combat Violence against Women. It was one of the most successful and visible
campaigns of the Council of Europe, in which most of its member states
took part.

Violence against women, including
domestic violence, is one of the most serious forms of gender-based
violations of human rights. It deprives women of their ability to enjoy
fundamental freedoms and represents a serious obstacle to equality between
women and men. Violence against women in its various forms is still
widespread at all levels of society in all Council of Europe
member states.

An overview of figures for the prevalence of violence against
women suggests that one-fifth to one-quarter of all women have experienced
physical violence at least once during their adult lives, and more than
one-tenth have suffered sexual violence involving the use of force.
Data analysis supports an estimate that about 12% to 15% of all women
have been in a relationship of domestic abuse after the age of 16. Many
more continue to suffer physical and sexual violence from former partners
even after the break-up.

One of the primary concerns of the Council of Europe is to safeguard
and to protect human rights. Violence against women, including domestic
violence, undermines the core values which the Council of Europe is
based on. The Council of Europe, in particular its Steering Committee for the Equality
between Women and Men (CDEG)
has undertaken a series of initiatives to promote the protection of
women against violence. In April 2002, the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation Rec
(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection
of women against violence
This legal instrument was the first international instrument to propose
a global strategy to prevent violence and to protect victims, covering
all forms of gender-based violence. Its implementation is regularly
monitored using a monitoring framework to evaluate progress. Moreover, the Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including domestic violence
was set up in 2006 to evaluate progress at the national level. It is composed
of eight international experts in the field of preventing and combating
violence against women.

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The campaign had numerous goals: it aimed to raise
awareness that violence against women is a human rights violation and to encourage
every citizen to challenge it, to urge member states to demonstrate
political will by providing adequate resources to deliver concrete results
in eradicating violence against women, and finally to promote the implementation
of effective measures for preventing and combating violence against
women through legislation and national action plans to regularly monitor progress.

The campaign received widespread
support from key actors in local, regional and national governments
as well as parliaments and it ensured that the messages of the campaign
reached a large and varied audience. The Council of Europe member states
contributed significantly to the success of the campaign: more than
half of all member states carried out national awareness raising campaigns,
while many others reviewed their policies and legislation or implemented
other measures. Many national parliaments placed the issue of domestic
violence on their agenda through parliamentary debates, hearings or
tabling amendments to the law.  

The primary result of the campaign
has been the recognition by the different actors that violence against
women is a human rights violation – not a private matter. Secondly,
the campaign placed violence against women at the highest level of the
political agenda of member states. Thirdly, it has shown that joint
public action of all national and international actors is necessary
to combat violence against women. Lastly, promoting the implementation
of measures contained in Recommendation Rec(2002)5 has yielded significant

The recent information from
the monitoring framework show that a large proportion of member
states have recognized domestic violence as a grave problem which has
to be dealt with on a solid legal foundation. Recent changes in legislation
on domestic violence seem to focus on providing physical distance between
victim and perpetrator, mainly by the legal provision of non-molestation,
occupation orders and police barring orders. The analysis based on monitoring
the national situation in various member states revealed that there
is an alarming lack of rape crisis centers or other appropriate services for rape victims in Europe.

This corresponds to the extremely low and sinking level of prosecution and conviction, although for the majority of rapes reported to the police
the perpetrator is known. There should be no legal exceptions or privileges that condone or permit any kind of violence within the family or intimate relationships.
Such exceptions are incompatible with basic human rights and should be removed without delay in all member states.
All member states
should be encouraged to develop national Plans of Action, to
review them, report on the outcomes, and draw up progressive plans for
further activities. An important element in all such action plans will
be securing education and specialized training for professionals in
all relevant fields, as well as actions to improve public awareness
and media treatment of gender-based violence and all related issues.  

Differences exist between the
eastern and western part of Europe. The legislation on violence in most
east eastern European countries is based on the criminal system and
rarely has specific provisions for domestic violence. Western European
member states are more likely to focus on protection provided by police
and civil law. Either way is effective only if appropriate implementation
measures are provided.

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