The Istanbul Convention: A model for the Arab world?
(The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence)
Figures published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that about one in three women worldwide are subjected to physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
The estimated prevalence of intimate partner violence during a woman’s lifetime in different WHO regions ranges from 20% in the Western Pacific to 22% in high-income countries and Europe, 25% in the Americas, 33% in Africa, and 31% in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
The United Nations defines violence against women as:
any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
The Istanbul Convention was opened for signature in May 2011 and came into force in the European Union in August 2014. It recognises gender-based violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women, and identifies several types of violence, including physical, verbal, psychological, sexual and socio-economic violence.
The Convention focuses on four areas of action in which ratifying EU member states have to take measures to prevent violence being practised against women:
1 Prevention: Covering everything from awareness-raising campaigns and training for professionals to community education on the concept, definition and types of violence, and even therapy for perpetrators of domestic violence and sex offenders.
2 Protection: Giving the police or relevant authorities the right to intervene to protect victims and remove perpetrators from their homes, as well as providing protection and support services such as shelters and telephone helplines.
3 Prosecution: Member states that have ratified the Convention must ensure that their domestic laws cover all aspects of domestic violence and sex crimes, for example psychological, physical and sexual violence, rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. Prosecution and judicial proceedings must also incorporate victim and witness protection and not result in secondary harm.
4 Developing co-ordinated policies: Policies for preventing domestic violence in all its forms require a whole societal response involving civil society and NGOs as well as official institutions, in order to reinforce the message that violence against women is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
The Convention also created a monitoring mechanism consisting of two bodies to ensure these provisions are applied and implemented:
- a) the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, made up of impartial, independent human rights experts tasked with publishing national reports, or ‘evaluation procedures’, on the legislative measures taken by member states, and with the ability to initiate inquiries if required; and
- b) the Committee of Parties to the Convention, which adopts recommendations in the Group of Experts’ reports on measures that need to be taken in a specific country.
The Istanbul Convention has helped to reduce the incidence of crimes against women in the states that have signed up to it.
Meanwhile, many Arab countries, including Oman, do not yet have so much as a telephone helpline for cases involving domestic violence, and violence against women in particular.
Even though Article 7 of the Personal Status Law in Oman sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years, Article 10 of the same law allows judges to authorise the marriage of underage girls if that is deemed to be in their best interests.
The crime of marital rape is neither recognised nor penalised under Omani law, while women are still duty-bound to submit to their husbands’ wishes.
Girls and young women are not protected from familial violence in Oman, and Article 44 of the Omani Penal Code does not treat violence against minors as a crime as long as it is carried out in good faith.
Do you think a Convention, or laws like the Istanbul Convention, might really help to reduce, or even end, violence against women in Oman and other Arab countries?