CAHVIO: UK shouldn’t be missing from key convention on violence against women
Today, 25th November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and it seems a fitting moment to ask the government to reaffirm its commitment to eradicating violence against women with a very tangible, and rather overdue, step. We’ve chosen today to start a petition urging the government to sign up to the Council of Europe convention on combating and preventing violence against women and domestic violence (the convention is known as CAHVIO).
Now, the UK has a comparatively good track record on initiatives to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) – leaving aside recent retrograde steps such as cuts to local authority funding of refuges and other VAWG services and the disastrous Legal Aid reforms which will leave women fleeing domestic violence with no access to justice unless they can afford to pay. Compared to many parts of the world where violence against women is tolerated or even sanctioned by the state, the UK has taken many steps over the years to attempt to eradicate violence against women and girls.
In its report to CEDAW (the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) earlier this year, the government made much not only of its efforts to eliminate violence in the UK but also its overseas work, through DFID and FCO, to tackle issues such as female genital mutilation and “honour” based violence.
It’s also worth noting that earlier this month the UK assumed the Chair of the Council of Europe. So we have a leadership role. Presumably we should be leading by example.
So when the Council of Europe opened a new convention to combat violence against women in May this year, you’d think the government would be falling over themselves to sign up. What could be easier than signing up to a convention that doesn’t really ask you to anything more than what you’re already doing? William Hague was at the front of the queue, biro in hand, ready to sign on the dotted line, right? Wrong. Shamefully, seventeen member states signed but the UK government has not.
The purposes of the Convention are to:
a) protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence;
b) contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promote substantive equality between women and men, including by empowering women;
c) design a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of violence against women and domestic violence;
d) promote international co-operation with a view to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence;
e) provide support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to effectively co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence.
These are all things that we should be able to get behind. In fact, these are all things that we claim to be doing. We’re doing so well at them that whenever a government minister gets an awkward question about how the cuts and other government policies are affecting women, the usual defense is to point to the government’s VAWG strategy as an example of all the positive steps the government has taken to improve women’s lives.
If this is one area that the government can be truly proud of, their reluctance to sign up to CAHVIO is puzzling.
By not signing the convention (CAHVIO), the UK government is sending a signal that violence against women – nationally and internationally – is not a priority.
Please sign the petition and demand that the government acts now on violence against women and girls, both in the UK and overseas.
For more information about the Convention and other signatories, see the Council of Europe website.