Europe of Human Rights

The Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) together with the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) is launching a survey on women’s well-being and safety in Europe. The survey’s aim is to collect comprehensive data about domestic violence among 40,000 women who will be interviewed. The survey will focus not only on the experience of violence but also on the background (migration, minority, nationality) of the interviewees, as well as their disabilities. Posing those additional questions will help to identify the most vulnerable groups.

The FRA’s analysis is even more relevant in the context of the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence adopted on 7 April 2011. The FRA’s findings may serve as a trigger for a faster ratification and entry into force of the Convention.

The Convention is the first legally binding instrument in the world which creates a comprehensive legal framework for the prevention of violence, protection of victims and termination of the impunity of perpetrators. It defines and criminalizes various forms of violence against women (including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence). It also foresees the establishment of an international group of independent experts with the purpose of monitoring the implementation at a national level. The Convention is open for signature not only by the Council of Europe’s member states but also for the European Union and the states which are not members of these organizations. Despite its nature and being open to a large number of signatories, it has so far been signed only by 19 countries, which failed to ratify it. The Convention will enter into force only after its ratification by 10 signatories.

In order to promote the quick entry into force of the Convention, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe urged Albania, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Norway, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Ukraine for a speedy ratification. A number of countries, including Poland, have not ratified the Convention.

The FRA and EIGE survey may also convince some reluctant politicians, for example in Poland, of the urgent need to adopt comprehensive instruments against domestic violence. Despite the Polish Prime Minister’s declaration in February 2012 that Poland needed to sign and ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention, the Polish Minister of Justice Jarosław Gowin declined such a possibility. He claimed that the Convention was an expression of feminist ideology and thus threatened traditional family values.

The main source of controversy is the definition of “gender” included in the Convention. “Gender” is defined as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men”. Minister Gowin’s objection was caused by this definition and by the duty to promote certain social attitudes implied by it. According to the Minister, the definition “is not coherent”. A lot of controversy was also raised by the obligation to educate about “non-stereotyped gender roles”. According to the Ministry of Justice, such education would undermine the Christian concept of dignity which is fundamental for the Polish Constitution. Advocating the “non-stereotyped gender roles” could be in conflict with the promotion of family values and maternity to which the authorities are obliged under article 18 of the Polish Constitution. The Ministry of Justice is also working on the amendment to the Polish Criminal Code that would make it possible to prosecute rape without the need for the victim’s complaint. Initially, this was the major argument which delayed the signature of the Convention by Poland.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that the government would make the decision regarding the Convention in the upcoming months. Let’s hope that the findings of the FRA and EIGE survey will convince both Polish and other European officials to ratify the Convention. The official study may play an important part in that process, especially given that the member states do not often collect the statistics and the officials are reluctant to consider the ones gathered and presented by non-governmental organizations.

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska and Joanna Smętek, “Europe of Human Rights”


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