Society 14:44 23/11/2018 World

CoE clears away misconceptions around concept of “gender” in Istanbul Convention

To mark the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, the Council of Europe (CoE) clears away serious misconceptions about its landmark Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (known as “Istanbul Convention”).

Despite its clearly stated aims, several religious and ultra conservative groups have been spreading false narratives about the Istanbul Convention, especially around the concept of “gender” included in its text, the CoE said in a press release

These misrepresentations are exposed and rectified in a new question-and-answer format text released today, which also highlights the focus of the convention to end violence against women and to protect women’s human rights.

Ending distractions

In order to end distracting misconceptions, it is important to point out that the Istanbul Convention asks governments that have ratified it to take a comprehensive set of measures to tackle all forms of violence against women and domestic violence.

It is meant to prevent violence from occurring, to help victims, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. It requires criminalising and legally sanctioning different forms of violence against women, for example domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment and psychological violence.

But the convention is certainly not about ending sexual differences between women and men. Nowhere does the convention ever imply that women and men are or should be “the same”.

However, the convention does require action to counter the idea that women are inferior to men. Why? Because prejudices, stereotypes, customs, and traditions still favour men in many settings, for example in the private and public sphere, political life, at work, in education systems, in reporting crimes to the police, or when in court. This makes it all the more difficult for women to disclose experiences of violence and have their rights respected.

On gender and sex

Much has been said incorrectly about the term “gender” in the convention in order to discredit its goal to end violence against women.

Relations between women and men and their roles and attributes in society are essential to understanding why violence against women exists. This term neither replaces the biological definition of “sex” nor the terms “women” and “men”, but rather emphasises how much inequalities, stereotypes and – consequently – violence do not originate from biological differences, but rather from a social construct: that is to say, by attitudes and perceptions of how women and men are and should be in society.

It is not the first time the term “gender” appears in international legal instruments. However, difficulties around the translation of the term “gender” and its distinction from the term “sex” in languages which do not have an exact equivalent, have sometimes been used to fuel controversies about the convention and its implications. Such difficulties should not become a pretext to rejecting the convention, or an obstacle to its implementation.

On tradition and family

Furthermore, the convention does not seek to regulate family life and/or family structures: it neither contains a definition of “family” nor does it promote a particular type of family setting.

It does require governments to ensure the safety of victims who find themselves at risk at home or are threatened by family members, spouses or intimate partners, which unfortunately is the most common form of violence.

The convention’s goal to eliminating gender stereotypes does not equal overturning all tradition and customs, as detractors falsely claim. Transmitting customs or beliefs from generation to generation is indeed very important in shaping our identity.

But some customs and traditional practices are harmful to women and girls – and can put them at risk of violence. The aim therefore is to deconstruct stereotypes affecting women and men that are invoked to justify such harmful traditions.

It is about ensuring women and girls are safe within their own families and everywhere.

Armenia signed the Istanbul Convention on January 18, 2011, however, according to the CoE website, it has not yet been ratified. 

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