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Thu, 9 July 2020

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Ministers must stop letting women and girls down in the face of violence and ratify the Istanbul Convention

Ministers must stop letting women and girls down in the face of violence and ratify the Istanbul Convention

Will it come down to Boris Johnson to sign off on the Istanbul Convention? Without a serious push from the Prime Minister, this could be another milestone missed in the push for women’s equality., says Anne McLaughlin MP | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to push for the ratification of this vital international agreement that will help protect women and girls here in the UK and right across Europe. This is not an issue we will allow the UK government to push into the long grass, as they have tried to do with so many other things

This coming Monday will mark 8 years since the UK signed the Istanbul Convention - giving us the opportunity to reflect on the milestones that have been achieved, as well as identify our next steps to equality.

One of the great achievements of the UK Parliament is the cross-party support for ending violence against women. 

The UK is considered a leader in the fight for women's rights on the world stage. Yet something is missing from the UK's claim as a major player in the fight for gender equality.

The Council of Europe's Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence – the "Istanbul Convention" – which is arguably the most progressive international treaty for women's rights, remains unratified by the UK. 

Something is missing from the UK's claim as a major player in the fight for gender equality.

Thirty-three countries have ratified the Istanbul Convention from Iceland in the North to Cyprus in the south and right across Europe.

The rights of women as enshrined within the Istanbul Convention are fundamental human rights.

The provisions of the convention are focused on preventing domestic violence, protecting victims and prosecuting accused offenders. 

The offences which must be criminalised are explicitly stated: psychological violence; physical violence; sexual violence; forced marriage; female genital mutilation; forced abortion; forced sterilisation; sexual harassment; and crimes committed in the name of so-called "honour".

These offences are already against the law in the UK – as they should be.

However, Article 44 of the Convention allows British offenders abroad to be tried in a UK court, meaning overseas offenders have nowhere to hide from justice.

This is one of the things the UK Government still cannot seem to reconcile with UK law.

The other is an obligation to ensure support for migrant women experiencing domestic abuse.

The rights of women as enshrined within the Istanbul Convention are fundamental human rights.

The UK signed the Istanbul Convention on 8 June 2012, yet four parliaments and three Prime Ministers later, the Government continues to stall on ratification and therefore is not legally bound by its provisions.

In January 2014, David Cameron said he was committed to ratifying the Istanbul Convention in the "next few months," following the criminalisation of forced marriages. Even with the additional pressure of former SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford’s successful campaign, Mr Cameron never quite managed to see this expectation through.

For all the work his successor Theresa May did in her time as Prime Minister to bring the agenda of women and girls to the forefront of UK politics, she failed to ensure the convention was ratified. 

Will it come down to Boris Johnson to sign off on this convention? Without a serious push from the Prime Minister, this could be another milestone missed in the push for women’s equality.

The Home Office annual report claims the UK Government is “committed to ratifying the Istanbul Convention” – the same language it has used since 2014. Yet, this year the Domestic Abuse Bill in England and Wales was reintroduced without any provisions for ratifying the Convention – including a glaring hole in support for migrant women.

My SNP colleague, Gavin Newlands MP, has tabled an Early Day Motion welcoming the Convention’s ratification by 33 of the original signatories including the UK's friends and neighbours in Ireland – and calling on the UK government to ratify the Convention without delay.

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to push for the ratification of this vital international agreement that will help protect women and girls here in the UK and right across Europe.

This is not an issue we will allow the UK government to push into the long grass, as they have tried to do with so many other things    

 

Anne McLaughlin is SNP MP for Glasgow North East and SNP's shadow women and equalities Secretary

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