by Cheryl Thomas
I am writing from Batumi, Georgia, where representatives from 15 countries have come together to acknowledge another milestone on the road to ending violence against women: Europe’s new Convention on Violence Against Women (the “Istanbul Convention”). This groundbreaking treaty is a strong statement by the 47 Council of Europe that stopping violence against women must become an international priority.
For the past two days, I have listened with pride and hope to the stories of progress that countries throughout the region are making in improving their response to violence against women. It is tangible progress and it is very exciting to know that The Advocates for Human Rights has played an important part in it. Here’s just one example:
In Kazakhstan, many thousands of orders for protection are now being issued. Just four years ago, no one could even conceive of the government intervening in a husband’s assault against his wife. It was considered his right to do so and these assaults were committed with impunity. Now all that has changed.
Yet I’ve also heard stories like this one from our Georgian partner, who recently went to court with a battered woman and her 18 year old daughter. The daughter’s nose was broken and bandaged. The social worker who accompanied them to court told the judge that it was the woman’s fault that her husband had broken the daughter’s nose. She had “provoked” him, according to the social worker, and did not deserve an order for protection.
Another story, this time from Turkey, of a woman with 5 children who has tried desperately for years to escape the unrelenting violence inflicted on her by her husband. She has been unable to get help from the police – or anyone else. Even the shelter workers in the shelter where she sought safety allowed him to enter, stab her with a fork and drag her home.
These horrific stories of the human rights abuses that women experience every day in their own homes confirm that there is still much work ahead for us. Strong statements like the Istanbul Convention are critically important, but additional steps must be taken. Legal professionals urgently need training to address pervasive and discriminatory attitudes and harmful practices. Victims need support in the legal process. Raising awareness generally in the community is hugely important to ending violence against women.
This meeting in Batumi brings home to me the fact that The Advocates for Human Rights, with our expertise in monitoring, training and consultation on laws, continues to be a critical resource for our partners in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Together, we will make a difference in the lives of millions of women.
By Cheryl Thomas
Women’s Human Rights Program Director