Monday, December 2, 2013

Violence against women: a European perspective.

Edoardo Camilli

Violence against Women: A European
In the Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."[1] Violence against women can take different forms, such as: stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape, forced marriage, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, forced sterilisation, genital mutilation and forced abortion. The consequences of these abuses are traumatic. Women who suffered any of these forms of violence are more likely to contract HIV and sexual transmitted infections, to experience low birth rate and prematurity, to make harmful use of alcohol and drugs and have higher tendency toward depression and suicide.

Such phenomenon is, unfortunately, wider than expected. According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, about 35% of women across the world have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence[2]. In most of the cases (30%), women have been victims of intimate partner violence (i.e. violence perpetrated by an intimate partner or ex-partner)[3] and only in the 7% of cases violence was perpetrated by a man other than a partner or ex-partner.

Violence against women is a worldwide problem, although with different regional incidence. South-East Asia[4] is at the top of the rank with 37.7% of women who have suffered physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime[5]. South-East Asia is followed by East Mediterranean (37%)[6], Africa (36.6%)[7], Americas (29.8%)[8], Europe (25.4%)[9] and Western Pacific (24.6%)[10]. The lowest incidence has been registered in high income countries (23.2%)[11], hence indicating that poverty and lower education are some of the main drivers for gender violence.

Although the situation in Europe seems slightly better than in other regions, the 23.2 to 25.4% of cases of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence still means that almost one every five women in Europe have experienced this kind of violence at least once in their lifetime; a too high number to be accepted by any democratic country that cares about human rights and the public health of its citizens.

Considering that violence against women is not different from other forms of violence based on racial, sexual and religious motivations, some initiatives have been taken to tackle the problem in European countries. One of the most relevant one is the one promoted by the Council of Europe (CoE), Europe’s leading organization for the protection of human right. The CoE has been working on the gender issue since the early 1990s. Nevertheless, it was in 2008 that the Committee of Ministers took the decision to set up an expert group with the mandate to harmonised the legal standards of CoE member states. The text of the “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, also known as Istanbul Convention, was adopted in 2011 and it will enter into force following 10 ratifications out of which 8 from CoE members. So far, it has been ratified by only 7 states out of the 47 CoE member states[12]

The Istanbul Convention is a legally-binding instrument that will oblige signatories to prevent violence against women, to protect victims and to prosecute perpetrators. The prevention will be carried out through initiatives aimed at eradicating the roots of gender violence. Wareness-raising campaigns, teaching of gender equality, educational and media campaigns to eradicate misogynistic attitudes are only some of the initiatives envisaged by the Convention.
The protection of victims will include measures such as granting the police the power to remove the perpetrator from the house, assisting the victim with adequate information, setting up easily accessible shelters, providing medical counseling centers and making available 24/7 free of charge telephone helplines.      
As for the prosecution of perpetrator of violence against women, the Convention will request signatories states to introduces new offenses in their penal codes if not present already. Therefore, forms of violence like forced abortion, forced sterilization, forced marriage, stalking, female genital mutilation, psychological and physical violence and of course sexual violence and rape will be considered as crimes. Moreover, cultural and traditional values will no longer be regarded as a justification for perpetrating any of the above mentioned forms of violence against women.

In conclusion, the Istanbul Convention will be a valid legal instrument that will oblige state to provide more preventive measures before the violence occur, more assistance services once the violence has occurred and more legal tools to prosecute perpetrators. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that not only 10 but all the CoE will ratify the Convention as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the Istanbul Convention is unlikely to eradicate violence against women from one day to another, as gender inequality, the very origin of gender violence, is embodied in centuries-old culture of prevalence of men over women. Therefore, to reach the goal of eradicating gender violence once and for all, societies have to work on promoting the culture of respect of women among those men who are still “culturally illiterate” to women rights. 

I personally invite all CoE member states to ratify the Istanbul Convention and all men to respect women’s will and body. Violence against women is an atrocity and as such we should all stand up against and fight it.

Edoardo Camilli is the founder and director of the International Security Observer. Edoardo works as a freelance security consultant from Brussels, as well as a research analyst at the Italian Institute of Strategic Studies “Niccolò Machiavelli” in Rome. His research activities focus on intelligence, insurgency, organized crime and national security policies. Edoardo holds a Master in International Relations and a second level Master in Intelligence and Security. He is fluent in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

[1] United Nations, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, A/RES/48/104, 85th plenary meeting, 20 December 1993,
[2] World Health Organization, London School of Hygiene, Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council, Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, 2013, 

[3] World Health Organization, Violence against women. Intimate partner and sexual violence against women, Fact sheet N°239, Updated October 2013,

[4] Bangladesh, Timor-Leste (East Timor), India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand.
[5] Global and regional estimates of violence against women, p. 17.
[6] Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine.
[7] Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
[8] Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Plurinational State of Bolivia.
[9] Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine.
[10] Cambodia, China, Philippines, Samoa, Viet Nam.
[11] Australia, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong,a Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Spain,Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America.
[12] Up to November 15, 2013, those who have ratified the Istanbul Convention are: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal and Turkey.  See: