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Finally, the Istanbul Convention applies without reservation! Now on to full implementation – if not now, then when?

Berlin, February 01st, 2023. Five years ago today "The Convention to Prevent and Combat Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence" – the Istanbul Convention (IK), in force in Germany. Congratulations on five years of legislation in the fight against violence against women. In view of right-wing conservative and fundamentalist movements that are threatening women's and human rights worldwide, we must jointly insist even more strongly on the implementation of human rights conventions. A review and an outlook on the implementation of the Istanbul Convention from feminist, anti-racist and intersectional perspectives.

The Istanbul Convention (IC), drafted in 2011 by 46 member states of the Council of Europe, is applicable law for all states that have signed and ratified it. As of today, 36 of the 46 signatory states have ratified the IC and in the meantime countries have withdrawn again, such as Turkey in the summer of 2021. Unfortunately, the European Union is still not among the signatories, as fundamentalist conservative states keep blocking the signing of the IC . This shows how campaigning for women's rights has become more difficult again in recent years. The aim of the IK is to enable every woman and every girl to live a life free of violence and to ensure gender equality. It focuses on violence prevention, protection against violence, law enforcement and comprehensive state-level commitments to combat gender-based and domestic violence. The IK is unique in designing these measures to interlock in order to actively protect those affected. In addition, the IK attributes an important role to civil society and actively recognizes the role of women's rights organizations in the field of protection against violence. But a signed document is paper first, and paper is patient, as we all know. Only when the state and its institutions actually implement this law, ie take all the necessary steps, does theory become good practice.

What do we look back on after five years of the Istanbul Convention in Germany? Developments, effects and criticism

The IK has been a federal law in Germany since 2018 and was welcomed by civil society and politics as a significant milestone in the fight against violence against women. Although there have been some positive developments in German legislation since ratification of the IC, implementation of the convention remains generally poor. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that we only had the law "No means No" in 2016, which created the conditions for ratifying the Istanbul Convention for Germany as well. Other European countries, for example, are also focusing more on the perspective and the will of the woman and have reformed their sexual criminal law so that the woman does not have to react with "No" as a passive object, but proactively express her consent with a "Yes". clarified. 

But the good first. Germany has already achieved a lot in the implementation of IC: The biggest positive step in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention follows today. The reservations against Article 44 and Article 59 paragraphs 2 & 3 are finally dropped at federal level! Especially Article 59 for a marriage-independent right of residence was and still is enormously important for many migrant women who came and come to Germany in the course of family reunification. It is this article that gives them a right of residence independent of marriage and thus, at least formally, offers access to comprehensive protection. Practice will show what that will look like in concrete terms, what steps the Federal Government will take to provide comprehensive protection for all women. Because here, too, a critical look shows us that political action and political will do not always mean the same thing. Unconditional implementation of the IC was announced in the federal government's coalition agreement. But reservations automatically expire five years after they are made if the state party does not renew them and justify them. Realistically, this means that the federal government is not actively doing the work of withdrawing the reservations, but actually simply not extending the reservations.

Further progress at the federal level is the establishment of a reporting office, which is based at the German Institute for Human Rights, and at least we are on the way to setting up an IC coordination office at the federal level, which would be attached to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs. There is also progress in individual federal states in which coordination offices, reporting offices, state action plans and measures have been taken and set up.

This is good progress, but even five years after the IK came into force, Germany still lacks a cross-departmental overall strategy, effective institutions and the necessary resources to implement the right of all women and girls to a life free of violence. The access to prevention, protection, counseling and justice enshrined in the Convention is still inadequate, particularly for groups such as women with a history of flight or migration, with disabilities, diverse gender identities or who are homeless. The IC obliges the contracting states to ensure the prevention and combating of gender-specific violence – the federal government is measured by how effectively and sensitively it implements it.

“If the reservations are dropped now, then the real work begins. From now on we have to see which laws we have to change and where the state still has to drop barriers and restrictions, as required by the Istanbul Convention - in order to effectively stop any form of violence against ALL women!", according to Dr. Delal Atmaca, Managing Director of DaMigra eV and Alliance Councilor of the Istanbul Convention Alliance.

Also the GREVIO[1] Report submitted by the Council of Europe in October 2022 and evaluating how Germany has already implemented the requirements of the Istanbul Convention and where there is still a need for action, criticized Germany. It was particularly emphasized that vulnerable and vulnerable groups such as women with disabilities, refugee women or queer people are hardly taken into account. This can be seen in the reservations against Art. 59 – the article that grants women affected by violence an independent residence permit independent of their husband. The existing reservations and the inadequate implementation of the IC have effectively restricted migrant and refugee women from protection against violence in recent years and restricted their access to support structures. The reality is that women are forced to live with violence and abuse because of financial or legal dependencies, otherwise they could face deportation. If a society does not protect particularly vulnerable groups - especially those who, according to the IK, should be guaranteed special protection - this is absolutely unacceptable and discriminatory and should be clearly stated as such.

Because reservations in general, regardless of their nature, always weaken the corresponding convention and thus dilute its core. We are all the more pleased that Germany has now dropped its reservations about the IC. Because although we have seen some progress in the last five years, there is a lack of concrete implementation in many areas. In Germany, we are still in the early stages of running the marathon in combating violence against women and girls. We have neither a uniform definition of violence or forms of violence nor a nationwide overall strategy that includes the differences in how different groups are affected. Above all, those responsible for implementing IC in Germany must finally realize that structural barriers and institutional structures of discrimination affect us differently and that it is the responsibility of the state to fight and remove these barriers intersectionally.

DaMigra eV represents the interests of women migrant organizations and their concerns and advocates equal opportunities, equal participation and the equality of women with a history of migration and refugee experience in Germany. DaMigra follows the approach of anti-racist feminism.

[1] GREVIO: the monitoring mechanism of the Council of Europe “Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence”.


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