Signing a convention is easy –ratifying it is harder

Up to now, 23 member states of the European Union have signed the Istanbul Convention, but the convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence has only been ratified by 11 member states. In the seminar Violence against Women and Girls B, three panellists from Iceland, Norway and Finland discussed what we can do about the issue, with or without more member states ratifying the convention.


There is a pessimistic undertone as spokesperson for the Icelandic Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse Stígamóta, Guðrún Jónsdóttir speaks. She talks about how the signing of the convention is just one more point to tick off on national governments’ lists of ‘good things to do’, but without it actually leading to any action on the matter.


Tanja Auvinen from the organisation Finnish Exit Prostitution is doubtful about the legitimacy of the convention:


“The convention does not acknowledge that prostitution is violence against women, and that is a big minus.”


The discussion moves on to the importance of changing patriarchal structures rather than implementing a law or two, and burning feminist engagement fills the room. Auvinen talks of the key being our use of language regarding issues of violence against women. The stigma surrounding the issue must be combatted by greater openness.


“Ask the stupid questions and ask the difficult questions,” she encourages the audience.


The Norwegian Equality and Anti-discrimination Spokesperson Rachel Paul highlights the danger of fractionising feminist questions and violence against women, in particular. She says that we must see the patriarchal structure in the connection between the use of rape in warfare in other parts of the world and the domestic violence in our Nordic countries. What they have in common is that the state cannot protect its female citizens. Paul states that it should not be called ‘men’s violence against women’ – a commonly used expression – but rather “male violence” or, as suggested by a member of the audience, ‘patriarchal violence’.


With agreement from the rest of the panel, Paul stresses the fact that, as Nordic countries are seen to be the most gender-equal in the world, our discourse becomes ‘gender-neutral’, which could be dangerous for women’s rights issues that are yet to be solved.


The panel agrees that the concept of the convention, its idea, is good, but there is little confidence in the member states of the EU putting it in action. Auvinen explains that the solution is in putting the right people on the right position and giving them resources;


“We have great tools and the means to do this ourselves. The world is in our hands.”

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