This week (01.11.21) the Home Office published their fifth annual report on the UK’s progress towards ratification of the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and girls, known as the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention is internationally seen as the “gold standard” for responding to violence against women and girls (VAWG). The UK Government signed the Convention in 2012 but nearly a decade on, has failed to ratify it.
The Convention improves the protection of victims and survivors of VAWG in many ways, including ensuring support services are available to all who need them in each geographic location. The Convention is clear that all victims should be supported regardless of migrant status.
The UK signed the Convention nine years ago but has still not ratified it by enshrining its obligations in UK law. The biggest hurdle to ratification is that the government has not addressed the clear gaps in protection and support for migrant women that Articles 4(3) and 59 of the Convention require governments to address.
Article 4(3) says that States must ensure victims and survivors of VAWG have access to protection and support without discrimination regardless of immigration or refugee status. Article 59 requires States to give migrant survivors whose residence status is dependent on abusive partners the ability to independently apply for residence permits.
The government intended to ratify the Convention with the Domestic Abuse Act, which became law this year. However, they rejected an amendment to the legislation called for by EVAW, which would have secured equal protection and support for migrant women, despite support from a majority of the House of Lords.
Instead, the government opted to deliver a 12-month Support for Migrant Victims scheme, which specialist women’s support organisations say will provide only a fraction of the support that is needed.
The government’s progress report also states that the scheme includes wraparound support for survivors, however this is misleading as any wraparound support provided is not funded by the Home Office but instead falls on specialist services led “by and for” Black and minoritised women.
In addition, the progress report details various measures the government has taken to tackle VAWG since the last report, but there is little that addresses the intersecting structural inequalities that minoritised and marginalised women face, which compound their experience of VAWG.
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“It is shocking that almost a decade after signing, the UK has still not ratified the Istanbul Convention. It speaks volumes about the government’s priorities that they are more invested in maintaining a hostile environment for migrants than ensuring all women and girls can access protection and support from abuse. This significantly undermines commitments made this year to tackle violence against women and girls.
Without addressing the current gaps in protection and ensuring equal support for migrant women, we will be no closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention next year than we are now. The government must put an end to the current two-tier system of protection for survivors and finally set out a clear timetable for ratification.”
The status of Articles 4(3) and 59 is designated as “under review” in the progress report, pending evaluation of the £1.5 million Support for Migrant Victims scheme, which was launched in April 2021 and will last for 12 months. The findings of the scheme are expected June 2022.
June 2022 will also mark the 10th anniversary of the UK signing the Istanbul Convention. Earlier this year, EVAW and several other women’s organisations wrote to the Prime Minister calling on the government to ratify the Convention by 8th June 2022.
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