Title of Resolution:

URGENT UK RATIFICATION OF THE ISTANBUL CONVENTION

The NCW in conference assembled calls for the government to take all necessary steps to facilitate urgent ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’.)

Background:

The NCW notes that the Istanbul Convention was signed in 2012, but, eight years later, it has not yet been ratified.

The Domestic Abuse Bill offers key progress, for example establishing a statutory definition of domestic violence. However, if does not include critical measures to protect migrant women and girls, a necessity for the ratification of the Convention, which mandates that services and support for survivors must be non-discriminatory and without regard to residency or immigration status.

The lack of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse was raised in the June 2019 Report on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill [1]. In the October 2019 Third Annual Report on the UK’s progress towards the ratification of the Istanbul Convention [2], Section 59 (‘Residence Status’) remained ‘Under Review’ – it was one of the two major respects in which UK law has yet to comply sufficiently to allow the ratification of the Convention.

People on visas such as spousal or fiancé visas have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (Immigration and Asylum Act 1999), making them ineligible for most government benefits. Because refuges often depend on government housing benefit payments for financial support, many cannot accept survivors with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ [3]. The Government has now allocated £1.5m toward a ‘Support for Migrant Victims’ (SMV) pilot scheme, to be launched later this year, to support migrant victims of domestic abuse who do not have access to public funds to access safe accommodation. It is also collecting data on the number of migrant victims who are likely to need support, information about their immigration status and length of time they are supported, and their outcomes from the pilot and how they can be supported to move on from safe accommodation. This support needs to be developed as quickly as possible to protect women in this situation and make ratification of the Istanbul Convention possible.

Furthermore, migrant women often have their immigration status weaponised against them by abusers; they may fear approaching authorities due to risk of detention, deportation, or separation from their children. The government must ensure that language barriers do not exclude information on services for victims of domestic abuse from reaching these women – the #YouAreNotAlone campaign introduced by the Home Secretary during the Covid-19 response, for example, contains messaging only in English.

Furthermore, NCW supports the recommendation of the Joint Committee that the government provides clarity on the arrangements for the national provision of specialist services to groups such as BAME women and those with disabilities. In May 2019, Women’s Aid found that there were only 418 dedicated shelter spaces across women for BAME women, 4 for women over 45, 12 for women with learning disabilities, and none for deaf women [4].

The UK government must ensure that services and support for survivors of domestic abuse are non-discriminatory, specialist, and without regard to residency or immigration status, so that the Istanbul Convention can finally be ratified.

Sources

[1] Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: First Report of Session 2017-19 (House of Lords and House of Commons: 11 June 2019). Online: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201719/jtselect/jtddab/2075/2075.pdf [accessed 18 June 2020].

[2] Home Office, Ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence Against Women and Girls and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) – 2019 Report on Progress (Crown copyright: October 2019). Online: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/843509/CCS0919132732-001_Istanbul_Convention_2019_Report_Option_A_Web_Accessible.pdf [accessed 17 June 2020].

[3] Human Rights Watch, ‘UK Failing Domestic Abuse Victims in Pandemic: Enact Legislation Protecting Those Most At Risk’ (Human Rights Watch, 8 June 2020). Online: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/08/uk-failing-domestic-abuse-victims-pandemic [accessed 18 June 2020].

[4] Women’s Aid, The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Annual Audit (Women’s Aid, 2020), p. 25. Online: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/The-Domestic-Abuse-Report-2020-The-Annual-Audit.pdf  [accessed 18 June 2020].

________________________________________________________________________________

Proposer:            Helena Trenkić, NCW Network 18+ Member

Seconder:            Gwenda Kibble, NCW Hereford Branch

Submitted by:    Helena Trenkić, NCW Network 18+ Member

_________________________________________________________________________________

Proposer Speech – Helena Trenkić

The Covid-19 pandemic has been accompanied by what the UN have called an additional, ‘shadow pandemic’: that of domestic abuse. It’s thought that cases have increased by 20% during lockdown, as many people are trapped at home with their abusers. Both men and women experience domestic abuse, but women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence, and violence resulting in death.

This has at least drawn public attention to the issue of domestic abuse, and to the scourge of Violence Against Women in all its forms. Globally, the WHO estimates that 1 in 3 women experience violence, and most of this comes from an intimate partner.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, has been ratified by 34 European countries. It is referred to by many NGOs as ‘the gold standard approach’ to tackling Violence Against Women. The United Kingdom signed the Convention on June 8th, 2012. Eight long years later, however, the Convention has not been ratified.

The government points out that ‘in most respects, the UK already complies with or goes further than the Convention’. Certainly, the Domestic Abuse Bill marks some key progress, for example establishing a statutory definition of domestic violence. However, the Annual Reports on Progress towards Ratification that the government publishes reveal where women and girls are still not being protected, and why the Convention cannot yet be ratified.

The Convention mandates that services and support for survivors must be non-discriminatory and without regard to residency or immigration status. Unfortunately, as recorded in the government’s October 2019 Report on Progress towards Ratification, this has not yet been fulfilled by the UK. Neither is it sufficiently covered by the Domestic Abuse Bill – the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill raised the lack of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse as a particular concern.

People on visas such as spousal or fiancé visas have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’, making them ineligible for most government benefits. Because refuges often depend on government housing benefit payments for financial support, many cannot accept survivors with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status. Policy intended to address this gap still excludes women with this status who are not on spousal visas. Specific instructions must be issued in England and Ireland for local authorities to ensure safe shelter to all who have this status, as has been done in Wales and Scotland.

Worse still, migrant women often have their immigration status weaponised against them by abusers; they may fear approaching authorities due to risk of detention, deportation, or separation from their children. The government must therefore ensure that language barriers do not exclude information on services for victims of domestic abuse from reaching these women – the #YouAreNotAlone campaign introduced by the Home Secretary during the Covid-19 response, for example, contains messaging only in English.

In order to ensure services are non-discriminatory, the government must also ensure that there are adequate specialist services to BAME women and those with disabilities. In May 2019, Women’s Aid found that there are only 418 dedicated shelter spaces across England for BAME women, 4 for women over 45, 12 for women with learning disabilities, and none for deaf women. Moreover, most of these are concentrated in London.

In passing this Resolution, we identify the steps that need to be taken in order for the Istanbul Convention to finally be ratified, and for the UK to offer better protection to women. The UK’s ratification of the Convention may also have impacts overseas: at a time of pushback, with countries such as Turkey and Poland potentially withdrawing from the Convention, the UK must show its full support for it. Ratifying a Convention specifically targeted at violence against women and domestic abuse is not only a means of bringing practical changes and better protecting women, but is also a symbolic action, one which could continue the country’s conversation on ending Violence Against Women.