Women’s Aid England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have joined forces to call on MPs to take action on violence against women and girls.
The four Federations are asking MPs to attend the Second Reading debate of the Private Members Bill on the Istanbul Convention on the 16th December in the House of Commons. If 100 MPs attend, the UK will be one step closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention – a vital action that has not been undertaken since the UK signed up to it 4 years ago.
The Istanbul Convention is the first international treaty to establish a legally-binding definition of violence against women as “a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women”. It is the most comprehensive international treaty to tackle violence against women, requiring states to criminalise various forms of violence against women.
It also requires states to support women and girls by protecting access to specialist domestic abuse services – such as those run by Women’s Aid across the UK – that support thousands of women and children who experience abuse every year.
If the government ratified the Istanbul Convention, there would be a clear comprehensive framework to prevent violence, protect women experiencing violence, and prosecute perpetrators.
However, until the UK Government ratifies the Istanbul Convention, women and girls living in the UK cannot benefit from it. This is despite the fact that living a life free from violence and abuse is a human right.
Violence against women, and the demand for specialist support for victims, remains extremely high. But in Northern Ireland, life-saving domestic abuse services are at risk due to insecure funding. Meanwhile the demand on services is increasing. In the year 2015-16 alone, Women’s Aid Northern Ireland supported:
- 738 women and 520 children in refuge
- 6,212 women with 7,296 children through community based outreach
- 15 babies were born to women in refuge
- 51 pregnant women were accommodated in refuge, and 167 pregnant women were supported through outreach.
- 267 women could not access refuge due to lack of space.
Jan Melia, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Federation NI, said:
“The UK Government committed to ending violence against women by signing the Istanbul Convention in 2012 – yet we are still waiting for it to be ratified. The Convention is the most comprehensive legal framework to tackle violence against women in the world. It is based on best practice and on human rights. So why wouldn’t we adopt it?
“In Northern Ireland, it would strengthen the government’s Seven Year Strategy on Domestic and Sexual Violence. It would also help us to ensure that vital, life-saving services like Women’s Aid are protected. Right now in Northern Ireland we have not got the commitment from government to protect refuges or other vital services for victims. Nor do we have enough refuges to meet demand – last year we could not accommodate 267 women who needed support because of lack of space.
“Domestic violence destroys lives. It harms women and children and it harms our society – 21 women have been killed in Northern Ireland since 2010 because of domestic violence, 17 by a partner or former partner and 4 by a family member. It also harms our economy – the annual cost of domestic and sexual violence to Northern Ireland is estimated at £931 Million.
“So we must act. Women’s Aid Northern Ireland calls on our MPs to do their part for the women and children of Northern Ireland and vote to ratify the Istanbul Convention on 16th December. At a time of great political turmoil, and as we prepare to leave the European Union, we must show that we can lead the way in tackling gender-based violence.”
 Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland – a seven year strategy, Department of Health NI, Department of Justice NI.