Scottish MPs have thrown their support behind implementing ground-breaking legislation that will help decrease widespread violence against women.
The Council of Europe treaty on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention, will create a comprehensive legal framework to prevent and prosecute attacks as well as protect and monitor the victims.
A Private Member’s Bill (PMB) seeking to ratify the convention, initially proposed by Dr Eilidh Whiteford, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, will go to a vote at its third reading on Friday in the House of Commons.
Dr Whiteford: “The Istanbul Convention is the most far reaching piece of violence against women legislation that has ever been developed, yet the UK has been waiting over four and a half years to ratify.
“We have now seen that this bill has given impetus and urgency to the ratification process.
“The women’s movement has always been ahead of the curve, whilst Parliament is left to catch up.”
Despite great strides having been made in the prevention of violent conduct towards women, this problem still permeates society.
Almost 2,000 rapes and nearly 60,000 instances of domestic violence were reported to Police Scotland in 2015, the most recent year on record. 123 women’s deaths were at the hands of a man.
Across the UK around 140,000 women and girls are living with the effects of female genital mutilation.
Bringing UK law in line with the convention would require the state to create a minimum standard for its response in tackling violence targeted specifically at women. The convention will finally give voice to campaign groups, such as IC Change, who believe it should be a human right to be free of gender based violence.
Rebecca Bunce, co-director of the organisation, said: “This is not a time to play politics. Women are dying.
“This law offers a chance to help end violence against women – whether sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, so-called honour-based violence, forced marriage or FGM.”
The Scottish government and Scottish politicians have been integral in helping the convention gain traction and finally be integrated into UK law.
MP Steven Paterson has been campaigning in his Stirling constituency for Dr Whiteford’s bill alongside the Women’s Equality Party.
He said: “This legislation offers the most promising and ambitious levels of protection for women at home and abroad, on local, national and international levels.
“The Scottish Government has always been committed to introducing legislation that will tackle psychological domestic abuse and making controlling and coercive behaviour against a partner a criminal offence.
“Without hesitation, I’ll be voting in favour of the Bill because it is clear that more can and must be done to tackle the plight of violence against women and girls.”
Charities who work on behalf of vulnerable women are hopeful of the positive effects the convention will have in Scotland and have praised the role of Scottish MPs in bringing this issue to the fore.
Scottish Women’s Aid spokesperson, Brenna Jessie, said: “From a Scottish perspective, we have a strong strategy to end violence against women and girls called Equally Safe.
“For us, the Istanbul Convention will compliment and strengthen our national strategy and provide individuals and organisations with the tools to hold the UK Government to account on reserved issues.”
Since the UK originally signed the Istanbul Convention in June 2012, 22 countries have welcomed its provisions into their legal systems via ratification, including more traditionally conservative countries such as Turkey and Malta.
Delays, blamed on the need for further consultation and domestic law amendments as well as the long and complicated process required to push through PMBs, have stunted efforts to accept the convention into UK law.
However, opposition from MPs against the ratification of the convention has also created barriers. Conservative MPs David Nuttall and Philip Davies both spoke out against Dr Whiteford’s bill at its second reading in December last year and declined to offer greater insight into the reasoning behind their stance.
Mr Nuttall said: “In essence, I want to see men given equal treatment as women.”
It is unclear whether either will be swayed by the increasing support behind the bill in the lead up to Friday’s vote.
A report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights added to the urgent nature of the success of this bill, advising that more resistance could damage the UK’s global reputation as a forward-thinking nation which does not tolerate violence against women in any of its forms.
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