V4 Grows Distant from Western Allies over Violence against Women

  • Nicole Ely
  • 9.4.2019 07:55

Despite the recent election of Slovakia’s first female president, many of the V4 are going backwards when it comes to women’s rights. One glaring instance of this is the controversy surrounding ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which seeks to protect women and prevent gender-based violence. The V4 stance on this issue demonstrates a growing divide between them and their western European allies.

Although Slovakia’s election of Zuzana Caputova may seem like a step forward for women’s representation in government, the Visegrad countries’ current position on the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, tells a different story.

Presented for signing in 2011, the Istanbul Convention’s main goals are to protect women against forms of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, through prevention and empowerment of victims. Governments that ratify the treaty will be required to carry out certain actions, such as train professionals in close contact with victims, ensure victims’ access to care and information by setting up asylum and call centers, work with NGOs and other institutions in an effort to eradicate gender stereotypes and regularly run campaigns to educate the public and raise awareness. Currently, 34 European countries have ratified the treaty, and Poland is the only of the Visegrad to do so.

 

Right now, one-third of Czech women will face some kind of physical or sexual violation, a little more than half will face sexual harassment, but 70 per cent of victims will not report the crimes.

 

The treaty has stirred much opposition in the V4, particularly in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Ironically, one day after Slovakia elected its first female president, the parliament asked the government to stop the process of ratification claiming that the treaty contradicts their constitution. However, at the time this is only a recommendation. The Czech Republic would benefit greatly from the treaty, yet politicians and the mainstream media have been silent on the issue. Right now, one-third of Czech women will face some kind of physical or sexual violation, a little more than half will face sexual harassment, but 70 per cent of victims will not report the crimes. This is due to a variety of factors, including mistrust in the police and judicial system as well as a shortage of rape crisis centres, counselling and other specialized services.

Opponents of ratification echo the common populist rhetoric. Many Roman Catholic church officials and politicians claim that the treaty would threaten the traditional family unit because it allows same-sex couples many of the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Fringe media sites have been particularly active on spinning the story as a conspiracy theory that will provide a slippery slope to other state-sanctioned devious behaviours, although what the conspiracy actually is they can’t say.

 

Delaying the ratification process only allows for the issue to become a tool in the hands of the disinformation scene wielded to divide society.

 

Supporting the Istanbul Convention is an important act that symbolizes more than just elevating respect for women. It also represents solidarity with other Western allies. Many Czech journalists say that it is hard to find a politician who will publicly support the treaty, even if they do so privately. In addition to needing supporters to be more vocal, mainstream media should also do more to report on the Istanbul Convention in order to counter the copious amounts of false content circulating on fringe websites. Delaying the ratification process only allows for the issue to become a tool in the hands of the disinformation scene wielded to divide society.

If the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary don’t follow Poland, it is a clear indication that they are moving farther away from their Western allies when it comes to human rights. Lawyer and scholar Zuzana Fellegi said it best at a recent conference on the subject: “We are dividing ourselves from the rest of the West. We need to belong to the human rights family. Are we really discussing if we should ratify a human rights treaty that everyone else has already ratified over some nonexistent problems?”

About author: Nicole Ely

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