AS (2012) CR 08
2012 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 26 January 2012 at 3.30 p.m.
Advancing women’s rights worldwide
Promoting the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Ms HUOVINEN (Finland) — I am grateful for this important discussion and to the rapporteurs, and especially grateful to Ms Bachelet. It was an excellent presentation and a strong message.
The role of women in Europe and in the world deserves the Assembly’s attention and needs action at several levels. This work is important for two reasons. First, we and societies have an obligation and a responsibility to protect women’s and children’s rights. Secondly, active female participation in society brings new angles to decision-making. In addition, educating women and girls has a positive impact on the realisation of the rights of children and shapes the values and attitudes of future generations.
In this context I would like to raise an aspect with regard to domestic violence. We know the phenomenon is broader than the number of reported cases. I believe that in our practical work with women we should become bolder at asking questions about domestic violence.
At one hospital in Finland a culture of asking questions was introduced and all pregnant women were systematically interviewed on domestic violence. Too many women answered that they had been victims, and I am talking of pregnant women.
We cannot help the victims of domestic violence unless we know who they are. Too often, violence in the home becomes a taboo, which makes it extremely difficult to talk and ask about. However, we must not leave these women and children alone with their problems. Silence only moves the problem to the next generation, which further complicates our work in finding a solution.
As parliamentarians we need conventions, declarations and resolutions, but we also need concrete ways to improve our legislation and practices so that we can protect women and children.
Ms KOVÁCS (Serbia) — At the very beginning of my speech, I must remind us all of the sad fact that in every country in the world, women experience sexual, physical and emotional violence. Domestic violence is widespread but freedom from violence is a basic human right. Violence against women is a huge problem; the effects of it are lasting and difficult to overcome. It is a human rights violation which inevitably leads to other violations and therefore makes equal opportunities for women and men impossible to achieve. Domestic violence is a form of gender-based violence, discrimination and denial of equal opportunities: its victims might not have the chance to recreate themselves, find a job, another partner or another home. Some of them will not survive. Therefore I believe that it is important that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe fights for these women’s right to have a second chance.
The Istanbul Convention really provides a comprehensive framework to prevent violence against women and to protect the victim as well as to prosecute the perpetrators. I am sure that we could agree that States have a responsibility to prevent, stop and punish violence against women. However, for this convention to have an impact on the lives of millions of women it is not enough to have it on paper: it needs to enter into force and to be applied as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, inequality and discrimination against women is still a widespread occurrence. It is evident today that the progress in advancing women’s rights is being made at a slower speed than originally desired. Therefore, we should all be committed to the improvement of the situation of women, ensuring balanced participation and their representation in political life and political decision-making bodies. What is lacking is the real political will. I am convinced that if the will existed, quotas would not be necessary, since they can actually be difficult, humiliating, and so on. In short, the gender quota is a necessary evil.
Unfortunately, our societies remain characterised by attitudes, customs and behaviour that are disempowering women in public life. Our political systems mostly exclude women and discriminate against them. For men, politics is and has always been, on the whole, a largely accessible profession, while for women, it is still not the case. This situation must be changed. We must expand women’s voice, leadership and participation.
Women face obstacles at several levels: from domestic responsibilities and family obligations to prevailing cultural attitudes. Progressive measures should be introduced to enable women to reconcile family and professional responsibilities without having to choose between them. I hope that in the near future the whole population will be convinced that women could be as effective in every area as men.
Ms STAVROSITU (Romania) — I sincerely congratulate the rapporteur of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, Ms Lydie Err, on her very well documented report.
Women’s rights around the world are an important indicator of global well-being. A major global women’s rights treaty was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.
However, despite many successes in empowering women, numerous issues still exist in all areas of life, ranging from the cultural and political to the economic. For example, women often work more than men, yet are paid less; gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime; and women and girls are often the ones who suffer the most poverty.
Women from all over the world have to face different forms of discrimination such as unequal opportunities to find jobs, and still today leading executive posts are filled mostly by men. Economic insecurity is itself a form of violence against the dignity and integrity of the person, to which everybody is entitled. Along with poverty and lack of economic opportunities, social divisions and inequalities are widespread worldwide.
Domestic workers – the majority of whom are women – constitute a large portion of today’s migrant worker population. The feminisation of migration essentially means that more women are migrating alone, whereas previously they would accompany their spouses or join them later. Unemployment and household poverty in the countries of origin are a push factor for women to find jobs abroad and send earnings home to their families. Women are also in greater demand in certain sectors in countries of destination, such as domestic workers, so they are pushed to go abroad.
Despite the growing international trend to feminisation in international labour, much of female migrants’ work, especially as domestic workers, remains invisible in national statistics and national labour legislation.
While having a job might be empowering, it is not certain that the participation of women in international migration provides them with a decent wage, good working conditions, social security coverage and labour protection. It is therefore important to provide more attention to the labour situation of the growing number of female migrant workers.
While we all agree that progress is slow in implementing women’s rights worldwide, the truth is that, as long as their application is performed by personnel not trained in their spirit, we can no longer rely on concepts and provisions. I believe that it is more important to spend more funds and time on human resources training, and to hold people accountable for their acts of discrimination and intolerance.
Ms VIROLAINEN (Finland) — Mr President, I would like to start by thanking both rapporteurs for their two excellent reports on this important issue of women’s rights and thank Madame Bachelet for her excellent speech.
Ensuring equality between women and men is necessary for the full realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. I am lucky to represent a country that took equality to its heart from the start of its existence. Finland introduced equal suffrage long before its independence and can report many success stories in the field of gender equality, but we should never become complacent: many problems still need to be addressed. One of them is the serious lack of women on professional boards. This is a failure of the realisation of equality but also, as research suggests, a failure of the realisation of quality.
Domestic violence and violence against women is a persistent problem that undermines many human rights. In Finland 23 people are killed every year as a result of domestic violence, and we know many domestic violence cases remain unreported. My parliament is working hard to deal with this problem and the latest effort is a proposal to prevent stalking, which was signed by more than half of our MPs. I hope the serious issue of stalking will be raised by this Assembly in the near future.
These points illustrate why the Istanbul Convention is so important. Finland has started the ratification process and I hope the convention will enter into force as soon as possible. However, legal instruments are useless if they are applied with double standards. It is morally wrong to point our fingers at perpetrators in our own country but avoid taking serious action to combat forced prostitution, sex tourism and trafficking. If we continue to uphold a system that accepts the buying of exploited women, we become the perpetrators. As noted in the report, experts think that Sweden’s decision to criminalise prostitution both sends a strong signal and tackles the problem. It is the most effective way.
Let us seize the opportunity and reinstate women’s rights at the top of our list of priorities.
Ms Carina OHLSSON (Sweden) — First of all I thank the rapporteurs, Ms Lydie Err and Mr José Mendes Bota, for their excellent reports and their work on gender equality.
Ten years ago Fadime Sahindal was murdered by her father in Sweden, in a so-called honour killing. Two months before she was killed she had made a speech in the Swedish Parliament about her situation. She said: “I had my own dreams and goals in life. I wanted to set my own terms for my life, make my own mistakes and learn from them, not to let someone else decide how I should feel, think and act. For me it was also extremely important to educate and develop as a person. For you, this is certainly not unusual, because it is part of the Swedish way of life, but for my family it was something incredibly scary. I have chosen to tell my story here for you today in the hope that it may help other immigrant girls, so that no more need to go through what I have. No matter what cultural background you have, it should be open to every young woman to have both the family and the life you want. But unfortunately it is not open to many girls. And I hope you do not turn them back or turn a blind eye.”
Together we must promise Fadime Sahindal that the vision is of an equal society free from violence for all. To combat honour crime we must have the necessary knowledge.
Creating an equal society free from violence is a difficult task and will take time. We must work preventively with norms of masculinity, femininity and sexuality. Having laws and international steering documents is not enough, but it is an important step. I take it for granted that every member country will sign and ratify the convention we are debating here today. We must also strive to educate and to make structural changes which are actually implemented and have an effect. We are all needed in the struggle for a society which is equal and free from violence, and we will all benefit in the long run.
Research from all over the world shows that there is a strong connection between gender inequality in the public and private spheres and domestic violence. If we are to end the violence that is aimed at women purely because they are women, we must work towards greater equality in a number of areas for example, politics, the labour market, legislation and the private area. There are a number of obstacles that need to be overcome, for example, functioning child and elderly care to enable women to participate in the labour market and to become economically independent. It is also logical that women who have a safe home environment have a stronger belief in the future and a greater willingness to have children.
Domestic violence is expensive for the State. In Sweden the estimated cost is 3 billion Swedish crown a year. If society takes responsibility for the violence, there are a lot of cost savings that can be made. It is very important that men and women work through these questions together. Domestic violence is not a women’s problem, it is a problem for the whole of society and of course for those who become victims, for all the children who grow up with a father who beats their mother. The location the home, which should be the child’s safe harbour, becomes the most unsafe place. When the adults who are supposed to ensure children’s safety and security are inadequate and threatening, how does it affect the child? And what values and beliefs are these children growing up with? Let us together promote and protect human and social rights for all for an equal society free from violence, and support Ms Michelle Bachelet in her important work.
Ms BATEMAN (Observer from Canada) — It is my pleasure to speak today on a topic that is of fundamental importance: the advancement of women’s rights on a global scale.
Despite the stated commitments of governments everywhere to bring about equality in all fields of endeavour, as the rapporteur notes in her report, there is room for improvement in many aspects of society.
I would like to focus my remarks on one particular area: women’s participation in the political process.
It is now generally accepted that a more equitable representation of women in politics is needed globally to reflect the representation of women in society. It is also essential to ensure that women’s unique and diverse interests are taken into account in developing public policy.
The international community has made a number of commitments to attempt to rectify the lack of opportunities for women to advance. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Canada is a signatory, represents one notable effort.
In terms of political participation, the widely recognised minimum benchmark to ensure a critical mass of women in parliament has been set at 30%. The Under Secretary-General has just updated us with international data.
In Canada over the past decade, the proportion of seats held by women has remained near 20%. I am pleased to be able to say that in 2011 of 308 seats in the House of Commons, 76 are now held by women, that is 25%.
That is the international and Canadian snapshot. At a very local level, I have to say that without the support of my family, particularly my husband, Darrell, I would not have been able to serve in public life. It has now been my privilege to serve my community for over 11 years.
A major hurdle for women is at the party levels, not at the polls. The role of political parties in promoting and supporting women to run for nominations has repeatedly been identified as the most important factor in increasing the representation of women in parliament. When more women candidates run for office, more women are elected to office.
Ensuring that both women and men will be able to influence decisions and resource allocations requires going beyond simply increasing the number of women in different positions to providing real opportunities for influencing the agendas, institutions and processes of decision-making.