In the last month Global Rights for Women has met with dozens of women from Europe and Central Asia who are all pursuing the goal of ending violence against women. In October we were consultants to a United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women (UNTF) conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Then we traveled to Berlin for the Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) network’s annual conference. It was wonderful to share in the energy and inspiration of the global sisterhood.
At the UNTF conference NGO representatives and others gathered to report on the outcome of grants they received to promote a multi-sectoral response to violence against women. A multi-sectoral response simply means that those who are charged with responding to violence against women collaborate in their efforts to ensure that victims are protected, their needs are met and that perpetrators are held accountable. The participants in a multi-sectoral response may include police, prosecutors, courts, social and healthcare services, and NGO victim advocates. The collaboration can take many forms, from simple referral networks to Coordinated Community Response (CCR), the comprehensive method developed in Minnesota in the 1980’s.
At the UNTF conference we helped facilitate discussions about the successes and challenges of projects in 12 countries. A theme that emerged over and over was that NGOs are the drivers of progress. Their strength is their commitment, their passion, and their willingness to keep moving forward no matter what. Unlike governments, they don’t stop when funding goes away or when new officials are elected. NGOs may be the drivers, but a successful response to violence requires engagement of both government and civil society. Despite the sustained efforts of NGOs, progress will be limited unless government leaders also accept responsibility for the issue and commit themselves to achieving an end to violence against women. Global Rights for Women’s experience has taught us that the most effective means of creating buy-in by government leaders and legal professionals is through transformational trainings. Police, prosecutors and judges are transformed into leaders on violence against women within their own roles. They then institutionalize their passion through laws, policies and binding written protocols.
At the WAVE conference in Berlin we worked with activists and experts on violence against women and learned about new trends in responding to the violence that will inform our future work. A major theme of the conference was the impact of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention is a highly detailed treaty that prescribes measures that governments must take to prevent and combat many forms of violence against women. It went into effect in August 2014 and to date it has been ratified by 22 countries. Numerous other countries are pursuing ratification. The Istanbul Convention includes a monitoring mechanism to determine whether member states are complying with its terms. The first states to be reviewed are Austria and Monaco, with their reviews underway.
At the WAVE conference we learned that the Istanbul Convention is contributing to criminalization of more forms of violence against women by member countries, including stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, and redefining sexual assault. Countries are setting up coordination bodies and conducting large scale trainings. These changes are occurring even in countries that have not yet ratified the convention, in preparation for ratification.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of attending the WAVE conference is the opportunity to meet up with partners in the region, to learn about developments in their countries and to plan new work together. We met with women from the Women’s Support and Information Center in Estonia, and Fenestra in Slovakia. At the invitation of these partners, Global Rights for Women will travel to Estonia this fall for a training on Coordinated Community Response in three cities and to Slovakia to train on models for implementing violence against women laws and speak at a national meeting on this topic.
The WAVE conference was also an opportunity to tell current and future partners about Global Rights for Women’s programs in the coming year, including our Minnesota CCR Workshop in the spring, our CCR curriculum, and the regional conference on implementing laws on violence against women next fall.
The UNTF and WAVE events provided a great opportunity to fulfill our mission to effectively address violence against women worldwide. We connected with partners, strategized together about building on the progress they are already making, and identified more ways Global Rights for Women’s expertise can assist NGOs in achieving our common goal of ending violence against women and girls.