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November 20, 2012

About the Author: Evan G. Reade is the U.S. Consul General in Strasbourg and the Deputy U.S. Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe.

In December 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  As in years past, the Department of State, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and U.S. Embassies around the world will be hosting events to commemorate this day and the accompanying 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.  For more information on the State Department’s role and activities in protecting women and girls from violence, visit  In August 2012, the U.S. released the first ever Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, accompanied by a Presidential Executive Order to implement the strategy.

But the U.S. is not alone in working to combat this scourge. Violence against women and girls is a serious violation of human rights that is widespread everywhere in the world, including in all Council of Europe member states.  What has the Council of Europe been doing to counter this?  It has been stridently addressing this phenomenon through various cooperation projects, action plans, and recommendations, which have culminated in the adoption of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, which was opened for signature in May 2011.

The Istanbul Convention is the first legally-binding instrument in Europe in the field of violence against women and domestic violence, and it terms of scope, the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle this serious violation of human rights.  It aims at zero tolerance for such violence and is a major step forward in making Europe – and beyond – a safer place.  The Convention places a great importance on the role of national human rights institutions and civil society organizations, and requires states to offer a holistic response to violence against women and girls by involving all relevant actors, including national and regional parliaments, national human rights institutions, NGOs and civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations, when implementing comprehensive policies and conducting awareness-raising campaigns.

By accepting the Istanbul Convention, governments are obliged to change their laws, introduce practical measures, and allocate resources to effectively prevent and respond to violence against women and domestic violence.   The Istanbul Convention makes it clear that any and all forms of violence against women and girls is unacceptable.  Domestic violence can no longer be considered as a private matter to be hidden in homes or workplaces; states have an obligation to prevent violence, protect victims, and punish perpetrators.

The Istanbul Convention is currently being signed and ratified by Council of Europe members states, and is also open to accession by non-member states.  It will enter into  force once ten countries have ratified it, eight of which must be Council of Europe member states.

For more information on what the Council of Europe is doing to prevent violence against women, visit their web site at  Together — with commitments and action from governments, regional bodies, civil society, the private sector, and communities — we can do more to end violence against women and girls.

Evan G. Reade

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