Regional Conference on the Istanbul Convention: From Signature to Ratification and Implementation – Exchange of Experience and Practices 17–18 January 2013, Helsinki, Finland Pikkuparlamentti (Little Parliament)

Opening Remarks by  Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland 

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Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Conference Guests,

I would like to open this conference by expressing my personal appreciation of the success achieved thus far in this process. By concluding the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, the Council of Europe and the signatories have reached, for the first time in Europe, a set of legally binding standards to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, to protect its victims and punish the perpetrators.

As Finland considers the ratification extremely important, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, together with the Council of Europe and the Finnish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is organizing today this conference aimed at promoting the ratification of the Convention in the member states of the Council of Europe in the region. The work undertaken by the Council of Europe during the creation of the Convention is highly commendable. While we are working full speed with the ratification of the Convention, the conclusion of the Convention and its 25 signatories are a milestone worth celebrating.

Finland is a strong promoter of human rights. As stated in the Government Programme, human rights are a central part of the Government’s foreign and security policy. Finland’s human rights policy is an instrument aiming at the creation of a more just, a more secure and a more humane world. Finland’s priorities for this are set out in the 2009 Government report to the Parliament on Finland’s human rights policy. We prioritize the rights of women, rights of the child, rights of persons with disabilities, rights of gender and sexual minorities, and rights of indigenous peoples. Finland also works actively against multiple forms of discrimination.

While human rights and in particular the rights of women hold a central place in our political decision making processes, the issue of violence against women and domestic violence is unfortunately something much too familiar for us also in Finland. According to statistics, annually more than 20 women in Finland lose their lives as victims of domestic violence. The actual numbers of victims of domestic violence cannot even be calculated, as unfortunately all cases, even very serious ones, are not reported.

The Convention tackles issues that can touch upon anyone, regardless of age, social or economical status, formal education level or ethnic background. Domestic violence is a form of violence that affects not only women, but men, children and the elderly as well. Even so, women and girls are still more likely to fall victims of domestic violence than men and boys.

Finland sees the Convention as a crucial instrument in strengthening the efforts to combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention aims at zero tolerance to all forms of violence, both physical and mental. The efficient prevention and combat against violence against women requires a coordinated, multi-agency effort. This type of an approach needs to be based on a set of integrated, comprehensive and coordinated policies. Piecemeal efforts are not enough. Therefore, the convention includes an overarching chapter emphasizing the obligation to set up an appropriate policy framework, which would guarantee a concerted effort of all relevant agencies to eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was opened for signature on 11 May 2011. Finland was among the very first signatories, and is strongly committed to the ratification of the Convention.

In Finland, the ratification of the Convention also addresses a clear need. The challenges we have with violence against women and domestic violence have been noted internationally. During the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2012, and in the report of the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, who visited Finland in June 2012, Finland has received recommendations on its human rights situation, many of which concern violence against women. In this regard, Finland has also received recommendations among others from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

International and national experience proves that combating violence against women and domestic violence successfully calls for a comprehensive approach. Research recently conducted by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) shows that violence against women and domestic violence remain widespread and under-reported, and that there is a clear need to improve public services in order to provide support to victims of violence more effectively. Among the reasons for this are insufficient specialized services for female victims of violence and the absence of mandatory gender-sensitive training for professionals providing assistance to victims and perpetrators.

While the Convention is still to enter into force internationally, Finland has taken steps to address the issues covered by the Convention at the national level. The Finnish Government has adopted a five-year Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women for 2010-2015. Its aim is to tackle violence proactively and holistically by seeking to influence attitudes and behavior. The Action Plan lists the goals and concrete actions to reduce violence against women, among which preventive actions play a key role.

The Action Plan also aims at improving the services and support offered to victims, as well as increasing the cooperation and knowledge among the authorities, service providers, professionals and the civil society. Societal changes stem from the civil society, and NGOs have a vital role to play in combating violence against women and domestic violence. Civil society often has access to first hand information and experience of the situation at the grass-root level. Civil society can also contribute through keeping a score of checks and balances, providing critical feedback as the process of ratification moves along. Therefore, civil society actors should be considered as crucial partners in this endeavor. In addition to taking this into consideration in our own processes, Finland promotes strong NGO engagement also in the international context.

In taking these steps, it is important to bear in mind that women, as well as girls, facing multiple discrimination, such as indigenous women, immigrant women, women with disabilities and women belonging to sexual minorities are often also most vulnerable to violence. It is important to pay special attention to these groups. No change is truly possible if not all members of the communities and the societies at large are included. Therefore, the role of men and boys cannot be overlooked either. Engaging men and boys in efforts to end violence against women and domestic violence is vital. Therefore, awareness-raising is the key to identifying the problems and initiating change.

Distinguished Guests,

At the international level, the United Nations has a key role in questions related to gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), is a significant international agreement and merits to be mentioned. Professor Niklas Bruun will later on today be touching upon the relation between CEDAW and the Istanbul Convention.

Combating violence against women is also one of the priorities of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women. Finland strongly supports UN Women. It is encouraging that UN Women has made combating violence against women one of its focus areas. Violence against Women will also be the main theme of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which will be held in New York in the beginning of March this year. It is our joint responsibility to work for concrete results in reducing and ending violence against women also within the CSW framework.

Violence against women occurs in developed and developing countries alike. Countries and regions stricken by conflict are frequently affected in ways that are extremely cruel. Women and girls often bear the heaviest burden in conflicts and are subjected to violence, such as murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced sterilization. Finland promotes the sexual and reproductive rights both in bilateral and multilateral fora and aims to strengthen the operating capability of the organizations working on these issues. The discussion on sexual and reproductive health and rights will be one of the priority topics for Finland during this year’s CSW.

While violence against women is a severe problem in conflict and post-conflict societies, and although women often bear the heaviest burden in conflicts, they should not only be seen as victims but essential contributors during a society’s transition from conflict to peace. Women’s participation in conflict prevention and peace-building and their protection are essential elements in stabilizing situations in conflict countries. Promoting women’s rights and the agenda of Women, Peace and Security are among Finland’s foreign policy priorities. Finland sees the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as one of the landmark decisions in the security sector. Through a National Action Plan Finland has further deepened its efforts to fully implement Resolution 1325. The (Finnish) National Action Plan, among other things, advocates that women should be actors and decision makers in all societal issues.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, and to return to the main reason why we are here today. The Government of Finland intends to submit the bill on the ratification of the Convention to Parliament during this year. The broad based working group responsible for the ratification process is chaired by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and includes representation from other ministries and government authorities, the police, academia and civil society.

Violence against women and domestic violence remain a serious problem in Europe and worldwide. Fortunately, there is room for optimism, as far as this issue is receiving increased policy attention at country and global levels. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes appalling activities to take place before societies are ready to seriously tackle the issue, as recent headlines have shown. So far 25 member states of the Council of Europe have signed the Istanbul Convention and one (1) state has ratified it, Turkey being the forerunner. Any Council of Europe member or European Union observer state may sign and ratify the Convention. It will enter into force following the ratification by ten (10) countries, including eight (8) Council of Europe member states. Therefore I invite you to focus your efforts in promoting this process in your countries.

This conference serves as an excellent platform to discuss in detail both the benefits as well as challenges of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, to share best practices and to benefit from lessons learned by others. Today's conference is also a great opportunity to exchange more generic views on how to tackle and combat violence against women and domestic violence in the most efficient way both nationally and internationally. I wish you a fruitful and productive day.

Thank you.