Open Letter on Istanbul Convention to Justice Minister

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Istanbul Convention: Frances Fitzgerald
Istanbul Convention: Frances Fitzgerald

On 6 December 2016 Men’s Voices Ireland wrote to the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, expressing our concern regarding the discriminatory proposals on domestic violence contained in the Istanbul Convention. Here is our letter:

Dear Minister Fitzgerald,

You currently advocate that our country ratifies the Istanbul Convention (Formal title, The Council of Europe Convention on combating and preventing violence against women and domestic violence), and, to date, have not exposed its far-reaching proposals to an appropriate level of public pro-con debate.

You defend these proposals as ‘gender neutral’, claiming they offer equal respect and protections to men.

We challenge this assertion absolutely.

Summary of the Convention’s discriminations

  • The Convention calls for “particular attention” and “special” protections for women;
  • It calls for further resources, facilities and funding to be allocated to “all women victims of domestic violence and their children”; none for men and their children.
  • It calls for programmes of “empowerment” for women; none for men or boys.
  • It attempts to justify these discriminations on the basis of a discredited late-60’s piece of ideology categorising violence against women as being “special”, as being “gendered violence”;
  • by this tenet all male victims of violence are accorded second class status and protections.

  • It calls for programmes of “education” and “awareness-raising” which are to penetrate into “all sections of society”, to ensure that the Convention’s highly prejudiced view of domestic violence and violence against women is inculcated into the minds of all citizens. And these programmes are to be directed “especially towards men and (impressionable) boys”.

It states (nakedly and alarmingly) that no “special measures” enacted to protect and prioritise women can be “considered discrimination”.

Particular attention and protections

How discriminatory many of the Convention’s Articles are, may reveal itself even more clearly if, in citing a selection of them below, we replace the word “women” with the words “men” or “male”.

  • Article 5: Parties shall refrain from engaging in any act of violence against men and ensure that State authorities, officials, agents, institutions and other actors acting on behalf of the State act in conformity with this obligation.
  • Article 4.1: Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly men, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere.
  • Article 2.2: Parties are encouraged to apply this Convention to all victims of domestic violence. Parties shall pay particular attention to male victims of gender-based violence in implementing the provisions of this Convention.

Discriminatory allocation of resources

From Articles 20-25:

“Parties shall provide or arrange for specialist support services for all women victims of domestic violence… and their children… they shall… provide help-lines, shelters, counselling, trauma support, free legal aid, etc., particularly to women and their children.”

These services, exclusively for women, are being called for in an environment where one-in-three female victims already report, and only one-in-twenty report; where significant sums of public money are already devoted to providing resources and facilities for women; and where the amount of public money allocated to resourcing help-lines, facilities, awareness campaigns etc. for male victims (and to encourage more of the 95% of male victims who do not report to come forward) is negligible.

So called “gendered violence”

“18:3 Parties shall ensure that measures taken…shall be based on a gendered understanding of violence against women and domestic violence…\2

It is solely on the foundation of an old-guard late-60’s slogan, an opinion – the long discredited notion of “gender-based violence” – that the Convention attempts to justify the many discriminations it contains. According to its Preamble, violence against women is “one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men”.

Few but the most old-school of interested parties believe this prejudiced and unverifiable theory; including, we know, a number of our last government’s Justice and Equality Committee whom our members have spoken to. And if this long-discredited hypothesis is susceptible to even the most tentative of questionings, all justification disappears for the Convention’s prioritising and privileging of women, and its downgrading of the dignity and suffering of men.

Programmes of “empowerment”

Article 6 states (rather oxymoronically):

“Parties shall… promote and effectively implement policies of equality between women and men and the empowerment of women.”

No policies are proposed for the empowerment of men or boys. And these policies for empowering women are being proposed in a context where:

  • The majority of violence in our society is perpetrated, not against women, but against boys and men;
  • Where in one year alone (2014), self-harm among boys aged 10-14 years increased by 44%.
  • Where young men, a long way from being ‘over-empowered’ as compared to women, are falling behind academically at all levels (only around 40% of students at our universities are now male, with the gap ever widening);
  • Where women significantly predominate in a large majority of university subjects, including law, medicine, education, social sciences, veterinary languages ,etc);
  • Where 80% plus of suicides are male;
  • Where 85-90% of those living on the streets are male etc;

Programmes of “awareness-raising” and “education”

In order to embed in the consciousness of “all sections of our society” the Convention’s prejudiced ideology concerning domestic violence and violence against women, it is proposed that our country launch “regular” programmes of “education” and “awareness raising”. The government is to encourage “sports, cultural and leisure facilities… the private sector, the information and communication technology sector and the media” to include in their guidelines, programmes, policies and practices, etc., an awareness of the outmoded notion that violence against women is a “crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position etc.” (Articles 14 and 17).

Public hearings on the Convention

Late last year, the members of the previous government’s Justice and Equality Committee were sufficiently concerned about the Convention’s proposals to plan a series of public hearings from citizens who had contacted them to express their misgivings about the document. An election was called before these hearings could take place, but the justice and equality concerns inherent in Istanbul remain as troubling as before.

We Ask:

  1. In our advanced Western democracy, how can the Minister justify defending the above discriminatory protections, resources, programmes of empowerment, and gender-targeted programmes of “education” as “offering equal protection to men”, and as being “gender-neutral”?
  2. As an important purpose of the Minister’s Department is to ensure every proposed measure is rigorously tested against prevailing standards of equality and justice, irrespective of gender, will the Minister liaise with the Justice and Equality Committee and ensure the hearings planned before the election will now take place; and at the earliest possible date?
  3. And will the Minister ensure that sufficient Parliamentary time is allocated to allow for a detailed debate on the articles of the Convention, particularly those cited herein, and on the serious long-term implications for our country, should the Convention proceed towards ratification?

We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,
Men’s Voices Ireland

And below is the Minister’s response…

Dear Sir,

I am directed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Ms Frances Fitzgerald to reply to your emails of 25 and 27 of November and 5th of December, 2016 in relation to domestic violence and the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention).

The Tánaiste is very concerned about all aspects of domestic violence regardless of whether the victim is male or female and, along with other Government members, remains committed to tackling this most serious issue, with equality of treatment for all victims. There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to the full implementation of the Istanbul Convention. All of the actions required for ratification of the Istanbul Convention are included in the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021 which was launched in January of this year. The bulk of the strategy’s actions focus on supporting victims and holding perpetrators to account. The Programme for Government also commits to the implementation of the strategy. This strategy, like its predecessor, is informed throughout by the fact that either gender can be and are the victims of domestic abuse. It also acknowledges that domestic abuse happens in a variety of intimate partner relationships including in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities.

It should be noted that the provisions relating to domestic violence in the Istanbul Convention may also be applied to men. Ireland strongly supported the application of the domestic violence provisions of the Convention to men and Ireland will apply the provisions of the Convention articles to men in relation to domestic violence.

Irish domestic violence legislation is gender neutral. Legislation proposed in the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence including the new Domestic Violence Bill will also be gender neutral.

A national awareness campaign on domestic violence as part of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021 has been developed. The campaign commenced in November 2016 and it is intended, subject to the necessary funding being made available, that it will run for a period of 6 years up to 2021. The overall aim of the campaign is to increase awareness of domestic and sexual violence, to bring about a change in long established societal behaviours and attitudes and to activate bystanders with the aim of preventing this violence. It recognises that women and men are victims of such crimes.

Cosc, the national office for the prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence also works closely with AMEN – the support service for men who have or are experiencing domestic violence – and Government Departments and agencies in relation to violence against men in domestic situations. Cosc also had a meeting with Men’s Voices earlier this year to discuss issues of domestic and sexual violence in relation to men.

While the Women’s Aid helpline is contacted by women, the AMEN helpline is contacted by male victims of domestic violence. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre helpline is contacted by both men and women and their counselling and other services are available to women and men.

Yours sincerely,

Niall Colgan,
Private Secretary to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality.

Comments: We asked how the Convention could be considered to be gender-neutral in view of certain very specific statements in it which we highlighted at length. None of these were addressed.