by Sabrina Galella
Over the past few months, we have been working with the Scottish Human Rights Commission as part of their Istanbul Reference Group to contribute to the Commission’s report to the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action Against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO).
What is GREVIO and why did we get involved?
To answer this question, we have to go back to 2022, specifically to July 21st when the United Kingdom officially ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention.
The Convention, which the UK ratified with reservations around providing equal support and protection for migrant women, is a ground breaking human rights treaty that aims to “protect women from all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence” . The Istanbul Convention outlines a set of legal standards and obligations for states to prevent and address violence against women and domestic violence. States that ratify the Convention commit to implementing measures to protect victims, prosecute perpetrators, and prevent future incidents of violence. This includes establishing support services for survivors, raising awareness, training professionals, and collecting data on gender-based violence. By ratifying the Convention, states demonstrate their commitment to upholding human rights and promoting gender equality within their jurisdictions. GREVIO is the independent monitoring body of the Istanbul Convention, and It assesses how member states, including UK and Scotland, fulfil their obligations under the Convention.
To do that, GREVIO Committee receives a state report by each country and a shadow report from organisations and other international and human rights bodies. GREVIO then evaluates those reports and publish its own, assessing the measures taken by each country to implement and comply with the Istanbul Convention and makes state-specific recommendations on how to tackle violence against women.
GREVIO are currently evaluating the extent to which the UK Government is meeting its duties under the Convention, and as part of this evaluation it received the State report from the UK last June.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission, as the national human rights institution for Scotland, has submitted its own report, as well as a Lived Experience Report, to which we contributed as experts on the field of gender-based violence. GREVIO have also visited the UK to assess the situation on the ground and gather further evidence, and has met with third sector organisations and the Scottish Human Rights Commission in Scotland. Based on the information gathered from the UK Government, civil society and third sector organisations, GREVIO will publish its report on the UK Implementation of the Istanbul Convention in November 2024.
The Context in Scotland
Scotland has taken a progressive approach to tackle violence against women and girls, based on both international and regional human rights standards. For example, Equally Safe, the Scottish Government and COSLA’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, has been successful in establishing a national approach to gender-based violence against women and girls built on human rights principles and standards. Nonetheless, the findings in the Commission’s report highlight a large gap between policy and practice, and the experiences of women in accessing support fail to meet the expectations set by Equally Safe.
Key Findings from the report
The report has presented important findings across a number of issues, for example it highlights the need to enhance intersectionality, accessibility and cultural sensitivity in both policy and service provision. It also highlights the lack of sufficient resources available for victim/survivors to engage in policymaking, placing significant strain on the third sector. This results in survivors’ experiences not being adequately represented in policy and legislation. Importantly, the report shares concerns about the design of the legal aid system and women’s access to justice in cases of gender-based violence. Legal aid in Scotland is not readily accessible, and the report asks for a full review of the legal aid system.
The report reveals the harmful consequences of the UK’s reservation regarding Article 59, which mandates states to ensure protection for migrant women. This reservation undermines the safety of migrant women. We believe that – as highlighted in the report, this reservation should be removed and the UK Government should provide equal protection for every woman in need.
Additionally, the Scottish Government should continue to explore how it can ensure the maximum available support accessible to women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions while working with the UK Government to end its use. As pointed out in the Commission’s submission, there is also a need to further examine how the Scottish Government’s initiatives to bolster human rights will effectively prevent and guarantee access to justice for victim/survivors of gender-based violence. During the meeting with GREVIO’s officials, some topics were discussed including prevention, gaps in protection, the civil and criminal justice systems, the sustainability of services, which are consistently under-resourced and over-stretched.
At JustRight Scotland, we welcomed the opportunity to feed directly into the Commission’s submission to provide GREVIO with an overview of the progress made in Scotland to tackle violence against women and girls and domestic violence. While ambitious and positive steps have been taken, we recognise that the journey towards a country free from gender-based violence is far from over, and it can only be successful if central and devolved administrations work together to provide equal protection for all women. We hope that the report from GREVIO will cover all the necessary measures needed to make it a reality, and we look forward to reading their recommendations.