I agree that it is incredibly important the UK ratifies the Istanbul Convention and puts it into effect.
Before I was elected MP I spent 26 years working on responding, preventing and eliminating violence against women, particularly domestic violence, in a number of different roles for organisations such as Respect and Women’s Aid.
The Istanbul Convention is a historic international treaty that requires states to take comprehensive action, set out minimum standards and create legally binding measures to tackle and prevent violence against women and girls. Crucially, the Convention gives all survivors of domestic abuse the right to access the specialist support services they need to live in safety and rebuild their lives.
Negotiations for the Istanbul Convention first began in 2008 and the then Government introduced and expanded various forms of support for victims alongside making a number of key measures law through the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. Despite the progress the UK has made, I am very concerned that gender-based violence remains a hugely significant problem, with up to 3 million women experiencing violence each year in the UK. At the general election I stood on a manifesto which included commitments to introduce a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence and to provide more stable funding for women's refuges and Rape Crisis Centres.
On average, two women a week are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner, but the Government is overseeing the closure of many domestic violence shelters for women, removing the last line of hope and safety for victims of abuse. Since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges in England have closed down. On one typical day, Women's Aid said that 155 women and 103 children were turned away from refuges because there was not enough space. I do not believe that women should continue to bear the brunt of Government cuts at the expense of their safety and well-being. The Government should honour its commitment and ratify the Istanbul Convention.
In March 2016, the Government published its Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy for 2016-2020. While I welcome the steps outlined in the strategy, I want to see the commitments made to vulnerable women and girls followed through, so that they do not just remain as warm words. Ratifying the Istanbul Convention would demonstrate a clear commitment to this goal.
I am concerned the Government appear to be dragging their feet which is why I support the Private Members' Bill on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention). This Bill would ratify the Istanbul Convention and I am pleased it passed its second reading on 16 December 2016.
I will continue to pressure the Government to set a date to ratify the Istanbul Convention without further delay.