Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic-Buric said on Tuesday, on the occasion of UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, that "we cannot allow the home to become a place of fear again" in current lockdowns due to Covid-19.
The first Covid-19 lockdowns this past spring led to many CoE member states to report record increases in domestic abuse, she said in a statement, adding that a recent UN Women study revealed increased sexual harassment, stalking, sexting and other forms of online violence.
“One of our most significant international treaties, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) calls for specific measures against such violence, such as 24-hour hotlines and counselling services, access to shelters for victims, restraining and protection orders and swift police interventions,” said Pejcinovic Buric.
“As we mark the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in the midst of an enduring pandemic, lockdowns have proven to be a unique challenge for all of the above. We need to ensure that renewed restrictions on movement do not cause more harm to women and children. But steps can be taken to ensure that the home does not become a place of fear again,” she added.
“Effective measures to prevent violence against women must be a key part of renewed lockdowns. Continued and safe access to support services such as shelters must be ensured as essential,” she said.
Creative solutions that worked in some countries earlier this year, from free travel for victims to support services, or information provided to victims of domestic violence by local pharmacies, should be encouraged and adapted, Pejcinovic Buric said.
“If not already carried out, police officers and health professionals should be given guidelines to both identify and help victims of domestic abuse, for example by pro-actively reaching out to women who have sought help before.”
“Even before the pandemic struck, women and girls with disabilities, of migrant origin, without a permanent home or from ethnic, religious or language minorities, often had difficulties accessing information on available support and protection,” she said.
She called on those states that have not yet done so to ratify the Istanbul Convention, and recalled that the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women (GREVIO) monitors “that states party to the Convention follow its guidelines.”
Croatia ratified the Convention in 2018.
“Restrictions of movement, financial constraints and uncertainty cannot be allowed to embolden perpetrators – whether at home or online. For all such forms of violence, we must maintain zero tolerance,” said Pejcinovic Buric.