The meeting of the 7th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Equality between Women and Men was held in Baku on the 24th and 25th of May 2010. The ministers adopted a resolution entitled “Gender equality: bridging the gap between de jure and de facto equality” and an Action Plan that maps out the future work of the Council of Europe in this field. The ministers also called for the finalization and adoption of a convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.
In her opening address, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe reiterated that the Council of Europe seeks to combat any interference with women’s liberty and dignity, to eliminate discrimination based on sex, to promote the balanced participation of women and men in political and public life and to encourage the integration of a gender perspective into all programmes and policies of its Member States.
It was again said that equality between women and men is an integral part of human rights and a fundamental criterion of democracy. Much progress has been accomplished in the achievement of gender equality, in particular as regards de jure gender equality. But de jure equality is still not completely translated into facts. Women are still victims of various forms of violence, are marginalised in political and public life, suffer discrimination in employment or difficulties in reconciling private and professional life, are paid less for work of equal value and find themselves victims of poverty and unemployment more often than men.
The Council of Europe is giving priority to identifying and analyzing the tools which are available to remedy existing inequalities. This includes promoting in the Member States the use of positive action and gender mainstreaming which enable them to tackle inequalities from other angles. These are necessary and complementary strategies and must go hand in hand when elaborating policies which aim at achieving de facto equality for all women, independently of their socio-economic and cultural background or of their ethnic origin.
Two draft texts were proposed for adoption at the Ministerial Conference: a resolution “Bridging the gap between de jure and de facto equality to achieve real gender equality” and a plan of action “Taking up the challenge of the achievement of de jure and de facto gender equality.” These texts define main priorities for the Council’s work in the above mentioned area.
The Action Plan enumerates various activities to be undertaken within the area of gender equality. To name just a few…In the area of “Gender equality standards and mechanisms” the Council is to develop further activities with a view to promoting the implementation of common European gender equality standards and mechanisms in Member States as set out in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)17 on gender equality standards and mechanisms and in line with the follow-up of the Beijing Platform for Action. The Council is also called to develop activities focusing on the positive role of men in the achievement of de facto gender equality; such as the drafting of a handbook on good practice on ways to promote men’s participation in, and responsibility for, achieving gender equality in all spheres of society in partnership with women, and raise awareness of men’s responsibilities in this regard. Within the area of “Combating gender stereotypes in media and in education”, the activities should include: drafting a handbook on strategies to combat gender stereotypes in the media in co-operation with the Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services (CDMC); identifying and disseminating good practice in relation to codes of conduct adopted by the media to address gender stereotypes.
One of the most crucial aspects the Ministerial Conference looked into was the area of “Preventing and combating violence against women.” The Action Plan envisages promoting the finalisation of the drafting of the future Council of Europe convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence and promoting the respect of the standards contained in the convention. The Council of Europe was the first European organisation to tackle this problem by setting up, in December 2008, the Ad Hoc Committee on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CAHVIO) which began its work in April 2009. It was instructed to prepare one or more legally binding instrument[s] “to prevent and combat domestic violence including specific forms of violence against women, other forms of violence against women, and to protect and support the victims of such violence as well as prosecute the perpetrators.”
At its most recent meeting in February 2010 the CAHVIO completed the first reading of the Draft Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. The convention sets new legally-binding standards to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, protect its victims and punish the perpetrators. It is clearly one of the best examples of the successful European cooperation in the area of human rights, and specifically women’s human rights. Having a Convention which would set up guidelines for 47 Member States of the Council of Europe shall create a firm basis for future actions in that and other areas of gender equality.