Chapter III - Prevention
83. This chapter contains a variety of provisions that come under the heading of prevention in the wide sense of the term. Preventing violence against women and domestic violence requires far-reaching changes in attitude of the public at large, overcoming gender stereotypes and raising awareness. Local and regional authorities can be essential actors in implementing these measures by adapting them to specific realities.
Article 12 – General obligations
84. This article comprises a number of general preventive measures which lay the foundation and represent over-arching principles for more specific obligations contained in the subsequent articles of this chapter.
85. The obligations contained in paragraph 1 are based on the conviction of the drafters that existing patterns of behaviour of women and men are often influenced by prejudices, gender stereotypes and gender-biased customs or traditions. Parties to the Convention are therefore required to take measures that are necessary to promote changes in mentality and attitudes. The purpose of this provision is to reach the hearts and minds of individuals who, through their behaviour, contribute to perpetuate the forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. As a general obligation, this paragraph does not go into detail as to propose specific measures to take, leaving it within the discretion of the Party.
86. Paragraph 2 requires Parties to the Convention to take the necessary legislative and other measures to prevent all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention by any natural or legal person. Depending on the national legal system, some of these measures may require the passing of a law while others may not.
87. In addition to the prohibition of discrimination contained in Article 4, paragraph 3, this paragraph requires positive action to ensure that any preventive measures specifically address and take into account the needs of vulnerable persons. Perpetrators often choose to target such persons because they know that they are less likely to be able to defend themselves, or seek prosecution of the perpetrator and other forms of reparation, because of their situation. For the purpose of this Convention, persons made vulnerable by particular circumstances include: pregnant women and women with young children, persons with disabilities, including those with mental or cognitive impairments, persons living in rural or remote areas, substance abusers, prostitutes, persons of national or ethnic minority background, migrants – including undocumented migrants and refugees, gay men, lesbian women, bi-sexual and transgender persons as well as HIV-positive persons, homeless persons, children and the elderly.
88. Paragraph 4 underlines that all members of society can make an important contribution to the prevention of violence and should be encouraged to do so. As many of the forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention are perpetrated primarily by men and boys, the drafters considered it important to emphasise their particular role in the prevention of such violence. Bearing in mind the fact that the majority of men and boys are not perpetrators, the drafters wanted to point out that their contribution can take on many forms in particular as role models, agents of change and advocates for equality between women and men and mutual respect. By speaking out against violence, engaging other men in activities to promote gender equality and acting as role models by actively taking on a caring role and family responsibilities men have an important contribution to make.
89. Paragraph 5 clearly states that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” shall not be invoked to justify any act of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. Parties to the Convention are therefore obliged to ensure that their national laws do not contain loopholes for interpretations inspired by such convictions. Moreover, this obligation extends to the prevention of any official statements, reports or proclamations that condone violence on the basis of culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour”. This provision also establishes a key principle according to which the prohibition of any of the acts of violence set out in the Convention can never be invoked as a restriction of the perpetrator’s cultural or religious rights and freedoms. This principle is important for societies where distinct ethnic and religious communities live together and in which the prevailing attitudes towards the acceptability of gender-based violence differ depending on the cultural or religious background.
90. Rounding off the list of general preventive measures, paragraph 6 calls for the promotion of specific programmes and activities for the empowerment of women. This means empowerment in all aspects of life, including political and economic empowerment. This obligation is a reflection of the greater aim of achieving gender equality by increasing women’s agency and reducing their vulnerability to violence.
Article 13 – Awareness-raising
91. The purpose of this article is to ensure that the general public is fully informed of the various forms of violence that women experience on a regular basis as well as of the different manifestations of domestic violence. This would help all members of society to recognise such violence, speak out against it and support its victims as neighbours, friends, relatives or colleagues, where possible and appropriate. The obligation entails the running of public awareness-raising campaigns or programmes on a regular basis that address and explain these issues in a gender-sensitive manner. Awareness-raising activities should include the dissemination of information on equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships. Moreover, the drafters considered it important that any campaign highlight the harmful consequences for children which violence against women and domestic violence may have in its direct or indirect form.
92. Many NGOs have a long tradition of carrying out successful awareness-raising activities – at local, regional or national level. This provision therefore encourages the co-operation with national human rights institutions and equality bodies, civil society and NGOs, in particular women’s organisations, where appropriate, in order to reach out to the general public. This however, is a non-exhaustive list of actors, which the drafters intended to cover. Furthermore, the inclusion of “where appropriate” in the provision means that Parties are not obliged to set up such bodies or institutions where they do not exist. Finally, it should be noted that the term women’s organisations refers to women’s NGOs working in the area of protection and support for women victims of violence against women.
93. Paragraph 2 extends the obligation to the dissemination of concrete information on available government or non-government preventive measures. This means the wide dissemination of information leaflets or posters or on-line information material on services which the police or the local community offers, contact information of local, regional or national services such as helplines or shelters and much more.
Article 14 – Education
94. Attitudes, convictions and behavioural patterns are shaped very early on in life. The promotion of gender equality, mutual respect in interpersonal relationships and non-violence must start as early as possible and is primarily a responsibility of parents. Educational establishments, however, have an important role to play in enhancing the promotion of these values.
95. In paragraph 1, this article addresses the need to design, where Parties deem appropriate, teaching material for all levels of education (primary, secondary and tertiary education) that promotes such values and enlightens learners with respect to the various forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. Where Parties deem teaching material appropriate, it needs to be adapted to the capacity of learners, which would, for example, require primary school teaching material to meet the intellectual capacity of primary school students. Teaching material means any type of formally developed and approved material that forms part of the curriculum and that, where appropriate, all teachers at a particular school have access to and are required or requested to use in class. As the words “where appropriate” indicate, the drafters did not want to impose a specific model on the Parties. Rather, this provision leaves it to the Parties to decide which type of schooling and which age group of learners they consider such teaching material to be appropriate for. The drafters decided on this wording to allow for a maximum of flexibility in the implementation of this provision also taking into account different possibilities between Parties in determining teaching materials. Some states for instance determine the teaching aims in their formal curriculum while leaving it to the schools to decide on the proper working methods and teaching materials to be used to reach these aims. The term “formal curriculum” refers to the planned programme of objectives, content, learning experiences, resources and assessment offered by a school where appropriate. It does not refer to incidental lessons which can be learnt at school because of particular school policies.
96. Paragraph 2 extends the obligation to promote the principles of equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships in all informal educational facilities as well as any sports, cultural and leisure facilities as well as the media. Across Council of Europe member states, many different forms of informal education exist and are often referred to in many different ways. Generally, the term “informal educational facilities” refers to organised education activity outside formal systems, such as community or religious education facilities, activities, projects and institutions based on social pedagogy, and any other type of educational activity offered by community groups and other organisations (such as boy scouts or girl scouts, summer camps, after school activities, etc.). Sports, cultural and leisure facilities refer to facilities which offer leisure activities in the areas of sports, music, arts or any other field and which contribute to the lifelong process of learning from everyday experience.
97. Furthermore, this paragraph requires Parties to the Convention to include the media in their measures to promote the above principles. It is important to note that the drafters clearly indicated that any measures taken in this regard shall have due regard to the fundamental principle of the independence of the media and the freedom of the press.
Article 15 – Training of professionals
98. The training and sensitisation of professionals to the many causes, manifestations and consequences of all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention provides an effective means of preventing such violence. Training not only allows to raise awareness among professionals on violence against women and domestic violence, but contributes to changing the outlooks and the conduct of these professionals with regard to the victims. Furthermore, it significantly improves the nature and quality of the support provided to victims.
99. It is vital that professionals in regular contact with victims or perpetrators have appropriate knowledge of the issues associated with these kinds of violence. For this reason, paragraph 1 places an obligation on Parties to provide or strengthen appropriate training for the relevant professionals dealing with victims or perpetrators of all acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention on issues such as the prevention and detection of such violence, equality between women and men, the needs and rights of victims, as well as on how to prevent secondary victimisation. Initial vocational training and in-service training should enable the relevant professionals to acquire the appropriate tools for identifying and managing cases of violence, at an early stage, and to take preventive measures accordingly, by fostering the sensitivity and skills required to respond appropriately and effectively on the job. The drafters felt it best to leave to the Parties how to organise the training of relevant professionals. However, it is important to ensure that relevant training be on-going and sustained with appropriate follow-up to ensure that newly acquired skills are adequately applied. Finally, it is important that relevant training should be supported and reinforced by clear protocols and guidelines that set the standards staff are expected to follow in their respective fields. The effectiveness of these protocols where relevant, should be regularly monitored, reviewed and, where necessary, improved.
100. The relevant professionals may include professionals in the judiciary, in legal practice, in law enforcement agencies and in the fields of health care, social work and education. When providing training for professionals involved in judicial proceedings (in particular judges, prosecutors and lawyers), Parties must take account of requirements stemming from the independence of the judicial professions and the autonomy they enjoy in respect of the organisation of training for their members. The drafters wished to stress that this provision does not contravene the rules governing the autonomy of legal professions but that it requires Parties to ensure that training is made available to professionals wishing to receive it.
101. The content of paragraph 2 is linked to the greater aim of the Convention to establish a comprehensive approach to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by its scope. This provision requires Parties to encourage that the training referred to in paragraph 1 also includes training on coordinated multi-agency co-operation, complementing in this way the obligations laid down in Article 7 of this Convention. Consequently, professionals should also be taught skills in multi-agency working, equipping them to work in co-operation with other professionals from a wide range of fields.
Article 16 – Preventive intervention and treatment programmes
102. Preventive intervention and treatment programmes have been developed to help perpetrators change their attitudes and behaviour in order to prevent further acts of domestic violence and sexual violence.
103. Paragraph 1 requires Parties to the Convention to establish or support the establishment of programmes, where they do not exist, or support any existing programmes, for perpetrators of domestic violence. Many different models for working with perpetrators exist and the decision on how they should be run rests with the Parties or service providers. However, the following core elements should be respected in all models.
104. Domestic violence intervention programmes should be based on best practice and what research reveals about the most effective ways of working with perpetrators. Programmes should encourage perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions and examine their attitudes and beliefs towards women. This type of intervention requires skilled and trained facilitators. Beyond training in psychology and the nature of domestic violence, they need to possess the necessary cultural and linguistic skills to enable them to work with a wide diversity of men attending such programmes. Moreover, it is essential that these programmes are not set up in isolation but closely co-operate with women’s support services, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, probation services and child protection or child welfare offices where appropriate. Participation in these programmes may be court-ordered or voluntary. In either case, it may influence a victim’s decision to stay with or leave the abuser or provide the victim with a false sense of security. As a result, priority consideration must be given to the needs and safety of victims, including their human rights.
105. The second paragraph of this article contains the obligation to set up or support treatment programmes for perpetrators of sexual assault and rape. These are programmes specifically designed to treat convicted sex offenders, in and outside prison, with a view to minimising recidivism. Across Council of Europe member states, many different models and approaches exist. Again, the drafters felt it best to leave to the Parties and/or service providers how to run such programmes. Their ultimate aim must be preventing re-offending and successfully reintegrating perpetrators into the community.
Article 17 – Participation of the private sector and the media
106. Paragraph 1 contains two different obligations. First, it requires Parties to the Convention to encourage the private sector, the information and communication technology sector (hereafter ICT sector), and the media, to participate not only in the development of local, regional or national policies and efforts to prevent violence against women, but also to take part in their implementation. If and what type of action is taken is left to the individual company. The importance of this as regards media is such that the text specifically signals that the Parties’ encouragement has to respect freedom of expression and media’s independence; the latter should be seen in particular from the perspective of editorial independence.
107. Secondly, it requires Parties to encourage the private sector, the ICT sector, and the media, to set guidelines and self-regulatory standards to enhance respect for the dignity of women and thus contribute to preventing violence against them. However, the reference in Article 17, paragraph 1, to policies, guidelines and self-regulatory standards to prevent violence against women should be construed as encouraging more private companies to establish protocols or guidelines on, for example, how to deal with cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is also intended to encourage the ICT sector and the media to adopt self-regulatory standards to refrain from harmful gender stereotyping and spreading degrading images of women or imagery which associates violence and sex. Moreover, it means encouraging these actors to establish ethical codes of conduct for a rights-based, gender-sensitive and non-sensationalist media coverage of violence against women. All these measures must be taken with due respect for the fundamental principles relating to the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press and the freedom of the arts.
108. The Council of Europe, through its Committee of Ministers and its Parliamentary Assembly, have long called for an end to gender stereotyping and inequality between women and men by issuing the following recommendations:
- Recommendation No. R (84)17 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on equality between women and men in the media;
- Recommendation 1555 (2002) by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the image of women in the media;
- Recommendation 1799 (2007) by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the image of women in advertising;
- Resolution 1751 (2010) and Recommendation 1931 (2010) by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on combating sexist stereotypes in the media.
109. The aim of this article is to give these efforts new impetus to achieve the long-term goal of preventing and combating all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. As the Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services (CDMC) indicated in comments to the above-mentioned Recommendation 1931 (2010), “Dealing with gender stereotypes will contribute to reducing inequality, including gender violence which is one of its most unacceptable expressions. Given that addressing this issue effectively will inevitably have to take account of the fundamental principle of media’s independence, purely regulatory measures may not provide a satisfactory response. The task therefore falls largely to the media themselves which have to incorporate the principle of equal presentation and fair treatment of various persons with their specific identities in their professional codes and self-regulatory mechanisms and to combat stereotypes as an everyday practice. It may be even more effective to consider solutions through governance models and approaches.”