Violence against women in context of the Istanbul Convention. The report on the countries visited on the blue route.

During the Action Tour, the Blue Route has visited the following countries:

  • Spain (Oviedo, León, Valencia)
  • The Netherlands (Leiden, Utrecht)
  • Germany (Heidelberg)
  • Belgium (Brussels, Leuven)
  • France (Le Mans)

Below, you can find the reports of our ambassadors on the current situation of these countries with regard to the implementation of the Istanbul convention, gender inequality issues and the view of GREVIO on it.


  • Signed: 11 May 2011
  • Ratified: April 2014
  • Entry into force: August 2014
  • One of the first 10 elected GREVIO members is Spanish.

Since 2003 at least 1,125 women have been murdered by their partners or ex-partners, at least 43 women in 2021. The number of calls to the gender violence helpline in Spain in 2021: 80.000

The share of the female population at risk of poverty or exclusion in Spain is 27%

Facts regarding gender equality in Spain

Spain is the fastest improving country currently in Europe regarding closing the gender gap (pay, equal opportunities etc). Very few autonomous communities offer specialist services for victims of sexual assault and rape, and still fewer specialist support services, if at all, exist for women at risk of or experiencing forced marriage, FGM, stalking and forced sterilisation/abortion. While the Spanish government is making great efforts to address violence against women, they have centred on intimate partner violence, hardly mentioning other forms of violence covered by the convention. That changed recently when official statistics on gender-based violence in Spain broadened to include killings of women and children by men regardless of whether there was a prior relationship between victim and killer, in what is being described as a first in Europe. Since the beginning of this year, the definition of gender violence will be broadened to include the murder of any woman or child in which gender is deemed to have played a role.


Every case will be analysed and will be further divided into five categories, from killings linked to sexual exploitation, trafficking or prostitution to the killing of minors – boys and girls – if the crime is believed to have been carried out with the intent of harming a woman. officially the first country in Europe to count all femicides.

“Only yes means yes” law.

The law focuses on protecting the right to sexual freedom by banning all sexual violence, which disproportionately affects women. The law is being named “only yes means yes”, to reflect the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

What this law means:

Any penetration without consent is rape, punishable by between four and 10 years in jail. Aggravated rape will command a higher prison term, with a maximum of 15 years. The punishment will be higher where the victim is the rapist’s wife or former partner. The law recognises that sexual violence can be gender, or “macho”, violence. The law includes the punishment of pandering, sexual harassment on the streets, female genital mutilation as well as sexual harassment on the Internet. Furthermore, there is a possibility to avoid eye contact with the perpetrator and the establishment of a nationwide crisis centre for women.


The length of procedures, exclusion of the use of forensic evidence collected without the order of a judge and also the high threshold for proving rape in court may easily result in re-victimisation of victims and contribute to low conviction rates. Deficiencies in the implementation of the available legal measures to ensure the safety of women and child victims of domestic violence result in shared custody and extensive visiting rights being granted to the perpetrators, which can result in the continuation of the abuse. By Spanish law, judges can authorise the sterilisation of persons who are legally incapacitated. more must be done to ensure that the reproductive rights of women with disabilities are respected by offering them the full range of birth control options without resorting to invasive and permanent measures such as sterilisation. There is also a need to ensure that women who undergo consensual sterilisation can make their decision on the basis of sufficient and accessible information.


Measure strengthening to prevent & combat violence that affects women exposed to intersectional discrimination, improving their awareness about their rights & existing support services. Develop funding systems that enable women’s NGOs to play an active role in the provision of support services, in order to ensure adequate allocation of resources and sufficient shelter provision in all autonomous communities. Strengthen training efforts for professionals with a view to improving their impact. Ensure the victim’s safety by ensuring that protection orders are duly issued by the judiciary and respected by the perpetrators.


The Istanbul Convention is the most comprehensive international human rights treaty on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Netherlands signed the Istanbul Convention in November 2012 and ratified it in November 2015. The treaty entered into force in March 2016.

  • Date of Signature: 14 November 2012
  • Date of ratification: 18 November 2015
  • Date of entry into force: 1 March 2016

The convention aims to give a powerful impulse to the prevention and combating of violence against women and domestic violence. By committing countries that become a party to the convention to taking measures that target the prevention of violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators, it is hoped that the agreement will reduce violence against women and domestic violence on a pan-European level. On June 9, 2015, the Dutch Parliament passed the legislative proposal containing the enforcement of this convention, and the Senate passed the legislative proposal on October 13. The website of the Council of Europe gives an overview of countries that have ratified the convention. According to this website, the Istanbul Convention will come into force in The Netherlands on March 1, 2016 (Art. 75, sub 4 of the convention). According to Dutch research, every ten days a woman in the Netherlands dies as a result of domestic violence.

Why Are Some Countries Dragging Their Heels over Ratifying the Istanbul Convention?

Kirsten van den Hul, a former member of parliament for the Labour Party (PvdA), stated that there is a misconception about the nature of the problem. She claims, “People often think of certain cultures or classes, but violence against women and girls happens everywhere. This includes Europe and the Netherlands. Even with highly educated white people.

Violence against women is a human rights violation that occurs on a large scale with many harmful consequences for the victim, but also for society. With the commencement of the European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) on 1 March 2016, the Dutch government has entered into an obligation not only to combat this violence with policy and legislation but also to appearance.

Violence against women is a major problem worldwide. 45% of all women in the Netherlands ever experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their life. Almost three-quarters (73%) have ever been sexually intimidated. One out of ten women has ever been raped in her life. The increasing use of the internet and social media has led to new forms of violence and threats. Young women are at extra risk for cyber violence. What works for one state might not work for another, another, and on the whole, the issue requires closer attention. Since it seems clear that some governments do not intend to ratify the convention in the long term, these governments should be given the space to figure out their own administrative measures and explore the possibilities within their legal systems to stop femicide in their countries. Instead of having a never-ending debate on whether to ratify the Istanbul Convention or not, states need to prioritize ending violence against women by any means possible. For many women this needs to happen today – tomorrow might be too late.


  • Date of Signature: 11 May 2011
  • Date of Ratification: 12 October 2017
  • Date of entry into force: 1 February 2018

Germany: Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women Enters into Force On February 1, 2018, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) entered into force in Germany. Germany played an important role in the negotiations of the Istanbul Convention and was among the first states to sign it.  However, it took several years for Germany to ratify the Istanbul Convention because not all of the Convention’s provisions had been implemented. The last of these efforts to implement the Convention was to amend the Criminal Code provisions on sex offences in 2016 to include the principle that “no means no.”

The German legislature approved the law enabling the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in July 2017 and deposited the instrument of ratification on October 12, 2017. Together with the instrument of ratification, Germany also deposited three reservations to the Convention. The first two reservations concern article 59, paragraphs 2 and 3, which deal with residence status, while the third reservation concerns article 44, paragraph 1.e, which deals with jurisdiction.


Katja Grieger, managing director of the Federal Association of Women Against Violence, a German NGO operating women’s counselling and rape crisis centres, said that there is still a long way to go, but that the Convention is the strongest instrument against violence against women at this time and a “real treasure chest” for those who want to fight this kind of violence. 


The Federal Coordination Office for the Protection of Male Victims of Violence has published its statement Protection of male victims of violence and implementation of the Istanbul Convention in Germany – Current status. For the first time, the perspective of male victims of domestic violence in Germany is placed in the context of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention, IC). The IC came into force in Germany on 1 February 2018; in its article one it calls for a holistic violence protection strategy, namely “design a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of violence against women and domestic violence“. This statement feeds into the reporting of the GREVIO Commission, a group of experts that monitors the implementation of IC by States Parties. On the basis of the Federal Government’s State Report, other reports from NGOs, on-site visits and discussions with actors in the field of violence protection, the Commission evaluates the measures taken in the contracting states to implement the IC. It formulates recommendations that are intended to contribute to their improvement. If implemented sufficiently, the IC is thus an effective instrument to effectively combat violence against women and domestic violence.

On the basis of the Federal Government’s State Report, other reports from NGOs, on-site visits and discussions with actors in the field of violence protection, the Commission evaluates the measures taken in the contracting states to implement the IC. It formulates recommendations that are intended to contribute to their improvement. If implemented sufficiently, the IC is thus an effective instrument to effectively combat violence against women and domestic violence. A leading German human rights body has urged the new government to make good on pledges to fight violence against women. This comes amid a major uptick in gender-based violence worldwide owing to COVID lockdown measures! The German Institute for Human Rights on Thursday welcomed plans by the incoming coalition government to instigate a comprehensive strategy to combat violence against women, calling it “urgently necessary.” “The strategy must be a substantive, structural all-around strategy from prevention to prosecution,” said Beate Rudolf, the director of the institute. “It should be guided by the agreement of the Council of Europe on the preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), which Germany has been obligated to implement since 2018.

The institute welcomes the unconditional and effective implementation of the Istanbul Convention announced in the coalition agreement,” Rudolf went on to say, adding that the government must put in place an independent monitoring body alongside a state-run coordination agency. “Good policies need good data,” she said. The remarks came on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women initiated by the UN General Assembly. They also came as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Twitter that she aims to put forward a proposed law to fight violence against women next spring. “Violence against one of us is violence against all,” she wrote. Germany’s development minister, Gerd Müller, has also called on the world to do better in fighting for the rights and opportunities of women while pointing out the negative impact of the pandemic on women’s safety. “Worldwide, every third woman experiences physical or sexualized violence at least once in her life,” he said in a press statement. “The coronavirus crisis has dramatically worsened the situation.“ He said Germany was supporting the fight against violence against women with a further €15 million ($16.8 million) that it will provide mostly to local women’s rights organizations.


Belgium and its capital, Brussels have always been very influential in social movements and spreading ideas. Belgium has 3 autonomous regions (Flanders/North, Wallonia/South, Brussels/Capital region) with different languages (Dutch, French, German). Linguistic diversity and political conflicts are reflected in its complex system made up of six different governments – federal, regional, and community governments (disproportion of policies and need for the shared approach, language and centres). Civil society in Belgium has played a pioneering role as a driving force behind policies to prevent and fight violence against women and raising awareness among professionals since the end of the 1970s. Several feminist women activists from all parts of the world assembled in Brussels in 1976. for the Court of Crimes against Women. 1977. in Brussels was opened the first public shelter for women. In 2001. the first national action plan was adopted (uniting the regional and federal authorities). In 2007. Gender Mainstreaming Law was adopted to “monitor the application of the resolutions of the World Conference on Women, in Beijing in September 1995, by incorporating a gender dimension into all federal policies”. In 2008. other forms of violence committed against girls and women such as sexual violence, forced marriages, so-called honour crimes and female sexual mutilation were included. Belgium has a long tradition of consulting and supporting civil society, particularly specialized associations, to draw up strategies in this area. Since 2012, EVRAS (education focusing on relationships, emotional and sexual matters) has been mandatory in the basic and secondary education in French Community. In 2014, Belgium became the first country to legislate “street harassment” by adopting the Law on measures to fight sexism in public spaces. In 2017. three sexual violence support centres were opened. 

GREVIO report on Belgium (2020)

GREVIO highlights how violence against women in Belgium, should be more visible in national anti-violence policies. Belgium does not have a legal definition of femicide. Gender neutrality in the titles of laws is made worse by a tendency to put women and men on an equal. Gender-neutral policies carry the risk that interventions by professionals may not be gender-sensitive, which can lead to gaps in protection and support for women and contribute to them suffering secondary victimisation. In the official documents the term “gender violence”, is more used than “violence against women”. That is why it is important for policies and measures to separately target gender-based violence against women. In the absence of such a distinction, there is a risk that violence against women will become invisible and not be addressed within policies as a structural phenomenon linked to the system of domination and gender stereotypes. The realisation that structural inequalities between women and men act as both the cause and the consequence of gender-based violence against women, making it different from other forms of violence, should be central to these policies.  Administrative, political and civil society coordination is separated and that leads to fragmentation in this area and is damaging to consistency in terms of policies and approaches with a disproportion between the governments. -> The need to establish a central space for coordination and dialogue. Need for measures and tools to be adopted, to make public policies clear and effective (such as prevention and training activities) and to involve all the stakeholders, particularly the federal state, associations and specialist academics. Belgium does not have a specific framework law on gender-based violence against women -> the possibility of producing a compendium of the law and regulations on forms of violence covered by the convention. Institute for Equality between Women and Men is the national coordinating body and there is a need to increase its authority and resources. There is progress in the collection of administrative data about violence, but the quality and quantity are not good and not harmonised across the various bodies that produce them (law enforcement agencies and the judiciary). GREVIO appreciates the willingness of the authorities to pursue a policy to fight gender-based violence in a holistic manner, taking into account all victims (including those of another sex, as well as transgender and non-binary persons) without discrimination. The funding for policies to fight violence against women is difficult to decode because of the complexity of Belgium’s institutional structures and the decentralised budgeting. The public authorities support and work in synergy with associations specialising in the prevention of violence against women, but there is a disproportion in the support given to such associations across the country (the authorities in Flanders rely on a voluntary sector which is structured around the sphere of well-being, public health and family). The difference in shelters: in Wallonia, there are not that many and they don’t cover the whole territory, especially in rural areas. In Flanders, there has been no reported expansion in the capacity of shelters in recent years. Accessibility is a problem for certain groups of women (older women, women seeking to exit prostitution or women with disabilities). A problematic aspect of access to accommodation in shelters is the fact that those wishing to stay there must pay a fee, contrary to the requirement that such accommodation should be free of charge. Children who are victims of violence and exposed to violence have insufficient attention and there is an urgent need for the adoption of a number of measures, including drawing up guidelines and/or reviewing existing practices for agencies involved in helping children. GREVIO strongly encourages the Belgian authorities to pursue their efforts to promote, on a regular basis and at all levels, awareness-raising campaigns or programmes to increase awareness (media, images, language, etc.) and understanding among the general public of the different manifestations of all forms of violence. GREVIO invites the Belgian authorities to consider adopting measures to promote the establishment of feminist self-defence groups in order to empower women by restoring their confidence and informing them about their rights. 

GREVIO has identified a number of priority issues requiring further action:

  • shared strategy with a gender approach for the training of relevant professionals 
  • programmes with a gendered approach and deconstruction of sexist stereotypes for the follow-up of perpetrators 
  • encourage further multi-agency co-operation;
  • to provide information and guidance services, in partnership with women’s rights NGOs
  • provide law enforcement agencies with the necessary resources, knowledge and means and ensure that criminal investigations can be conducted effectively
  • bring immigration laws and policies with the obligations of the Istanbul Convention
  • more reception centres and emergency assistance
  • to give more recognition, support and funding to the specialist women’s associations and services (should be included at every stage of policymaking and at all levels)
  • giving victims greater access to information on available support services and legal measures, improving general victim support services (financial assistance, health care and social housing) 
  • to improve the collection of data available on violence covered by the Istanbul Convention

Gender Equality Index (is a tool to measure the progress of gender equality in the EU, developed by EIGE. It gives more visibility to areas that need improvement and ultimately supports policymakers to design more effective gender equality measures.) Belgium ranks 8th in the EU on the Gender Equality Index.

Abortion in Belgium was fully legalised on 4 April 1990. Same-sex marriage in Belgium has been legal since 1 June 2003. Same-sex adoption was fully legalised in 2006 under the same terms and conditions as heterosexual adoption, and lesbian couples can access IVF as well. Protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public and private accommodations were enacted in 2003 and on gender identity and expression in 2014. Transgender people have been allowed to change their legal gender since 2007. Belgium has frequently been referred to as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Belgians support same-sex marriage and adoption rights. The previous Prime Minister is an openly gay man, the former Flemish Minister of Education and current Brussels Minister of Mobility, as well. Belgium is one of the first countries in the world to have an openly transgender woman as a government minister.


The law was adopted in 1992. is very important for several reasons. It criminalised violence resulting in permanent mutilation or disability, making it possible to punish female genital mutilation and forced sterilisation. The law recognised that where the perpetrator is the spouse or partner of the victim, this element demands the applicability of an aggravating circumstance in case of violence committed within the couple. The law recognised rape between spouses and it also introduced sexual harassment into the Criminal Code. It allowed the annulment of forced marriage. Fight against violence against women, has been marked as a “great national cause” in 2010. The Law in 2010. criminalised psychological violence within the couple. In France, violence against women includes prostitution. The Law from 2016. officially recognises prostitution as violence and violence that is particularly directed against women. GREVIO points out in this regard that the Istanbul Convention does not cover prostitution as such. In 2018. the Law criminalised street harassment by creating the offence of “sexist contempt”. It also strengthened the definition of cyberbullying. In 2014, Superior Council for the Audio-visual sector was given the mandate under the Law to ensure the fair representation of women and men in audio-visual programmes, in particular by fighting stereotypes, degrading images and violence against women. In 2015. a national awareness-raising campaign against gender-based harassment and sexual violence in public transport was conducted to inform the general public about unacceptable behaviour and provide key advice on how to behave and how to react in these situations.  Other campaigns focusing on sexual violence were organised in 2017. In addition, as part of the government’s Grand Plan against domestic violence (2018), a large-scale television campaign was launched, targeting witnesses under the slogan #lettingnothinggo. Since October 2017. and the beginning of the #MeToo movement, the total number of victims of sexual violence increased by 23%.  Several measures have been implemented over the past decade to promote substantive equality between women and men. These include measures to promote an integrated approach to equality issues and to mobilise all ministries around both specific measures and gender-sensitive common-law policies. Many laws have been adopted in order to criminalise different forms of violence under the convention and to constantly improve existing measures to prevent and punish violence against women. Some policies struggle to recognise the specificity of violence against women and tend to equalize it with other types of violence. GREVIO stresses that an integrated approach to support services for women victims of violence is very important and invites the French authorities to continue to take the necessary measures to develop a common recognition and understanding of the phenomenon of violence against women as gender-based. Need for more structures offering specialised support services and emergency assistance centres for victims of rape and sexual violence, in order to provide them with the medical and forensic examination, trauma-related support and counselling. Lack of support and assistance for children who have witnessed violence. To ensure that the interests and safety of the child are given priority in court decisions concerning access and custody rights. The definition of sexual assault and rape is not based on the absence of free consent but requires the use of violence, threat or surprise. -> difficulty for the system to ensure that perpetrators of all forms of violence covered by the convention are held accountable. The report notes that the judicial practice of “correctionnalisation”, which makes it possible to reclassify the crime of rape as a sexual assault offence and to take it before a criminal correctional court, minimises the seriousness of the rape. The practice mainly concerns marital rape and the rape of women in prostitution. The system of protection needs to allow more widespread and systematic use.

GREVIO has identified a number of priority issues requiring further action:

  • continue and intensify efforts for gender equality
  • continue efforts to eliminate discrimination
  • establish legal measures to protect women from economic violence
  • strengthen inter-institutional cooperation mechanisms at the departmental level (increase the human and financial resources, training of professionals) 
  • increase the budget dedicated both at a central and decentralised level to preventing and combating violence against women and provide greater support for the work of associations  
  • continue and strengthen co-operation at all levels of public action, with all NGOs working in the field of preventing and combating violence against women, in particular, specialised associations
  • ensure that the national body designated under the convention has the necessary capacity and means to ensure the co-ordination of policies and measures at all levels of public action
  • improving data collection, particularly at the level of justice and law enforcement agencies
  • harmonise the categories of offences used for law enforcement, ensure the dividing of data collected according to the sex and age of the victim and perpetrator and the nature of their relationship, to ensure the publicity of the results of such assessments, by including them in the reports of the national observatory on violence against women
  • ensuring the availability of the helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • continue awareness-raising activities on sexual violence, including rape, and violence of a sexual nature against girls
  • to increase the number and capacity of such facilities to meet the needs of all victims and ensure that they have access to immediate medical care, high-quality forensic examinations, adequate and appropriate living conditions, psychological and legal support and empowerment 

The 2000 national survey on violence against women reveals that 15% of young women between 20 and 24 years of age report having been victims of domestic violence, compared to an average of 10% for all women. Adolescent girls aged 12 to 15 are reported to be 2 times more affected by cyber sexism than boys. There are difficulties for victims in accessing information about their rights, insufficient identification, lack of mobility, inadequate support and protection services, and persistent negative stereotypes about them. In France, the financial resources invested are not sufficient. Civil society organisations and specialist organisations working for women victims are particularly affected by the lack of funding. Need for increasing the budget. GREVIO encourages the French authorities to continue to support the work of the body responsible for evaluating policies on violence against women (the High Council for Equality) and the body in charge of coordinating data collection in this field. In France, educational institutions have a legal obligation to provide information to students on respect for equality between women and men, and the prevention of gender-based prejudices and violence against women. GREVIO welcomes the fact that the issue of gender equality is mainstreamed into the common core curriculum in the fields of literature, history, moral and civic education and sciences. Sexuality education for students has been a legal obligation since Law in 2001, which provides for at least three annual sessions. As early as 2003, a circular specified that these sessions should include a triple dimension: biomedical (focusing on issues such as contraception or the prevention of sexually transmitted infections), psycho-emotional (addressing issues of self-esteem or mutual respect) and legal and social (focusing in particular on the prejudices that cause discrimination and violence). Despite these guidelines, institutional reports have revealed that sexuality education is not systematic and that, when it is provided, it remains highly oriented towards health information. Since 2018. a new curriculum was adopted with the aim to address the challenges posed by new information technologies (like access to pornographic content on the Internet). GREVIO strongly encourages the French authorities to strengthen measures in education settings to enable professionals to identify and support girls who are victims of violence, including sexual violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Good practices: The action of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation is the adoption of a Law in 2013, which provides for the creation of an “equality mission” in each public university, composed of gender equality specialists responsible for guiding and supporting victims of violence. Since 2016, the Ministry of Culture has set up a network of “persons responsible for the prevention of discrimination”, present in each higher education school in the field of culture, as well as in each public establishment, service and department of the ministry. GREVIO encourages the French authorities to continue to set up and evaluate programmes for perpetrators of sexual offences, ensuring that a common approach to their treatment is developed that takes into account the gender dimension of violence against women. Since the definition of rape in 1980, the definition of sexual violence has changed. Most recently, Law (2018) introduced an extension of the definition of rape to acts of penetration imposed on a victim but committed on the perpetrator, the extension of the statute of the limitation period for rape of children from twenty to thirty years and the introduction of sexual assault by using substances without the victim’s knowledge. GREVIO is concerned about the treatment of sexual violence. Only 12% of women victims of rape or attempted rape report the violence, and the number of convictions represents only 1% of the estimated number of rape cases. The low rate is largely due to deficiencies in the collection and preservation of evidence, leading to many cases being closed without further action.


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