But ending violence against women is not an easy task. This is probably the toughest and most Sisyphean cause of all – as the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down women’s right to abortion has once again clearly shown. Violence against women is a function of the patriarchal power inequality between men and women: women are subjected to violence to keep them in their place, controlled, frightened, exploited.
To reduce violence against women, we must eliminate patriarchy itself and transfer power to women. It’s not a feat.
Change must be fought and negotiated across society, raising awareness, mobilizing citizens, gaining allies, building movements and eventually majorities, so that elected officials are motivated or at least feel compelled to enact laws and enforce them – and be held accountable.
We cannot hope to reduce violence against women by skipping normal political processes and opting instead for fast-track depoliticized technocratic trickery.
The Istanbul Convention lends itself well to the transactional dance of “reforms for benefits” that the EU executes with countries seeking integration. Ratification is a neat, easily measurable act that is convenient for commission officers to monitor progress against a list. It symbolizes the generic “EU-European” modernity required of aspirants to be deemed worthy of EU engagement, and fits perfectly into the commission’s human rights geopolitics strategy.
But the Istanbul Convention lacks direct impact and accountability. Victims cannot take the covenant to the police or a court and demand protection. It must be translated into national laws, which must then be enforced and enforced.
Even in countries where the political system is not skewed by conditionality from external actors, full implementation of the Istanbul Convention has remained elusive, with no significant consequences for States Parties that default on their obligations.
For women and girls facing gender-based violence in Ukraine, this does not bode well. The Istanbul Convention was ratified without real political will or the voters who generate it. Who will now ensure its implementation?
The “European incentive model”
Beyond the Istanbul Convention, there is the bigger question of whether the EU’s incentive and transactional transfer of standards works – both for transferred standards (will these laws be implemented?) and for democracy (will democracy be strengthened?).
At the time of the EU’s enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe in 2004, a number of political scientists proposed that the incentive to join the EU and the very process of absorbing EU laws he EU had allowed the candidate countries to stay the course in their difficult democratic and economic transition.
This so-called “European incentive model” (stripped of the nuances and caveats of the original research) has become a triumphant credo about the power and ingenuity of EU enlargement. Its hold on EU elites remains strong, even though many new EU member states have backsliding on democracy and the rule of law, and the pursuit of enlargement has turned into a quagmire.
Looking at the European incentive model from which my fellow grassroots activists in Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia sit, I wonder if it is not, in fact, undermining democracy instead of strengthening it.